Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
November 21, 2018
Division III, State Semifinals
AP No. 4 Kenston Bombers (12-1) vs. AP No. 7 Eastmoor Warriors (12-1)
7 p.m. Friday
Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium
The Division III AP No. 4-ranked Kenston boys (12-1) can’t play the underdog card when they collide with the AP No. 7-ranked Columbus Eastmoor Academy Warriors (12-1) in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at New Philadelphia’s Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium in Tuscarawas County.
If anything, the Bombers will be slight favorites on the day after Thanksgiving, when they chase after their program’s third state final appearance.
The 1986 Kenston boys defeated St. Clairsville, 22-21, in their state semifinal game, with quarterback Mike Dinallo scoring the winning touchdown on a 1-yard keeper with 39 seconds remaining. Running back Ken McClintock also had a pair of 1-yard touchdowns in that game.
The 1995 Kenston boys defeated Poland Seminary, 20-18, in their state semifinal game, with the Bombers’ silver bullets denying Poland a two-point conversion with 2:30 remaining. Two-way standout Andy Rule had a 38-yard pick six and a 1-yard touchdown run that game, while Ryan Noble scored on a 24-yard reception from Mark Lieberth in front of 6,359 fans.
“The chase is on,” Kenston seventh-year head coach Jeff Grubich said after his 2018 gridders demolished AP No. 3-ranked Canfield, 33-7, in the Region 9 championship on Friday night in Warren.
“The great news is we can still continue to get better, and we’re going to get in the film room tomorrow morning, and we’re going to grind those kids, man,” Grubich said about tell-the-truth Saturday. “We’re going to tell them, ‘Look, this is where we can still improve.’ So, that’s good thing – we get to keep working.”
Among the four regional championships in Division III, the 26-point margin of victory the Bombers put on Canfield was by far most lopsided result.
When it was all said and done, Kenston outgained Canfield, 357 yards to 201 yards.
More specifically, Kenston’s defense held the Cardinals’ power offense to just 37 yards and one first-down play in the first half, in large thanks to a four-man front of senior tackle Mitch Sotera and juniors Tim Matty, Max Czech and Connor Kratzert.
“The last two weeks have been kind of rough for us, because we’ve faced power teams,” said Kenston defensive coordinator Steve Teringo, who’s in his seventh year at Kenston and 41st year coaching high school football overall. “We had to switch from a three-man front to a four-man front. We pulled one of our safeties out and went with an extra lineman.
“So, the last two weeks, we’ve had to spend a lot of time making sure that we’re lined up right. When you lose a safety in coverage, when you go from a three-four to a four-three, your coverages have to change. Well, for this week, we’re back to what we’ve been doing for most of the year, and it’s a lot more comfortable for us.”
While the Bombers had to prepare differently for their 33-7 victory against Canfield and their 40-21 win against Buckeye the previous week, it didn’t appear to phase them. Perhaps senior linebackers Matt Iklodi and Joe Staudenbaur and junior linebacker Logan Vargo cleaning up with a combined 29 tackles made the difference last week.
But the Kenston boys were firing on all cylinders against Canfield.
Offensively, junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik completed 15 of 22 passes for 210 yards, senior Bransen Stanley had nine catches for 142 yards with a touchdown, junior Jack Porter finished with 35 carries for 151 yards and three touchdowns, and senior kicker Anna Sanders split the uprights on a pair of field goals.
And on special teams, senior Dorion Talley recovered a fumble on a Canfield kickoff return, while sophomore Anthony Valocchi recovered Canfield’s attempt at an onside kick. Overall, Kenston won the turnover battle, 3-0.
But the Bombers will be back in their three-four defensive base when they travel to take on the Eastmoor Warriors’ spread offense on Friday night at Woody Hayes Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 4,400 – about 2,000 fewer seats than were filled at Kenston’s 1995 state semifinal game.
While neutral site New Philadelphia is an 85-mile bus trip for Kenston and a 115-mile bus trip for Eastmoor – with the two opponents being separated by 155 miles – many gridiron enthusiasts are scratching their heads over why the Ohio High School Athletic Association didn’t pair Kenston with Norwalk, just 76 miles apart, and Eastmoor with Kettering Archbishop Alter, just 82 miles apart, for the state semifinals.
Nonetheless, Kenston head coach Grubich told his gridders it didn’t matter who they played next after their win against Canfield on Friday night, and rightfully so – a rout on that stage deserves some confidence.
Eastmoor is under 16th-year head coach Jim Miranda, who owns a 129-46 record at the helm, including a 9-7 mark in the postseason with a state runner-up finish in 2008, losing to Aurora in the championship game that year. Miranda’s Warriors have had winning seasons in all 16 of his years there.
Most recently, Eastmoor is coming off a 20-14 regional title victory against Thornville Sheridan in a game that 165-pound senior running back Savon Edwards had 17 carries for 131 yards and two of the Warriors’ three touchdowns. Although, he did exit the game late in the third quarter and did not return after reaggravating his shoulder from a previous-week injury.
Nonetheless, Edwards is no Archie Griffin, college football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner who graduated from Eastmoor in 1972.
Meanwhile, Warrior senior quarterback Marquise Laster completed a 59-yard toss to senior Roshaun Harper to set up Eastmoor’s other touchdown – a 7-yard carry by senior receiver Kylan Birchmore.
“Well, they are a highly skilled team,” Kenston defensive coordinator Teringo said. “Their quarterback has a very good arm. They have a nice running game, a nice set of receivers. They’ve got four or five guys that I call home-run hitters. If they get the ball anywhere on the field, they can take it to the house.
“So, our job, we’ve really got to be fundamentally sound, especially tackling-wise, because they gain a lot of yards after initial contact. They’ll bounce off, and they don’t miss a beat. They just keep zooming up the field.”
Eastmoor’s spread offense, which gained 430 yards last week, runs the ball about 70 percent of the time and has similar weapons to Kenston, but the Warriors also throw in two-back sets at times, Teringo said.
The Warriors did cough up three turnovers against Sheridan, including a pair of interceptions by Laster.
Defensively, Eastmoor has a mean pass rush that put Sheridan quarterback Ethan Heller on the run all night, completing just seven of 24 passes for 74 yards. And Eastmoor only allowed 56 yards rushing.
Overall, Eastmoor has surrendered 12.9 points per game this season and only gave up more than 20 points once. In week three, Eastmoor suffered its lone loss, 55-24, against Division I Westerville Central.
But, if Kenston’s defense can get off the field on third downs like it did against Canfield, the Bombers will give their potent offense the opportunity to score.
“Well, when you play a team that is multiple like Eastmoor is, the thing that’s huge is first downs and third downs,” Teringo said. “I have their first downs listed and their third-and-shorts and third-and-longs. Those two downs are crucial.
“What we’ve got to do is play well on first down, and then on third down we can’t give up any type of a home run or anything. They like the alleys, and they like to go deep. They’ve got the speed, and they do have a lot of little trick plays – a double-reverse pass, a flea-flicker, and then they’ve got a screen series they’re pretty good at too. So, we’re breaking it.”
TONY’S TAKE: Kenston wins, 30-22.