Chardon fooled AP No. 1-ranked Kenston once, 27-24, last year to knock the Bombers from the ranks of unbeatens. Chardon drove 98 yards to score the game-winning touchdown as time expired, and it was shame on the Hilltoppers for taking the fat and happy out of an 8-0 Bomber squad.
But fool Kenston twice, and it was shame on the 2019 AP No. 1-ranked Bombers when Chardon (5-2, 3-1) put together an 84-yard drive to kick the winning field goal, 17-16, to again knock Kenston from the ranks of unbeatens during a Western Reserve Conference showdown on Friday night at the Hilltoppers’ Memorial Field.
“You’ve got to be on every Friday night, and I’ve been saying it from day one,” Kenston eighth-year head coach Jeff Grubich said. “We’re going to take everybody’s best shot, and their coach had their guys ready to go, and he got the ball to bounce his way a couple times, and we didn’t take care of the football, and we got punched in the mouth.
“So, we’ve got to take and learn from the mistakes that we made, and we’ve got to get better this week. That’s it. I mean, it’s that simple. When you get beat, you’ve got to be humble and hungry and understand that you’ve got to go right back to the grindstone.”
Defensively, the Bombers struggled to get off the field, surrendering 22 first downs against Chardon’s wing-T, but they did hold the Hilltoppers to 17 points on nine drives. And seven of those points came in the aftermath of an onside kick,
Overall, Chardon’s offense had 67 plays, while Kenston’s offense snapped 39 plays.
“The defense played well enough to win,” Grubich said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get that stop at the end of the game.”
Kenston’s offense came out swinging with a pair of 65-yard scoring drives on its first two possessions, including a 55-yard touchdown toss from senior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik to senior Tyler Mintz, and then another Tomcufcik-Mintz connection for a 21-yard score and a 14-0 upper hand with 4:28 to go in the opening frame.
But the Hilltoppers answered on a 5 1/2-minute drive that included a third-and-13 conversion that set the table for an 11-yard touchdown run by 190-pound junior running back James Pettyjohn to cut the deficit, 14-7, with 11:01 to go in the half.
Chardon then recovered an onside kick and drove 48 yards to punch in another touchdown on a 1-yard rush by 175-pound senior running back DJ Bowman to tie the game with 9:42 left in the half.
Kenston had two drives in the second quarter, the first resulting in a three-and-out punt and the latter in an interception in the red zone for a 14-14 deadlock at intermission.
“We started off fast and had a 14-0 lead, and then there was a couple things that happened during the game where the momentum went back and forth, and it was a tight game,” Grubich said. “And the fact that we haven’t had to play a whole lot of four-quarter games this year kind of affected us a little bit.”
In the third quarter, Kenston’s Tomcufcik booted a 59-yard punt to the 1-yard line. One play later, Kenston senior defensive tackles George Sell and Connor Kratzert busted through the Hilltopper front and combined tackling efforts for a safety and a 16-14 lead with 3:18 to go in the frame.
Chardon answered with a nine-play, 54-yard drive that chewed up another five-plus minutes of clock, but a 43-yard field-goal attempt by Hilltopper senior Keaton Ziegenfuss was no good with 8:09 to play.
Kenston then embarked on its lone possession of the fourth quarter, going 73 yards on 10 plays, before a fourth-and-goal pass went incomplete and the Bombers turned the pigskin over on downs at the 7-yard line, clinging to a 16-14 lead with 3:26 to play.
“I thought we were in good position to go for it and try to put seven points on the board and put the game on ice,” Grubich said. “We’ve been doing that all year, and we’ve been doing that for the last two years.
“At the same time, as a head coach, I’m looking and saying, ‘If we don’t get this, the defense has been playing well enough that I think we’ll get a stop.’ So, it’s what you learn from the game, and you look at the film, and the coaches and players and everybody evaluates it so we can make adjustments accordingly. But, at the end of the day, it’s on me.”
Chardon turned around and put together that previously mentioned 84-yard, 15-play drive, converting a pair of third downs along the way, with Ziegenfuss splitting the uprights on a 26-yard field goal with three seconds to play for the eventual 17-16 final.
Overall, Chardon outgained Kenston, 356 yards to 282 yards, despite the Bombers averaging 7.2 yards per play to Chardon’s 5.3 yards per play.
“You take a negative, and you turn it into a positive, and you learn from that experience, and you grow from it,” Grubich said. “The only thing that matters right now is beating Madison. I’ll tell you what, I imagine they’re going to do the same thing.
“You know, they’re going to try to limit our possessions offensively, keep our offense off the field and just run the heck out of the ball and just play smash-mouth, physical football. So, we’ve got to have a great preparation. We’ve got to be a physical football team come Friday.”
Dropping to 6-1 with a 3-1 mark in the WRC, Kenston is now the Division III AP No. 7-ranked team. The Bombers will host Madison (3-4, 2-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.