Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
September 6, 2018
A week after getting shut out by Kirtland, Chagrin Falls senior Mick Lawrence and his fellow Tiger gridders ripped through Kenston’s defense on a 73-yard touchdown drive during their first series on Friday night at C.S. Harris Stadium.
Lawrence had six carries for 64 yards on the series, including three pitches and one keeper out of the wildcat, before finding more space on the edge to dive past the pylon for a 10-yard score to provide his team a 7-0 lead with 7:45 to go in the first quarter.
Before that, Chagrin’s defense had already hushed Kenston to a three-and-out possession, thanks to a pair of pass breakups by Tiger sophomore defensive back Xavier Perez.
The veteran Bombers, as the clear favorites against the pup Tigers, who have nine new starters on each side of the pigskin this season, took the rivalry battle to a complete 180-degree turn from what was expected out of the gates.
“When you’ve got a veteran like Mick, who’s played 20 varsity games already going into this season and he’s already had 2,000-yard all-purpose seasons, he’s a threat,” Chagrin 24th-year head coach Mark Iammarino said. “He’s one of the better players in the league, so we’re going to get him the ball as much as possible, and then we pick our spots with the other guys.”
A weapon in every facet of the game, Lawrence also played full-time defense and was tasked with containing Kenston senior Bransen Stanley, who entered this season with the most career receiving yards and touchdowns in Bomber history. Not to mention, Lawrence returns punts and kicks, too.
So, although Lawrence appeared unstoppable on Chagrin’s first offensive series, the Tiger standout only got three more carries the remainder of the night, in what turned out to be a 41-14 road victory for the Bombers.
“We just knew that they wanted to get the ball to him, and, if we shut him down, we could shut their team down,” Kenston senior linebacker Matt Iklodi said of Lawrence.
And while it took Kenston all-Ohio junior running back Jack Porter a few offensive series to settle in and start popping off first downs, the Bombers wasted no time scoring the tying touchdown. After Iklodi returned the Tigers’ ensuing kickoff 32 yards, Porter had a 1-yard carry and a 6-yard carry to set Kenston up at third-and-three from midfield.
Chagrin’s defense was biting on the run, with the Tiger safeties lining up only about 5 yards from the line scrimmage to jam the box.
“We did (expect that),” said Kenston seventh-year head coach Jeff Grubich. “And, at the same time, we said, if they did that, we felt like we could throw the ball pretty well on them. So, they kind of did what we expected.”
On the next play, Kenston junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik fired a quick pass to junior receiver Jay Middleton on an inside slant route in one-on-one coverage for a 49-yard chunk play down to the 3-yard line.
Two plays later, Tomcufcik punched in a 1-yard keeper for the 7-7 score with 5:33 remaining in the first quarter.
“We knew it was going to be a dog fight early on,” Kenston’s Stanley said. “They’re hungry, we’re hungry, it’s a rivalry game. We knew they were going to fight. We just had to bounce back and bend, don’t break.”
After Kenston senior linebacker Joe Staudenbaur broke up a pass and senior nose tackle Mitch Sotera administered a tackle for loss to force fourth and long, the Bombers’ offense went back to work on a 13-play, 82-yard drive that concluded with Porter’s 5-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 upper hand with 8:45 to go in the half.
A 23-yard catch by junior slotback Tyler Mintz and a 21-yard catch by 6-foot-5 freshman tight end Ryan Miller helped move that drive along. Miller had a similar catch for 18 yards in the second half, when Tomcufcik put the ball up high where only the towering rookie could grab it in double coverage over the middle.
While Stanley and Mintz are proven veterans, Middleton and Miller provide Tomcufcik with four legitimate options – the second-year quarterback finished the night 13-of-18 passing for 265 yards and two touchdowns.
With the triple-M threat of Mintz, Middleton and Miller, the Tigers had no choice but play an honest pass coverage, which in turn opened up the field for all-Ohioan Stanley to get busy on his six catches for 92 yards.
On Kenston’s next offensive series, Stanley hauled in a 40-yard bomb from Tomcufcik, with perfect hands to catch the ball out front, which set up his 17-yard touchdown catch in coverage against Lawrence to propel the Bombers to a 20-7 upper hand with 4:48 to go in the half.
“Oh, the 40-yard catch,” Stanley said, when asked which reception of his was better on that drive. “I owe it all to my quarterback Jonny T – the best quarterback in the WRC. I owe it all to him and the O-line.”
Stanley said his fundamental receiving technique “is all my coach, coach (Scott) Anderson – best coach in the WRC. He makes us stay focused, read the nose, catch with our eyes, not our hands.”
Kenston scored once more before the end of the half, with Tomcufcik completing passes to Middleton, Stanley and Mintz, before Porter ran in a 5-yard touchdown on a second-effort bounce off the line and through an opening in the slot for the 27-7 lead with 1:15 remaining, but only 40 seconds came off the clock on that drive.
Chagrin’s offense got the ball back on a 70-yard field, and Lawrence broke loose on a 50-yard pickup and then finished off what he started on a 5-yard touchdown run to cut the Tigers’ deficit, 27-14, by intermission. He finished the night with nine carries for 125 yards.
Kenston linebacker Iklodi said the Bombers’ defense was determined to shut things down in the second half.
“Well, we knew in the first half, when they were scoring, their first couple scores were just a few mistakes – fixable mistakes,” he said. “So, we went in the locker room, we fixed them up, we came out, we played our own defense that we normally play.”
Kenston wore the Tigers down and kept them out of the end zone for the entirety of the second half, while Stanley pushed the Bombers’ lead out to 34-14 on a 9-yard sweep with 7:20 to play in the third quarter.
With nearly double the roster size, the Kenston gridders simply exhausted the Tigers in the second half, coach Iammarino said.
“They’re explosive obviously in the pass game,” he said. “They’ve got some really good receivers and a real good quarterback. And they have a really good football team, they really do. So, we knew that we would have to answer and keep scoring offensively. And the cramp bug hit us in the second half. You know, that doesn’t help. But I was really proud of the way our kids fought – they really did.”
On the ensuing possession in the third quarter, the Tigers went for it on fourth-and-four at the Kenston 22, but Iklodi batted down Chagrin senior Sean Cusack’s pass to put an end to the drive.
“I knew they were going to keep clawing,” Iklodi said. “I just saw that play develop. I knew that their quarterback had a tendency of always throwing left, and I picked up on that and was aware of it, and studying the film all week really helped.”
Kenston put the Tigers to bed on a 35-yard touchdown catch by Tyler Mintz, whose invisibility got him wide open to pull in Tomcufcik’s pass at the 5-yard line, for the 41-14 upper hand with 4:35 to play – the eventual final.
Coach Grubich said he had no idea how Mintz got that open.
“But we were sitting on the headsets, and I think all five of us at the same time said, ‘Holy (cow), he’s wide open,’” Grubich said. “And then I’m just sitting there going, ‘Just catch it. Don’t drop it, man.’”
Mintz finished the night with three catches for 70 yards, while Porter had 30 carries for 127 yards. Overall, Kenston outgained Chagrin, 468 yards to 189 yards.
While Grubich is a 1996 Chagrin Falls graduate who played for Iammarino during his senior year, the Bomber coach said he didn’t have any mixed emotions entering the game. He said he had one emotion – to kick Chagrin’s butt.
“It’s special,” Grubich said about winning at Harris Stadium. “This is a special rivalry, and I talked to our kids on Monday about it. And then I talked to them again about it – about being a part of it growing up, and everything like that. You know, it doesn’t matter what side of the rivalry you’re on, to win it, I mean, it makes you feel real good.”
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