Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
September 20, 2018
Eastlake North’s run game was Kenston’s best friend, after the Bomber gridders surged to a 25-0 lead midway through the second quarter of their home league opener on Friday night in Bainbridge.
Kenston’s offense wasn’t slowing down amidst its highest-scoring game of the season, and, if the visiting Rangers wanted to let time tick away by continuing to run the pigskin while playing from behind, then that was their prerogative.
The final outcome was a 53-20 victory in favor of the Division III AP No. 10-ranked Bombers, who improved to 4-0 with a 1-0 mark in the Western Reserve Conference. North dropped to 1-3.
“It’s good to be 4-0, but the biggest thing that you’ve got to do is take it one day, one practice, one week, one game at a time, and that’s our focus,” Kenston seventh-year head coach Jeff Grubich said. “You enjoy the win Friday and Saturday, and then you flush it down the toilet and you get ready to go back to work on Monday.”
The Bombers also got out to a 4-0 start last season, before losing a 52-48 shootout against Brush in week five, which essentially cost them a playoff berth during their 8-2 campaign.
On Friday night against North, Kenston wasted no time getting started with senior Bransen Stanley returning the opening kickoff 50 yards and then collecting a 13-yard reception to set up junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik’s 4-yard touchdown run just 70 seconds into the game.
Kenston senior linebacker Matt Iklodi then recovered his first of three fumbles for the evening, and Bomber senior kicker Anna Sanders capitalized on a 29-yard field goal for a 10-0 upper hand with 4:54 to go in the first quarter.
“It’s called being near the ball,” Grubich said of Iklodi’s defensive performance. “I tell those kids all the time, I want to see those stars on those helmets flying to the football and getting there. And Matt’s one of those kids who’s an effort guy, a hustle guy, and he’s always around the football. And, when you do that, it gives you the opportunity that when it comes out that you might be able to get it in your hands.
“And he was lucky enough to do that, and it helped us. So, we always say we’ve got to win the turnover battle, and, when you get three of them and cash all three in for points, that’s a good thing for us.”
Through four weeks, Kenston has only lost one fumble and no interceptions.
Iklodi twisted the lid on his second of three fumble recoveries against North on the Rangers’ ensuing possession, and then Stanley caught a 21-yard touchdown toss from Tomcufcik to put the Bombers up, 17-0, with 1:40 remaining in the first quarter.
“I think that Bransen is going to be a big factor no matter really who we play,” Grubich said. “I think he’s one of the better players in the conference and he’s pretty dynamic and pretty electric in special teams, offense and defense. So, getting him the ball and letting him get a good head of steam at the beginning of the game is good for Kenston.”
When Stanley makes a big impact early in games, like he did against North, opposing teams have to recognize him even more, the coach said.
In turn, Tomcufcik dialed up junior receiver Tyler Mintz on a 63-yard touchdown toss, and the Bombers converted two points on a pass from junior Jonathan Abbarno to sophomore Anthony Valocchi to take that previously mentioned 25-0 lead with 4:10 left in the half.
“We got backed up with two penalties that I didn’t necessarily agree with, and it was third-and-25, or something ridiculous,” Grubich said about what preceded Mintz’s touchdown. “And our coaches came over the headset and asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, ‘Go for it, man. Toss it up to one of our playmakers.’
“And they called Tyler’s number, and I want to say off the top of my head that Jonny probably threw the ball about 35 yards, and then Tyler did the rest. So, that kind of took the wind out of their sails.”
The Rangers did answer on a 79-yard drive that concluded with 230-pound junior quarterback Dylan Froelich’s 1-yard keeper to trim the deficit, 25-7, with 1:43 to go in the half. Despite playing from behind, North only attempted six passes all night, two by Froelich and four by senior Corey Smith, completing five of them for 85 yards.
A simplified offense, those two quarterbacks also combined on 24 carries for 161 yards without a feature back utilized in the Rangers’ repertoire.
“The quarterback was the emphasis at halftime for our adjustments,” Grubich said. “We felt, if we could take the quarterback out of the run game, then they were up the creek without a paddle. So, that was the emphasis.”
Kenston junior running back Jack Porter, who finished with 18 carries for 125 yards, did provide the Bombers a 32-7 lead on a 6-yard touchdown run 36 seconds before intermission.
Then Iklodi collected his third fumble recovery out of the break, on North’s kickoff return, and Stanley capitalized on a 13-yard touchdown run for a 39-7 lead and running clock with 11:28 to go in the third quarter.
Kenston and North traded touchdowns from there, with Bomber quarterback Tomcufcik finding the end zone on a 29-yard run and sophomore Stanley Sell scoring on a 15-yard run for the 53-20 final.
Tomcufcik finished the night nine-of-19 passing for 172 yards and two scores. Overall, Kenston outgained North, 424 yards to 272 yards.
Up next, the Bombers will continue WRC play on the road against Brush (2-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“As we saw last year, any team is beatable,” Grubich said. “But, at the same time, any team is good enough to beat us. The majority of these schools have bigger rosters than us and bigger enrollment, and they’ve got the numbers game on us. And, if we’re not in shape and we don’t do our job and we don’t come prepared, there’s great coaches in this conference, and they’ll be ready.”
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