Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
October 11, 2018
Riverside was supposed to be the team to challenge undefeated Kenston (7-0) in the Western Reserve Conference this season, but the state-ranked Bomber gridders didn’t crack in a 42-14 crippling on Friday night in Bainbridge.
The visiting Beavers (5-2) entered the game as the only other team to remain unbeaten in league play, but the Division III AP No. 3-ranked Kenston boys sent them up the creek without a paddle.
Kenston is now one of four unbeatens remaining among 106 Division III programs in the state and already controls its own destiny in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Meanwhile, the Beavers are now struggling to stay afloat with the No. 7 spot in the Division II, Region 5 rankings with the likes of Archbishop Hoban (7-0), Garfield Heights (7-0) and Maple Heights (7-0).
“We knew this was going to be a pretty physical team that was going to give us their best shot, because they’re 5-1 coming in here and we’re the two best teams in the conference right now,” Kenston 275-pound senior defensive lineman Mitch Sotera said of Riverside. “This was a big game for us to help us win a conference championship, and they give us a lot of computer points for the playoffs too. So, getting this win really helped us.”
Pablo Picasso couldn’t have drawn up a better start for the Bombers if he was still alive and kicking with a paintbrush in his hand.
Kenston junior Jay Middleton returned the opening kickoff 88 yards to the house for the 7-0 lead with senior kicker Anna Sanders’ extra point, and, in doing so, he made defensive backs coach Kurt Gabram’s wallet a little bit thinner. At least that’s the story according to junior running back Jack Porter.
“Right before that, coach Gabe, our DBs coach, said wings were on him Sunday if Jay returned one,” Porter said. “And, sure enough, he returned one the first play of the game. So, it was awesome. We fed off that energy, and defense played great.”
On the Beavers’ opening possession, Kenston turned them over on downs thanks to a 7-yard tackle for loss by junior linebacker Logan Vargo on third down.
On the Beavers’ second possession, senior Danny Smith lost the handle on his first touch of the game, and Kenston senior linebacker Matt Iklodi was there for his sixth fumble recovery of the season to provide his offense a 15-yard field.
Three plays later, Porter found the end zone on a 3-yard carry for a 14-0 lead with 5:13 to go in the first quarter.
“Defense does a great job of creating turnovers and giving us good field position, and the O-line just created big holes,” Porter said. “Jonny (Tomcufcik) was slinging, and the receivers were doing a great job of getting in space.”
While Porter would finish the night with 21 carries for 182 yards, two touchdowns and two wheel-route catches for 40 yards, junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik couldn’t miss on 21-of-23 passing for 258 yards and no interceptions.
Senior receiver Bransen Stanley was snagging everything and anything with those super-glue hands of his that collected 11 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown. Tomcufcik and Stanley weren’t just on the same page, they were on the same letter of the same word of the same paragraph.
“It’s awesome,” Tomcufcik said about his top target. “Over my years of high school being a quarterback, I’ve never seen him drop a ball at practice. I’ve never seen him drop a ball anywhere. We have great chemistry, and it’s just awesome having him out there.”
Riverside answered with a pair of third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion to get on the scoreboard with senior quarterback Andrew Keller’s 2-yard touchdown on a keeper to cut the Beavers’ deficit, 14-7, with 11:27 to go in the half.
While Keller was forced to throw the ball late in the game, he’s primarily a scrambler who has the ability to make something out of nothing time and time again. He had 14 carries for 85 yards and was sacked once for a 5-yard loss.
“It wasn’t only us (on the defensive line), but the linebackers had to fill the holes too and hit their gaps,” Sotera said. “So, (Keller) put a lot of pressure on us to stop the run, but we’re pretty confident with the guys we have.”
On Kenston’s ensuing possession, Porter broke loose on a 35-yard run but fumbled the pigskin at the 1-yard line, and it went out the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Kenston’s defense forced a three and out, and then the Bombers’ put the ball right back in Porter’s hand for back-to-back carries, the latter resulting in a 56-yard touchdown run for a 21-7 upper hand with 7:23 to go in the half.
“I was pretty angry about that first one,” Porter said about the fumble. “But I’ve learned over the years that you’ve got to bounce back and you can’t let it get to you. Coach Grub is always saying the most important play is the next one. So, I just shook it off and trusted my O-line.”
Through seven weeks, Porter has 168 carries for 1,016 yards, 14 touchdowns and only two lost fumbles.
Before the end of the half, Kenston junior Tyler Mintz had a third-down pass breakup to force a Riverside punt, and then Tomcufcik dialed Mintz up on 7-yard touchdown toss for a 28-7 upper hand at the break. That score was set up on a 20-yard wheel route by Porter.
Mintz also had a 16-yard touchdown catch in the flats and beat two defenders on the right edge to put the Bombers up, 42-14, midway through the third quarter, which held up for the final.
“He played amazing,” Tomcufcik said. “On that bubble screen, he made a guy miss and then ran someone over and got in the end zone. That was great. He made plays all night.”
Before that second touchdown by Mintz, Riverside tried to get something going by opening the third quarter on a seven-play, 65-yard drive that concluded with senior running back Joe Robinson’s 1-yard touchdown to cut the Beavers’ deficit, 28-14.
But Kenston answered on a 72-yard touchdown reception by Stanley, when he caught Tomcufcik’s rainbow pass over the middle with a Beaver on his six at the 30-yard line and then broke left for the end zone and the 35-14 score.
“I read the safety, and Bransen was wide open,” Tomcufcik said. “He ran a great route, great catch and did a great job of getting into the end zone. It was awesome running down the field and celebrating with all my guys. It was an amazing moment.”
Kenston’s Vargo and junior lineman Tim Matty combined for a sack to force the Beavers three and out, before that second touchdown by Mintz, and then the Bombers’ defense turned Riverside over on downs twice in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
While the Bombers are still on course to join the 1981 squad as the only other 10-0 team in program history, Tomcufcik, Porter and Sotera only cared about their upcoming game against Madison (2-5, 0-4).
“We’ve just got to look to next week,” Tomcufcik said. “We’re on to Madison now, and that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to get to 8-0, and that’s what we’re going to be looking for.”
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