Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
September 26, 2019
That wing-T never stood a chance.
Eastlake North (2-2) may have put some pressure on Kenston (4-0) with the Rangers controlling the clock early to score a tying touchdown, 7-7, on a 1-yard keeper with 11:17 to go in the second quarter of a Western Reserve Conference opener on Friday night in Lake County.
But Kenston jammed the box with an extra linebacker and had 11 silver bullets flying to the pigskin, as the Division III AP No. 3-ranked Bomber gridders closed off the end zone thereafter for an eventual 45-7 road rout.
The Rangers’ wing-T only gained 160 yards on 35 rushes for five first downs against Kenston’s defense. North just implemented the wing-T this season under fifth-year head coach Shaw Dodd.
“I’ll tell you what, coming out, we had a couple difficulties adjusting to it,” Kenston eighth-year head coach Jeff Grubich said. “Some of it we hadn’t seen, but our defensive coaches did a great job. They made a couple of adjustments after the first two series and brought another linebacker into the box, and we were able to be successful.
“So, it’s a credit to our players and our coaches on that side of the ball that we were able to shut them down a little bit.”
North had a 38-yard run during its 13-play touchdown drive to chew up more than seven minutes of clock and then a pair of 11-yard rushes in the second quarter, but that was the gist of the Rangers’ explosive plays for the night.
In particular, Kenston 190-pound senior linebacker Logan Vargo tallied a team-high 13 tackles with a forced fumble, 195-pound senior linebacker Eric Dombrowski collected 10 wrap-ups, and 190-pound junior linebacker Alec Kolenic had four tackles with a fumble recovery that led to a touchdown.
“We did a great job,” Grubich said about his guys’ tackling efforts. “I tell the kids all the time – and it’s one of our team identities and philosophies – the team that blocks and tackles better is going to win the game, and I felt like we tackled better and we controlled the line of scrimmage. And we ran the ball quite effectively.
Kenston’s offense was busy through its usual balanced attack, but all-Ohio senior running back Jack Porter was a touchdown machine in the first half with 14-, 17- and 1-yard scores to provide the Bombers a 21-7 upper hand at the break.
Porter would finish the night with 21 carries for 155 yards.
While the Bombers have been all about putting points on the board in a hurry this season – including 35, 41 and 27 points in the first halves of their first three games – they only had four possessions in the first half against North. Three of those drives resulted in touchdowns and the fourth in a lost fumble on a reception.
“I’ll tell you what, those guys over there at Eastlake did a great job of controlling the clock,” Grubich said. “I mean, the first half, they had the ball 17 minutes and some change to our six minutes and some change. So, if you keep our guys off the field, obviously, they can’t score. So, it’s a good game plan by them. We just had to get that opposing offense off the field.”
But controlling the clock only goes so far when a team is in the hole by two possessions at halftime, and it caught up to the Rangers.
In the third quarter, the Kenston boys went on a 21-point tear that was ignited by senior receiver Tyler Mintz’s 29-yard touchdown catch from senior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik for a 28-7 upper hand with 7:56 to go in the frame.
After that previously mentioned fumble recovery by Kolenic provided the Bombers a 25-yard field, Tomcufcik redialed Mintz on a 19-yard touchdown toss for a 35-7 lead with 6:13 to go in the quarter.
Kenston’s defense went on to get off the field in three downs, before Tomcufcik would toss a 23-yard touchdown to senior receiver Jay Middleton for a 42-7 lead and a running clock with 2:21 left in the third.
Tomcufcik finished the night nine-of-11 passing for 163 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and zero sacks, before freshman signal-caller Nikko Georgiou subbed in to complete two of three passes for 52 yards.
In addition to Mintz’s four carries for 30 yards and two catches for 48 yards and Middleton’s three catches for 83 yards, Kenston 6-foot-5 sophomore tight end Ryan Miller had three catches for 21 yards, sophomore Carson Rivera-Gebeau had two catches for 52 yards and senior Jonathan Abbarno had one catch for 11 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Mintz had a 39-yard punt return to set up senior kicker Blake Torres’ 40-yard field goal with 7:44 to play for the eventual 45-7 final.
With each of Kenston’s first three opponents also picking victories in their week-four matchups, the Bombers jumped to the No. 3 spot in the Division III, Region 9 computer rankings among seven teams still unbeaten in the region.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to try to go 10-0 and have the 11th at home,” Grubich said. “I mean, if we go 10-0, we’re going to get one of those top-four spots, and that’s one week at a time and one practice at a time.
“For our guys, I think it’s pretty simple. I mean, we have not played our best football yet, and there’s a lot of mistakes that we see on film, and these guys need to get coached up. And it’s the same message every week: the target is on us, so you better be ready, because, if you’re not, then somebody’s going to take you out.”