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From six-man football to supremacy, Kenston has come full circle with state title

Published in The News-Herald
November 30, 2018
Chris Lillstrung

CANTON – It would be fascinating if, somehow, they could be given a front-row seat at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium to take it all in.

Seventy years ago, there was no Kenston.

The football talent was so sparse in southwest Geauga County, in fact, that six-man football was the sole option. Those trailblazers made do.

What we know today as Kenston comprised one-third of the Geauga County League – Auburn, Bainbridge, Burton, Chester, Russell and Thompson.

Forget consolidation – it was about your tiny hamlet.

You fought population density and your closest neighbors on the best patch of grass available.

Over time, those former hamlets grew.

It has now grown into a giant that rules with a mighty force over Ohio, similar to the revolutions of the commanding wind turbine in the front yard of the high school.

After so much state final heartbreak, with such a unique route to get there, Nov. 30 was a culmination.

Kenston hammered Kettering Alter, 42-6, in the Division III state final for its first state championship in football in school history.

With Kirtland’s D-VI title earlier in the day, it marked the first time in News-Herald coverage area history two football teams earned state crowns in the same campaign.

There was no need for frayed nerves.

There was no need to dream anymore.

There was need for reflection.

From six-man football to supremacy in the Buckeye State, from two losses in 1986 and 1995 in state title tilts by a combined four points to a 23-year wait for another chance, Kenston has arrived.

“We heard from alumni. We heard from players on the ’86 and ’95 teams,” Bombers coach Jeff Grubich said. “We’ve been bringing them in every week talking to the team on Thursdays. I just got flooded with just the one phrase, ‘Finish it.’ Finish it and bring it home.

“So that was our message to our team and our coaches, and I’m proud that we were able to get it done.”

Proud of the precision on offense.

The penetration and effectiveness on defense.

A girl kicking extra points in a state final.

It had it all.

Running back Jack Porter, who ran 116 yards and three touchdowns, including a massive 58-yard jaunt to daylight to start the second quarter, noted the name recognition difference coming into Canton.

“We’ve heard about Kettering Alter all week,” Porter said. “We were called Kingston a couple of times – just stuff like that.”

Ohio knows the name now, if it didn’t already, with a tale that included some unique chapters.

Bransen Stanley has a story to tell his grandchildren one day.

In a stretch of two plays in a state championship game as a senior, Stanley tipped a pass and stuck with it for a high-wire interception, then displayed his safe hands again on a 40-yard touchdown strike from Jon Tomcufcik as Kenston began to take control.

“This is what I dreamed of,” Stanley said. “This is what we all dreamed of since we were little kids.”

It was an easy night to get dinner reservations and run errands in the vicinity of Route 422, as seemingly the whole community make the trek to Canton.

“Last I heard, the middle school had 300-some kids out,” Grubich said. “The high school had 300-some kids out. And all of Auburn and Bainbridge showed up, man. We’ve been saying, it’s been a train ride, and we’ve been picking people up along the way.

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