Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
November 22, 2018
Canfield this, Canfield that.
The Kenston boys were sick of hearing about Canfield’s defense and whether they’d be able to hang entering the Division III, Region 9 championship on Friday night at Harding’s Mollenkopf Stadium in Warren.
But with the No. 2-seeded Bomber “underdogs” outgaining region favorite Canfield, 196 yards to 37 yards, for a 10-0 lead at intermission, it became evident to those in attendance who was the team to beat.
When the fat lady sang, it was all Kenston in a 33-7 butt-whooping in all three facets of the game for the Bombers’ first regional championship since 1995.
“Holy cow, can you believe that, man?” Kenston seventh-year head coach Jeff Grubich said about the lopsided scoreboard. “I was told you can’t score more than 20 (points) against these guys, and then I was told they’re only giving up eight points a game on the average.
“But it’s a credit to our guys. They didn’t listen to any of the hype, they filtered it out, and they just came out, and they played.”
While the Canfield Cardinals soared into the night with an 11-1 record and a No. 3 state ranking in the final Division III AP poll, surrendering just 8.7 points per game this fall, their season became more extinct than the dodo, a flightless bird that was bound to the island of Mauritius and last seen in 1662.
On the opening drive, Kenston marched 67 yards on 11 plays, with junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik completing a 12-yard pass to senior Bransen Stanley and a 16-yard pass to junior Jay Middleton, before junior running back Jack Porter went 18 yards on three straight carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 upper hand with 7:55 left in the frame.
“We knew Canfield has been a powerhouse in the past,” Porter said. “They beat up on us a couple years ago in out-of-conference play. So, we just looked to set the tone in the first quarter, and we did that. We knew we were going against a good football team.”
Porter was a varsity freshman safety when the 2016 Bombers lost to Canfield, 44-12.
But when the Kenston boys came out on Friday night, they made a good Canfield football team look not so good. The Cardinals only ran 14 plays in the first half, three of which were a gift.
On Canfield’s first drive, Kenston’s defense forced a three-and-out punt but was flagged for running into Cardinal senior kicker Ian Kristan for an automatic first down. The guilty Bomber definitely made contact with Kristan, but it was a ticky-tacky penalty with Kristan doing a Hollywood job of selling it.
Nonetheless, Kenston’s defense got back out and forced another three-and-out punt.
“There was a little bit of an NBA flop there by the punter, but it’s a regional championship game,” Grubich said. “Things are going to be tight like that. But, for our defense to just be resilient like that and come back and get the three-and-out and not let it get them down, that just says a lot about their character and their heart.”
Kenston’s defense got off the field all night long, as Canfield only converted one of eight third-down attempts. The Cardinals punted on all three of their possessions in the first half and were intercepted twice in the second half, by junior Tyler Mintz and senior Bransen Stanley.
Led by Kenston senior linebackers Matt Iklodi and Joe Staudenbauer, who collected 10 tackles apiece, the Bomber defense suffocated Canfield’s run offense to 3 yards or fewer on 16 of 32 plays.
“People thought we were underdogs, and tonight was definitely a statement game,” Staudenbaur said. “We prepared all week, and our coaches did a great job this week, the players worked hard, and I’m proud of my defense.
“We were just doing the little things, reading our keys, aligning right and going as hard as we could, four to six seconds, every play. I didn’t want this to be my last game, so I went all out.”
Conversely, Kenston’s offense capitalized on 11 of 15 third-down opportunities, due in large part to senior receiver Stanley, who finished with nine catches for 142 yards and a touchdown. Eight of his catches came in the first half, with all but one for 10 or more yards.
Specifically, Stanley snagged 11- and 10-yard receptions on back-to-back plays to keep the sticks moving on Kenston’s second drive, but a dropped pass on fourth down by one of his teammates accounted for the Bombers’ only possession of the game where they didn’t put points on the board.
“I had to be bigger than the moment, and my coach always tells me playmakers make plays in the big games,” Stanley said. “And this was a big game, and I had to make plays.
“Everyone was saying we couldn’t beat this team, but they strap their pads up just like we do, and we came out here and balled out and did our thing, executed the game plan, and we didn’t press. We were bigger than the moment.”
After Staudenbaur stuffed Canfield senior quarterback Max Dawson on third-and-seven for another Cardinal punt, the Bombers faced a 95-yard field on their third possession.
