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Two tales: Kenston surrenders 14-point lead in loss to Aurora

Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
November 13, 2014
Tony Lange
There are a lot of high school teams out there that choose the “family” theme for their sports seasons.

This fall, out on the gridiron at Kenston High School, the “family” theme chose the Bombers.

Under third-year head coach Jeff Grubich, fifth-seed Kenston advanced to its third consecutive playoff appearance but lost to fourth-seed Aurora in the Division III, Region 7 quarterfinals, 42-24, on Friday at the Greenmen’s Veterans Stadium.

“Eyes up,” Grubich said to his players in the post-game huddle.

From Home Page After beating previously undefeated Aurora, 31-21, the previous week to claim their first outright Chagrin Valley Conference title since 1995, the Bombers soared out to a 21-7 lead at intermission of Friday’s rematch.

Aurora went on to outscore Kenston, 35-3, in the second half to end the Bombers’ campaign at 8-3.

“Listen to me very carefully,” Grubich said, starting his speech in the post-game huddle. “I’ve coached football for a lot of years. I’ve played football for a lot of years. I’ve never been a part of a team that’s gone through so much adversity. And what did you do? You kept battling. You kept fighting.”

Grubich reminded his players about their hardships.

“Every time you said, ‘It does not matter,'” the coach said. “You got up, and you kept fighting. You’re not going to believe it now, but you’re going to be better men for it.”

Seniors, stand up.

“These guys fought hard and gave everything they’ve got,” Grubich said about 15 guys who just played their last high school game. “Come up here and shake their hands.”

After a season-ending loss in the playoffs, some teams have players who want nothing to do with one another. Some teams have players who want nothing to do with the underclassmen anymore. Some teams have players who want to just get on the bus and go home.

The Kenston football team had players who wanted to console one another. It had players who wanted congratulate their teammates. It had players who wanted nothing more than to spend more time with their gridiron brothers.

“Well, we had deaths. You know, family deaths,” coach Grubich said about being a part of a team like no other in his 25-plus years as coach and player.

“His brother was 23 years old,” Grubich said about one of his players. “Coach (Reed) Cornell lost his brother, who was 36 years old. We had three freaking players blow ACLs before we even put shoulder pads on. Three starters. And then you lose two D-linemen tonight. I’ve never been a part of a team that’s seen so many bad things happen to them, yet they bounce back from an 0-2 start and won eight in a row. So a lot of teams after all that bad stuff happened could have packed it in, and they didn’t. They went on an 8-0 run, and tonight we just got dinged up, and Aurora made more plays than us.”

The Bombers got after it in the first half, with senior defensive end Lovell Spruce forcing two Greenmen fumbles – recovered by Kenston senior end Will Bush and senior tackle Ben Blazek – and with senior safety Jeremy Wyers grabbing a one-handed interception, the kind shown on Sports Center, against Aurora senior quarterback Alex Smierciak.

Those defensive efforts, all in the first quarter, allowed Kenston to capture a 14-0 lead.

On the first touchdown, Kenston junior quarterback Parker Gdula sold a fake handoff that the Greenmen jumped at, but he kept the pigskin himself for a 12-yard score.

And on the second end-zone find, senior playmaker Jake Silbermann caught a pass from Gdula and ran a rainbow around would-be Aurora tackler Ryan Devine to open up space for a 27-yard score.

Aurora bounced back in the second quarter with a 13-play drive that had two fourth-down conversions, including a 32-yard touchdown pass from Smierciak to senior receiver Joe Dinardo on fourth and 10.

Wyers returned the ensuing kickoff 69 yards to set up sophomore running back James Thigpen’s 5-yard touchdown run for the 21-7 score at intermission.

“Jeremy Wyers and James Thigpen are dynamic players, and we’ve got to get the ball in their hands more often, without a question,” Grubich said. “Unfortunately, it was a tale of two halves.”

Led by Aurora junior running back Ben Nelson’s 21 carries for 150-plus yards in the second half, the Greenmen took advantage of Kenston’s game-ending injuries to defensive linemen Ben Blazek, senior, and Dylan Borland, sophomore, for the 42-24 final.

“Aurora made some great adjustments and just came out and played smash-mouth football,” Grubich said. “They executed, and we did not in the second half. And that’s a credit to their coaching staff and their kids.”

Gdula finished the game completing 17 of 36 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Wyers had seven catches for 91 yards, and Silbermann had five for 65 yards. Thigpen carried the ball 13 times for 56 yards.

“I’m proud of you,” Grubich said to his players in the post-game huddle. “Underclassmen, the only way we got here is through hard work. That’s the expectation that will continue, and we will get better.”

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