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Silver bullets from ‘95 in Kenston gridders’ corner

Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
November 29, 2018
Tony Lange

The Kenston football team didn’t advance all the way to the Division III state championship game by not believing.

And after dominating AP No. 3-ranked Canfield, 33-7, in the regional final and No. 7 Columbus Eastmoor Academy, 40-7, in the state semifinals, the Bombers certainly believe there’s still unfinished business to take care of when they collide with No. 1 Kettering Archbishop Alter at 3 p.m. Friday in Canton.

Whoever doubted the Bombers (13-1) following a 27-24 loss against Chardon in week nine certainly doesn’t doubt any more, but every championship team has that moment in a season where its players truly grasp what they’re capable of accomplishing.

For the 1995 Kenston Bombers, who also advanced to the state title game, a 21-0 victory against Chardon in week nine was their moment. At least that was the clarifying triumph for then-senior tight end Jack Cudzilo, who went on to play at Allegheny College.

“Us beating Chardon, 21-0, and John Wervey not being able to play that game, and we were still able to dominate the defending Division II state champions, I think that really catapulted us that, ‘Hey, we are the real deal, and we can really do it,’” Cudzilo said. “It was game nine of our season, but that really catapulted us into the playoffs.”

Kenston snapped Chardon’s 22-game win steak that night behind a 237-yard rushing performance by then-senior Andy Rule, who went on to play for the Air Force Academy. The Bombers’ defense held the Hilltoppers to just 165 total yards.

The 1995 Bombers (12-2) also shut out their first two playoff opponents, before avenging their lone loss of the regular season and eventually finishing state runners-up to Clyde, 3-0.

Despite coming off a 5-5 campaign the previous season, then-senior running back John Wervey said the ’95 run was expected with the talented group of 12 seniors the Bombers had that year.

“We were undefeated our seventh-grade year and our eighth-grade year, and then we were undefeated as freshmen,” said Wervey, who still lives in the Chagrin Valley and will be making the trip down to Canton this Friday. “Our junior year, we had a lot of expectations but had some key injuries. But we knew we were much better than that, and we really worked our tails off to have that success our senior year.”

Cudzilo, who now lives in Mentor, said he still attends Kenston football games every once and in a while and made sure to clear his schedule to see the 2018 Bombers put the smack down on Eastmoor Academy Friday night in New Philadelphia.

“This run they’ve been doing is just unbelievable,” he said. “It was great to see what they could do. I think the game has just completely changed. When we played in ’95, it was a run-first, heavy-power type of offense and then rely on good defense.

“Their defense was great in this past game, but their offense can put up points. I don’t think we could have put up that many of points, but our defense was there. That whole ’95 season was just really special, and it really followed me throughout my entire life.”

Kenston’s 1995 defense, dubbed the silver bullets, surrendered just 5.2 points per game behind first-team all-Ohio linebackers Rule and Wervey, as well as fellow senior linebacker Clint Eastman.

But with a line that included first-team all-state seniors Tyson Walter and Mark Kautzman, the Bombers’ offense did manage to put up some points from time to time, including a 49-7 hurting on rival Chagrin Falls and the Tigers’ first-year head coach Mark Iammarino in 1995.

The Tigers’ lone touchdown came on a 31-yard halfback option pass by then-senior Jeff Grubich, who now is the seventh-year head coach at Kenston and lives in the district with his wife and kids.

“I read a quote from him talking about how proud he was to be a Bomber and lead the organization,” said Kris Boyd, who was a starting guard as a sophomore during the ’95 season. “You never forget where you came from, but it sounds like he’s really loving where he’s at. And I think his niece is the kicker, too. And that’s fantastic. Being a father of three girls, that’s awesome to see.”

Current senior kicker Anna Sanders is the third-leading scorer for the 2018 Bombers, connecting on 59 of 65 extra points and all six field goals she’s attempted this season.

When Bomber fans talk about Kenston’s 1995 team, of course, Walter’s name pops up and for good reason. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound lineman in high school went on start in a record 49 games at Ohio State University, before getting drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and playing five years in the NFL.

But Walter, Kautzman, who went on to play at Bowling Green, and Cudzilo weren’t the only Bombers getting their hands dirty in the trenches in ’95. Guys like senior Nathan Hagan, junior Tom O’Brien and sophomore Boyd held their own.

“We had Tyson and Kautzman on the left side, and they were just monsters,” Boyd said. “But we didn’t really have your traditional left guard, right guard. Nowadays, in football, your left tackle is kind of your cornerstone piece. We didn’t really do it like that. We would flip-flop back and fourth.”