But Stanley came up with 13-, 16- and 10- and 38-yard receptions on that drive to keep the chains moving, before senior kicker Anna Sanders split the uprights on a 25-yard field goal into the wind from the left hash to provide the Bombers a 10-0 lead with 1:56 to go in the half.
Sanders also connected on a 28-yard field goal with 1:57 left in the game to help seal the victory. She is now six-of-six on field goals for the season, not to mention she is 55-of-60 on extra points.
“We haven’t put her in that position that much this year, so, for her to come in and knock two of them in during a regional title game, that’s a pretty big deal,” Grubich said of Sanders’ first multiple-field-goal night.
To open the second half, Canfield finally got something going when Dawson came out and fired a 30-yard pass to sophomore Carter Myers on the first play out of the locker room.
The Cardinals’ power-run game then opened up for junior Nick Crawford to get within field-goal range, but a 36-yard attempt by Kristan went wide left. Kristan connected from 40 yards the previous week.
“It was huge,” Staudenbaur said about keeping Canfield off the scoreboard at that point in the game. “We really needed that, and we knew that was an important part of the game, and, if we got that stop, we’d be rolling.”
Instead of Canfield making it a one-possession game, Kenston’s offense went back to work on an 80-yard field with Mintz moving the chains on a 27-yard catch from Tomcufcik and Porter pulling off a “Whoop!” to make a tackler miss for a 22-yard gain, before Porter would punch it in the end zone on a 3-yard carry.
After a dead-ball penalty, Kenston junior kicker Blake Torres connected on a 35-yard extra point for the Bombers’ 17-0 upper hand with 5:24 to go in the third quarter.
“Jonny was making plays, the wideouts were making plays in the secondary, and the O-line was just punching it and controlling them up front,” Porter said of his offense. “But our defense played phenomenal tonight to keep us on the field. I can’t give them enough credit.”
Canfield then put its lone scoring drive of the night together, converting a fourth-and-two play from its own 32, and then senior running back Mehlyn Clinkscale broke loose on a 40-yard chunk play before punching in a 1-yard score to cut his team’s deficit, 17-7, with 32 seconds to go in the third.
The Cardinals then attempted an onside kick, but it never went 10 yards, and Kenston sophomore Anthony Valocchi dove in to recover the pigskin on a 47-yard field.
Nine plays later, Kenston faced a fourth-and-16 from outside the red zone, but Grubich kept his offense on the field, and Tomcufcik delivered a bullet for Stanley to snag over the back of a Cardinal defender in tight coverage for a 28-yard touchdown and a 23-7 lead with 7:32 remaining.
“Jonny said he was going to throw it to me, and I had to go get it,” Stanley said. “And that’s what I’m supposed to do as a wideout, make catches, make big plays. (Grubich) wanted to show them that we were the better team, and we obviously were, because you saw that on the scoreboard.”
Mintz then intercepted a Canfield pass and returned it 22 yards down to the Cardinal 27-yard line. A personal foul only made matters worse for Canfield by providing the Bombers a 12-yard field.
Three plays later, Porter scored his third touchdown – and 27th of the year with 2,116 yards rushing – on a 7-yard carry to further Kenston’s lead, 30-7, with 5:56 to play.
Canfield then fumbled its ensuing kickoff return, and Kenston senior Dorion Talley recovered it on a 29-yard field. Three carries later, Porter had the Bombers first-and-goal at the 3, before Grubich substituted him off the gridiron to the standing applause of a well-traveled Kenston crowd at the 13th largest high school stadium in Ohio.
“There’s nothing like it,” said Porter, who finished with 35 carries for 151 yards. “Honestly, the ovation goes to the O-line. That was for them.”
Sanders went on to kick that previously mentioned 28-yard field goal for the eventual 33-7 final. Stanley collected his interception on the Cardinals’ ensuing drive to put the dodo on Canfield.
With the win, Kenston improved to 12-1 and advances to play AP No. 7-ranked Columbus Eastmoor Academy (12-1) in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium in New Philadelphia.
“We had a rough couple of years,” Porter said about a 3-7 campaign in 2015 and a 2-8 campaign in 2016, before turning things around at 7-3 last year. “So, it means a lot to shift the culture of the program.”
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