Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
November 15, 2018
Division III, Region 9
No. 2 Kenston Bombers (11-1) vs.
No. 1 Canfield Cardinals (11-1)
7 p.m. Friday
The Division III AP No. 4-ranked Kenston gridders (11-1) will face their toughest test yet when they lock horns with the AP No. 3-ranked Canfield Cardinals (11-1) in the Region 9 championship at 7 p.m. Friday at Warren G. Harding’s Mollenkopf Stadium in Trumbull County.
The Bombers are seeking their program’s third state final-four appearance. A win would put them in company with their 1995 and 1986 predecessors.
Ironic enough, the 1986 Bombers won their Division III regional title at Mollenkopf Stadium by defeating Campbell Memorial, 21-7, that year, when junior quarterback Mike Dinallo and senior fullback Andy Gurd both found pay dirt in the opening quarter.
In the trenches, Kenston was led by offensive lineman Jon Dawson and 6-foot-6 defensive lineman Darryl Wodecki, who went on to play for Lou Holtz at the University of Notre Dame.
In 1995, Kenston won its Division III regional title by a 14-0 triumph against Avon Lake at Baldwin Wallace, when the Bombers were led by future NFL lineman Tyson Walter, as well as lineman Mark Kautzman and two-way running back and linebacker standouts John Wervey and Andy Rule.
The 2018 Bombers will have the opportunity to write their own history on Friday.
“We haven’t played in a regional final in 23 years, since 1995 at Kenston,” seventh-year head coach Jeff Grubich said. “And I haven’t coached in a regional final in eight years, since I left Mentor. When I left there, it was kind of like an expectation playing in a regional final game. So, for me, I’m kind of like a giddy little schoolboy. And I can’t wait for school to be over and get out there and coach these guys.
“So, we’re excited about the opportunity. It’s something that hasn’t come around for this program and this community in 23 years. You know, it’s pretty special. So, we’re going to embrace this opportunity, and we’re aware that Canfield’s a gosh darn good football team, and we hope to put a nice product out on the field on Friday night and be able to compete with those guys.”
Kenston is coming off a 40-21 victory against Medina Buckeye in a game the Bombers owned a 40-7 lead with a running clock through the majority of the fourth quarter.
The Bucks’ defense was keyed on stopping Bomber junior running back Jack Porter, who still finished the night with 25 carries for 132 yards and two catches for 30 yards, thanks to a spread offense with deadly receivers, including junior Jay Middleton, who hauled in four catches for 135 yards from junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik.
On defense, Kenston held Buckeye’s all-time leading scorer, senior Dom Monaco, to just 64 yards on 16 carries, due in large part to Bomber senior linebacker Matt Iklodi’s team-high 16 tackles.
But this week the Bomber defense will be up against a Canfield team that loves to pound the rock, perhaps even more than Chardon, which handed Kenston its lone loss this season, 27-24, in week nine.
“Yeah, well, that’s what they try to do, man,” Grubich said about Canfield’s ground game. “They just keep – they’re not going to change what they are. They run the ball, they run the ball, they run the ball, and, eventually, it’s similar to Chardon. They’ll wear you down, and, if you take one play off, they’ll punch you in the face, and it’ll be a long run for a touchdown.
“Or they’ll run the ball, run the ball, run the ball 15 times in a row, and then they’ll throw in a play-action pass, and their guy is wide open because everybody is looking for the run. So, it’s a tough opponent. They’re good at what they do. That coach does a great job over there.”
Canfield, under 18th-year head coach Mike Pavlansky, who owns a 135-64 record, including an 11-8 mark in the playoffs with a state runner-up campaign in 2005, defeated Chardon by a 35-13 final in week three.
Most recently, the Cardinals are coming off a 30-7 victory against Akron East (9-3) in a game that Canfield trailed, 7-0, late in the second quarter but scored 10 points in the final minute of the half, thanks to a recovered squib kick and a 40-yard field goal by senior Ian Kristan for the three-point lead at intermission.
Outscoring East, 20-0, in the second half, Canfield’s offense was led by 6-foot, 190-pound senior Mehlyn Clinkscale, who finished with 24 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns. And, although the Cardinals don’t pass much, East still intercepted them twice last week.
“Their quarterback, he’s really good running the football,” Grubich said. “I want to say, offensively, they hold onto the ball, and they control the clock, and they control the momentum of the game. They do a great job of that.”
Defensively, the Cardinals have surrendered just 8.7 points per game this season, including just 12 points in their lone loss against Youngstown East, 12-7, in week eight. Meanwhile, a 47-20 victory against Lakeside is the most points Canfield has given up this season.
Kenston’s offense, which is averaging 40.8 points per game this season, will surely make for an interesting matchup on Friday.
“For us, we’re used to scoring a lot,” Grubich said. “So, I told our guys, man, we better have the mindset going in that this is going to be a close one, this is going to be decided in the fourth quarter, and it could be something like 7-7 or 14-14, and whoever gets the ball last maybe wins.”
More specifically, Canfield’s defense is spearheaded by 215-pound senior linebacker Tyler Stein, 180-pound junior Anthony D’Alesio and 220-pound senior lineman Vince Giordano, who all have noses for quarterback sacks.
They helped hold East to just 47 yards in the second half of their victory last week.
“They’re probably the best team we’ve seen in the last few years, other than scrimmaging Mentor this year,” Grubich said. “So, it’s going to be the biggest test we’ve had in a long time. You know, I turned the film on, and you could tell that they’re just well-coached, they’re very disciplined, they’re very good at what they do, and they’re physical. They run the ball. So, we’re going to have to be very good to beat these guys.”
Kenston is 0-3 all-time against Canfield, including a 44-12 loss during non-league play in 2016.
TONY’S TAKE: Kenston wins, 22-20.
Visit The Chagrin Valley Times to view their photos.