One of the offensive guards, Boyd was only 5-foot-6 and maybe 150 pounds his sophomore year and had to go to battle alongside 285-pound Walter and 275-pound Kautzman week in and week out, not to mention Cudzilo was right up there with his own beef.

“Our team was loaded up with seniors,” Boyd said. “And there was so much weight on one side of our line. And then I was a pulling guard, so I was just that extra set of hands, and we’d just push and push and push. It was fantastic. Memories like that you don’t forget, me just being a young kid trying to figure out what was going on and playing for the older guys next to me.

“It’s like these kids this year, they’re going to get a ton of great experience playing in this state championship game, and I think more than half their starters are coming back next year.”

The 2018 Bombers have seven non-senior starters on offense and six non-senior starters on defense.

Behind that offensive line in 1995, running back Rule finished the season with 129 carries for 1,001 yards, while fullback Wervey had 132 carries for 680 yards.

Rule, who is still in the military, moves around but is currently in the Virginia Beach area. His dad still lives in Northeast Ohio and keeps him updated on games, he said.

“I’m happy for the team, and I’m happy for Kenston,” Rule said. “Their success this year has definitely motivated all of us old players from the past to reach out to one another and try to find a way to see if we can come back and support them. All of our games from the ’95 season were uploaded to YouTube, so I’ve watched all the high school videos I haven’t watched in a good decade.

“But we’re definitely rooting for them and wishing all of them the best. I know I’m going to get up early Friday morning and drive back and meet up with a couple of the guys from the ’95 team and support the boys. Hopefully, they can bring one home for Kenston.”

While Kenston’s Rule, Wervey and then-senior quarterback Mark Lieberth were running the true ‘I’ over Kautzman and Tyson all year, it was six shutouts by Kenston’s defense that kept the wins coming.

After that Chardon victory, Kenston defeated Twinsburg, 6-0, in overtime to conclude the regular season at 9-1, before going on shut out Revere, 18-0, in the first round of the playoffs at Solon’s Stewart Field and then shutting out a 10-1 Avon Lake team, 14-0, in the regional championship during a whiteout snowstorm at Baldwin Wallace Finnie Stadium in Berea.

Kenston’s senior linebacker corps of Rule, Wervey and Eastman called themselves the killer bees that year. Meanwhile, junior Andy Kuhn had something crazy like 17 sacks that season, while senior Mike Thompson was a threat for collecting interceptions and breaking off yards in the Bombers’ return game.

Not to mention, Thompson would come up big during the Bombers’ rematch against an 11-1 Poland team in the state semifinals at the Akron Rubber Bowl.

Poland was the lone team to defeat Kenton in the regular season, 7-6, during a week-one defensive struggle, but the Bombers owned a 20-6 lead entering the fourth quarter of the state semifinals thanks to a 38-yard interception for a touchdown by Rule, a 24-yard touchdown catch by senior receiver Ryan Noble and a 1-yard touchdown run by Rule.

But Poland came back and scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter and had the opportunity to tie the game on a two-point conversion with 2:39 to play.

“It was one of those moments where we were up and we were dominating, and then you could just see the glass house start to shatter where they were coming back,” Rule said. “And then Mike Thompson made a great play there (to deny the two-point conversion attempt).

“So, to be able to play them again, it was a revenge-is-so-sweet type of moment. Like (head) coach Mike Knepp said at the end of the game there, we were just on cloud nine. It was a real good feeling and a real good moment.”

The week leading up to the 1995 Bombers’ Division III state championship game against a 12-1 Clyde team was nothing short of memorable with the community support, Wervey said.

Just like the folks of Bainbridge and Auburn are displaying this week, Bomber nation has a lot of pride in its school, he said.

“It’s times like these where you just look back and celebrate the good times,” Wervey said. “I’ve talked to some people that I haven’t spoken with for years. I can’t wait to see them again this Friday. We have a ton of laughs and great memories.”

In the ’95 title game against Clyde, Kenston played in front of 8,779 fans at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.

On Clyde’s opening possession, the Fliers’ drive was extended on a late clipping call, and they went on to capitalize on a 32-yard field goal two minutes into the game for the eventual 3-0 final.

Kenston was penalized on another late clipping call on a Clyde punt in the fourth quarter, which took away what would have been great field position for the Bombers.

“I just hope these guys bring it home this Friday, because it’s like a hole in my heart my entire life,” Cudzilo said. “It’s like the one that got away. You always think about the girl as the one that got away, but that state championship, the way we had those clipping calls against us, and, even though we played real well, that’s the one we feel got away. We feel we should have won that one.

“I just hope these Kenston kids now are having as much fun as we did. I know the ’95 guys are rooting for them.”

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