Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
October 18, 2018
The Kenston gridders didn’t have all the offensive fireworks of a high-scoring affair, but they stayed calm and collected in the elements during a 28-6 road victory against league foe Madison on Friday night at Dick Hamblin Field in Lake County.
In monsoon conditions – for Northeast Ohio anyways – the Division III AP No. 1-ranked Bombers (8-0, 5-0) handed off the pigskin to all-Ohio junior running back Jack Porter 41 times for 290 yards and three touchdowns.
While it was a matchup between the frontrunner of the Western Reserve Conference and the bottom-feeder Blue Streaks (2-6, 0-5), Madison kept Kenston to its lowest point production and second-lowest margin of victory of the season.
Kenston seventh-year head coach Jeff Grubich said he was still trying to dry out from the rain the next morning.
“Something you want your team to face is a little bit of adversity, playing on a grass field and having a basic monsoon move in on top of you,” he said. “That gives you a little bit of adversity, and our players had to adjust. The plan changed a little bit from having to chuck the ball around the yard to, ‘Hey, man, we’re going to have to ground and pound.’ So, Jack Porter didn’t have a choice to be our workhorse out there.”
Kenston junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik still completed seven of 13 passes for 120 yards, four of them going to junior Jay Middleton for 95 yards, but it was 335 yards rushing that got the Bombers moving the sticks for 21 first downs.
Porter found the end zone on a 2-yard carry to finish off the Bombers’ 11-play opening drive for a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the first quarter. Kenston senior Anna Sanders provided the extra point.
The Bombers then got down to business on defense in the second quarter, twice closing the door on Madison in short-field situations. First, the Blue Streaks blocked a Kenston punt and took over on the 31-yard line, but Bomber junior lineman Eric Dombrowski sacked junior quarterback Alex Dragas on fourth down to get his offense the pigskin back on the 19.
“He’s kind of a smaller guy, but he’s scrappy and uses his quickness to his advantage against some of those big hogs,” Grubich said of his 195-pounder. “So, we love having him come in and change things up. And that provided a lot of momentum swing for us, because when you get a punt blocked, usually that doesn’t bode well for the future. And for them to come in and stop the bleeding and Dom to get that sack, that was huge.”
Kenston’s Tomcufcik then had a pass dropped and tipped to a defender for his first interception of the season on 154 attempts. Madison took over on a 40-yard field, but Kenston’s defense didn’t budge.
Once things were bandaged up, Porter scored his second touchdown of the night on a 17-yard carry for a 14-0 lead with 1:56 remaining in the half, which held up at the break.
“We went in at half, and it was 14-0, and the coaches basically said nobody’s going to be able to throw this ball on either side, so we’re going to have to rely on the run, and the hogs up front are going to have to get muddy, and Jack Porter is going to have to be the workhorse,” Grubich said. “So, give credit to the O-line up front for opening up some holes, and Jack took care of the ball.”
Madison then lost a fumble that was recovered by junior linebacker Matt Iklodi at the Bombers’ own 22-yard line, and Kenston capitalized on a 16-yard touchdown run by Tomcufcik, which was set up by Porter’s 44-yard chunk play, for a 21-0 lead with 8:28 to go in the frame.
Kenston’s defense then came through on a goal-line stand, when Madison was first-and-goal at the 3-yard line, to keep a zero on the board heading into the final frame.
Then sophomore linebacker Anthony Valocchi recovered another Madison fumble at Kenston’s 39-yard line to open the fourth quarter, and the Bombers continued to stand tall by forcing the Blue Steaks four-and-out on their next possession.
“I’ve got to tip my hat to the defense and the defensive coaches,” Grubich said. “They did an excellent job stopping the bleeding several times. There was a blocked punt where Madison could have scored, we had a couple fourth downs on offense we didn’t convert, and Madison had a short field almost all night long.
“But our defense, their mantra is, ‘We’ll bend, but we won’t break.’ They did an excellent job. Those 11 cats over there fly around, and I’m just proud of those guys. When you’re playing great team defense, it’s hard for a team to drive the field on you. I think we’ve done that pretty much all year.”
Porter capitalized on the four-and-out with a 42-yard touchdown run for a 28-0 upper hand with 6:06 remaining.
Madison didn’t find the end zone until senior running back Dominic Conforte’s 4-yard touchdown run with 2:40 remaining in the game.
“We had a lot of clean, white jerseys go in the game there after that last score by Porter,” Grubich said. “So, of course, we wanted the shutout, but there’s no need to leave your ones in there to get banged up when you’ve got the game in hand.”
With the win, Kenston is one of two unbeatens remaining in Division III and moved from No. 3 to No. 1 in the AP poll that was released Monday.
Up next, the Bombers will host Chardon (5-3, 4-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in Bainbridge. The Hilltoppers will be after the possibility of a shared lead with Kenston in the WRC standings. They also will be fighting for their playoff lives with the No. 8 spot in the Division III, Region 9 computer rankings.
“Chardon needs this game in order to cash a ticket to the playoffs,” Grubich said. “We expect them to give us their best effort. So, you’ve got to be disciplined against that wing-T. If you’re not disciplined and reading your keys and staying home, they’re going to gash you.”
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