Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
November 15, 2018
Second-round playoff games aren’t supposed to go to a running clock, but the Kenston gridders (11-1) ran amok during their 40-21 Division III, Region 9 semifinal victory against the Buckeye Bucks (10-2) on Friday night at Bedford Bearcat Stadium.
Bomber junior slotback Tyler Mintz took a sweep out to the edge, broke a tackle and tip-toed down the sideline for a 32-yard touchdown run and a 40-7 lead with 10:15 to play, enacting a running clock during a rocking-chair winner for the Kenston faithful.
Buckeye scored a pair of inconsequential touchdowns with less than five minutes remaining, but the Bombers finished their hunt for their program’s first regional final appearance since 1995 by killing the Bucks’ season and filling their freezer, 40-21, for their most decisive victory since a week-seven win against Riverside.
“No, not at all,” Mintz said when asked if he was surprised about enacting a running clock. “I mean, we come out here, we compete with any team no matter their record. If they won 10 in a row, or if they won zero in a row, we’re going to come out here and do our best.”
Regarding his 32-yard touchdown, Mintz said, “just the mindset of I’m not going to go down. Not one person is going to take me down, and that didn’t happen.”
Buckeye’s defense came in wanting to stop the run, but that meant nothing to Kenston’s potent, versatile offense.
Like they have all season, the Bombers won the coin toss and elected to put their offense on the field to open the game.
“Every single game except for one this whole entire year we’ve had the ball first,” Kenston senior center Brandon Schroeder said. “We always want to hit first, and we want to do the swinging, not the receiving.
“They were more of a run defense, we saw. So, we were going to throw the ball to start off with and spread them out, and then we were going to run the rock.”
On just the second play from scrimmage, Kenston junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik saw the Buckeye blitz coming and got rid of the pigskin in a hurry, completing a toss to junior Jay Middleton, who caught it 28 yards downfield and then added another 27 yards after the reception to set up his team first-and-goal from the 8-yard line.
Junior all-Ohio running back Jack Porter then trucked through for an 8-yard score and a 7-0 lead with the game just 37 seconds old.
“Jon just told me the ball’s coming to you, so I knew I had to go out and get it. It was great,” Middleton said of his 55-yard pickup. “The coaches calmed me down, kept me cool. They said big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, so that’s what I did. Jon connected with me. It was just great.”
Buckeye answered on a 10-play drive, with junior quarterback Jacob Doerge converting on third-and-10, as well as fourth-and-11 passes, before the signal-caller ran in a 4-yard keeper to tie the game with 6:02 left in the opening frame. But that was the last time the Bucks would find the end zone until 4:05 remained in the game.
Kenston took control with three touchdowns in the second quarter for a 26-7 upper hand at the break – a pair of two-point-conversion attempts were no good.
“I honestly think we started slow, and then, once we got warmed up and started getting used to it, I think we really picked things up,” Schroeder said.
First, senior Bransen Stanley came up with a 17-yard reception down to the 8-yard line, adjusting his route like a pro in tight coverage and snagging the pigskin at its apex, to set up Mintz’s 5-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone on a pass that Tomcufcik put just enough air under to get over the reach of a Buckeye defender for a 14-7 lead with 11:03 to go in the half.
“Honestly, I don’t think it really mattered what they tried to stop, because we were scoring no matter what,” Mintz said. “If they try to stop us in the air, Jack’s having a 200-yard game. If they try to stop Jack, we have four guys who can legitimately make any play at any time. So, it’s just kind of hard to defend that.”
Mintz then came up with an interception on defense to provide Kenston a 55-yard field.
Two plays later, Tomcufcik dialed up Middleton on a toss that he hauled in 23 yards downfield, had a Buckeye defender jump on his back and hang onto his shoulders like a cape, but Middleton broke free to finish off a superhero 53-yard touchdown for a 20-7 lead with eight minutes to go in the half.
“Oh, as soon as I scored, I knew it was a good one,” Middleton said. “Jon came over and said, ‘We needed that.’ All my coaches said we needed that. It was just great.”
The third score of the second quarter came on a 14-play drive, capped off when Tomcufcik was forced to tuck the leather and run out of the pocket but then fired a 5-yard toss to running back Porter for that 26-7 lead with 49 seconds before the break.
Mintz came up with his second interception to close out the half.
After surrendering multiple-possession leads twice the previous week, the Bombers weren’t having a laughy, giggly time at intermission.
“We always say every single week to keep the foot on the pedal to keep the gas going,” Schroeder said. “We’ve always got to keep it going and never stop.”
Senior center Schroeder and his fellow offensive linemen, junior guards Justin Schroeder and Jeremiah Jones, senior tackle Alex Robarge and junior tackle George Sell, continued to wear down that Buckeye defense in the second half, opening the doors for their playmakers to finish with 195 yards rushing and 197 yards passing.
“Every week our coach tells us we’re not going to get our names in the paper,” the elder Schroeder said. “It’s not our job to get our names in the paper. Our job is to get them down the field to get their names in the paper.”
After Kenston’s defense snuffed out another Buckeye possession to open the third quarter, Bomber quarterback Tomcufcik redialed running back Porter on a 25-yard toss to convert a third-and-23 play.
On the next snap, Tomcufcik appeared to trip on his drop-back but stumbled back to his balance and ran in a 3-yard keeper for a 33-7 lead with 5:26 to go in the frame. He finished the night 11-of-16 passing for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
Buckeye went to a new quarterback on the ensuing series, drove down for a first-and-goal opportunity from the 3-yard line, but Kenston’s defense, led by a team-high 16 tackles from senior linebacker Matt Iklodi, shut the door yet again.
After that previously mentioned 32-yard, tackle-breaking, tip-toeing sideline touchdown run by Mintz, the Bucks couldn’t stop the running clock until 4:05 remained in the game. By then, it was already a done deal.
“Hey. Hey!” Kenston seventh-year head coach Jeff Grubich said to get the attention of his gridders in the postgame huddle. “You just punched your ticket to the regional finals, boys. Congratulations.”
“Yeah, baby!” and, “Let’s go!” were some of the cheers among the roaring Bombers.
“Now, hey, I’m going to tell you right now, that’s a great team effort,” Grubich said. “Great team effort. I can only nitpick on about 10 plays in there that were problems, OK? You guys clean that up, like I’ve been saying all year, you can play with anybody, man. You know why? Because you’re a great team.
“When all three phases play together, you are one heck of a team. But guess what, we’re going right back to work. Hey, it’s tell-the-truth Saturday. We’re going to get in that film room, and we’re going to hit you hard. You know why? Because we want to win a regional championship.”
The AP No. 4-ranked Kenston boys will take on the AP No. 3-ranked Canfield Cardinals (11-1) for a regional title at 7 p.m. Friday at Warren G. Harding’s Mollenkopf Stadium in Trumbull County.
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