Riverside entered the night averaging 28.8 points per game, but the Beavers had no luck chewing through Kenston’s defense in Western Reserve Conference play Friday in Painesville.
The Division III AP No. 9-ranked Bombers (8-1, 5-1) dammed up the end zone for the entirety of the week-nine gridiron clash, limiting Riverside (4-5, 3-3) to 136 yards in a 28-0 skunking to mathematically eliminate the Division II Beavers from playoff contention.
Riverside was coming off a 20-17 overtime loss against Division II AP No 7-ranked Mayfield (9-0, 6-0) in a game the Beavers had 275 yards of offense with 17 first downs.
But Kenston flexed its guns in the trenches with 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior lineman Tim Matty recording five tackles with two sacks and 6-foot, 285-pound senior lineman Max Czech tallying four tackles with two sacks, while 190-pound senior linebacker Logan Vargo cleaned up with a team-high 12 tackles.
“We had a couple guys dinged up, so we changed up our base front, made some adjustments, and we had a nice game plan going in,” Kenston eighth-year head coach Jeff Grubich said. “I think it was something Riverside wasn’t really expecting, and it kind of gave us an edge.”
The Bombers held Riverside to 1.8 yards per rush and eight first downs for their third shutout of the season. Riverside punted on its first three possessions and turned the ball over on downs three times in the second half – the Beavers never got inside Kenston’s 30.
Through week nine, Kenston’s defense has surrendered just nine points per game, including 11.8 points per game in WRC play.
“There’s no doubt,” Grubich said, when asked if the dominant play on that side of the pigskin has been overlooked because of the high standards associated with being the defending state champions.
“We’ve said all along we’ve got the target on our back and everyone wants a piece of us,” he said. “So, we have to really make sure our kids are prepared, because we’re getting everybody’s best shot. And what I like to see is all three phases firing on one cylinder. I think we pretty much did that (against Riverside).”
Kenston’s offense scored on its first three possessions by sustaining eight-, 10- and 11-play drives that ranged between 67 yards and 80 yards.
On the first drive, Kenston 6-foot-1 senior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik baited the Beavers with their own castor by dialing up 6-foot sophomore receiver JP Germano three times on tosses of 9 yards, 16 yards and 24 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 9:37 to go in the opening frame.
Germano entered the night with seven catches for 102 yards, but he would finish the game with a team-high six catches for 70 yards.
Germano got the nod for a starting spot in the receiving corps after senior defensive back Tyler Kestranek went down with an injury the previous week, and senior wideout Jonathan Abbarno had to plug in at free safety. Abbarno had four tackles against Riverside.
“That pushed JP (Germano) into a full-time job on offense,” Grubich said. “So, he got a shot because of injury. And when you have an injury, we always say the next guy has to step up. And Jonathan Abbarno played a great game with just one week of practice on the defensive side of the ball, and it was good to see JP step up on the offensive side of the ball.
“So, that’s the sign of a mature football team and a well-coached football team.”
On Kenston’s next possession, the Bombers went 80 yards on 10 plays, featured by a 15-yard run by senior slotback Tyler Mintz, a 10-yard catch by Mintz and a 24-yard reception by senior Jay Middleton, before senior running back Jack Porter punched in a 1-yard touchdown for a 14-0 upper hand with 11:06 to go in the half.
And on Kenston’s third possession, the Bombers sustained an 11-play drive that included a 19-yard catch by Middleton, a 16-yard reception by Mintz and a 12-yard catch by Middleton, before signal-caller Tomcufcik tucked the leather on fourth-and-1 for a 16-yard touchdown run. Mintz completed a two-point toss to 6-foot-5 sophomore tight end Ryan Miller for a 22-0 lead with 4:58 left in the half.
“The offensive coaching staff talked about slowing the game down a little bit and putting ourselves in the best position to be successful,” Grubich said of only getting four possessions in the first half, the latter of which ended in a 46-yard field goal attempt that came up short.
“So, we played complementary, offense and defense, and tried to make an emphasis to keep our offense on the field a little bit longer to spell those defensive guys,” the coach said. “And we ran that play clock down to about five seconds most of the time. So, it was a different pace than we usually play at.
“Everybody is so used to us trying to put on 40-some points, but sometimes a 28-0 or 17-14 game, as long as we get the W, it doesn’t matter.”
Kenston got three more full possessions in the second half, the third of which resulted in a 31-yard touchdown toss from Tomcufcik to Mintz with 6:10 to play for the eventual 28-0 final.
Tomcufcik slung the rock around the yard with six completions to Germano for 70 yards, five to Middleton for 61 yards, four to Mintz for 64 yards and two to Miller for 9 yards. He finished 17-of-22 passing for 204 yards.
“I think Jonny (Tomcufcik) had one of his better games of the year,” Grubich said. “The good thing is that there’s room for improvement. He actually had two balls dropped that were touchdowns with guys wide open. So, if those two balls were caught, his stats are even higher. Moving forward, we have to take advantage of those big plays.”
Up next, Kenston, now ranked No. 7 in the AP poll, will host unbeaten Mayfield at 7 p.m. Friday in a regular-season finale that will determine if the Bombers can snag a share of the WRC title and a home playoff game.