• Dr. Herpy

Bomber gridders send West Holmes home, 48-34

Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
November 8, 2018
Tony Lange

Touchdowns came in twos, but it was the Kenston gridders (10-1) getting the first and last laughs during a 48-34 collision against West Holmes (8-3) on Friday night for their program’s first home playoff victory at Bomber Stadium.

The host Bombers, ranked No. 4 in the final Division III AP poll and seeded second in Region 9, owned two-possession leads twice throughout the night, and the seventh-seeded Knights battled back to even the score both times.

But courtesy of three interceptions by Kenston’s defense in the final five minutes of the game opened the door for a pair of touchdown runs by Bomber junior running back Jack Porter that West Holmes had no time to overcome.

“That’s a dang good football team,” Kenston seventh-year head coach Jeff Grubich said of his opposition twice overcoming multiple-possession deficits.

“They swing the rock all over the yard, and it’s just a coverage nightmare for you,” he said. “And they run multiple formations. So, it was a tough week of preparation, because you’ve got to prepare for so much with them, and we would play great defense for two or three plays, and then a big play would hit us.”

In particular, West Holmes senior quarterback Bridger Cline, who completed 18 of 35 passes for 253 yards, caught the Bomber defense sleeping on 65- and 49-yard tosses to set up two of the Knights’ five touchdowns.

But Kenston’s defense did force four turnovers, and its offense never seemed to stop scoring.

To open the game, however, Kenston lost a fumble at the Knights’ 29-yard line, but Bomber senior linebacker Matt Iklodi got the pigskin right back five seconds later on his eighth fumble recovery of the season.

“He’s just a ball hawk, man,” Grubich said about Ikodli twisting the lid on the pickle jar. “He finds a way to be around it all the time, and that’s playoff football, though. You’re going to have those ups and downs. One minute you’re going to be like, ‘Ah, son of a gun.’ And then 30 seconds later you’re right back where you want to be.”

Kenston made use of the short field with junior receiver Jay Middleton scoring on a 31-yard touchdown catch from junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik. Senior kicker Anna Sanders provided the extra point for the 7-0 lead with 8:42 left in the first quarter.

The Bombers then took a 13-0 upper hand when Tomcufcik tucked the pigskin on a 19-yard pickup to set up Porter’s 5-yard touchdown run with 7:07 to go in the opening frame.

“We were on maybe the 25-yard line, and it was just a normal zone to Jack, and the (defensive) end crashed, and I pulled it,” Tomcufcik said of his 19-yard read play. “I got tackled around the 2, and then Jack ran it in for a touchdown, and that was amazing, because we’re up, 13-0, and we’ve got the momentum on our side.”

The pendulum swung on back-to-back scores for West Holmes, including a 2-yard touchdown run by 200-pound senior back Gavin Sheldon and then a 10-yard touchdown run by senior Shane Jones to knot the game at 13 with 10:56 left in the half. Jones set up his own score by collecting an interception on defense to provide his team a 32-yard field.

Kenston answered on a 30-yard kickoff return to midfield by senior Bransen Stanley, and then eight plays later Tomcufcik dialed up junior receiver Tyler Mintz on a 21-yard diving touchdown catch in the end zone for a 20-13 lead with 6:40 left in the half.

“That was just a normal alley ball, like a deep, deep ball, and I put it in the corner of the end zone,” Tomcufcik said. “And that was probably the greatest catch I’ve ever seen any of my receivers ever make. I mean, when I threw it, I thought it was definitely out of bounds, but he dove full range and caught it, and it was just amazing.”

West Holmes answered when Cline dialed up Jones on that previously mentioned 65-yard chunk toss followed by a 3-yard touchdown completion to senior Grady Hay to cut the Knights’ deficit, 20-19, with 5:11 to go in the half.

But then Kenston went back up by two scores for the second time of the night thanks to a pair of 14-yard touchdown runs by Tomcufcik, the first coming with 29 seconds remaining in the half and the latter with 7:19 to go in the third quarter, capping off a 76-yard drive for a 34-19 upper hand.

“There was less than a minute left at the end of the first half on fourth-and-two, and it was a designed keeper to me, and I followed Jack Porter. He had an amazing block,” Tomcufcik said. “I was untouched into the end zone. It was awesome.

“And then my second touchdown run was a pull. I mean, Jack is an amazing running back, so defenses are keying on him. And then they lose focus that I can also run the ball. So, that opens up the keeper for me.”

But West Holmes again made up the deficit, first on a 10-yard touchdown run by Sheldon, which was set up by that previously mentioned 49-yard completion by Cline, and then on a 9-yard touchdown catch by Jones. Cline dialed up Jones again on a two-point pass to knot the game, 34-34, with 11:24 to play.

Later in the fourth, the Knights picked off a Kenston pass with 5:10 to play to take over possession at their own 26-yard line, but Bomber senior cornerback Dorion Talley got the pigskin right back with an interception on the next play to provide his offense a 32-yard field.

“Oh, it was huge,” Grubich said. “I feel that our offense is pretty good, and I was confident in them in being able to execute, and we just needed to get a stop or get the ball back. And for Dorion to get that pick was a big momentum swinger.”

Five plays later, Porter, who finished the night with 36 carries for 208 yards, scored on a 14-yard run up the gut to provide the Bombers a 41-34 lead with 2:59 to play.

Kenston’s Mintz then intercepted another West Holmes pass to provide his offense a 42-yard field. Two plays later, Porter broke free for a 38-yard touchdown run for a 48-34 command with 1:28 to play.

Kenston’s Iklodi then put the victory to bed on another interception with 1:13 to play.

“The defensive coaches did a great job,” Grubich said. “They made some changes with the coverages that I don’t think West Holmes was really expecting and gave the quarterback a different look, and we were able to get a few turnovers there. So, that’s a credit to the kids and those defensive coaches. When it counted, they were able to execute.”

Overall, Kenston outgained West Holmes, 493 yards to 315 yards, with Tomcufcik completing 12 of 18 passes for 206 yards and keeping the pigskin eight times for 61 yards, while Mintz finished the night with eight catches for 98 yards.

Defensively, Iklodi had nine tackles to go with his interception and fumble recovery, while Mintz had eight tackles, junior linebacker Logan Vargo had seven, senior linebacker Joe Staudenbaur had five tackles and a forced fumble, and senior defensive back Kole Jarzembak and sophomore linebacker Anthony Valocchi had six tackles apiece.

“It was a great feeling,” Tomcufcik said. “We kept exchanging scores, but, by the end of the game, our offensive line and Jack Porter, we eventually tired them out and punched it down their throats.

“We just came into the game knowing we had to buckle down and get the win, because everyone was behind our backs. It was awesome playing at our house in our first-ever home playoff game. It was a special feeling getting a win and surviving.”

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