Kenston might have remained unbeaten, but the Bombers (3-0) definitely had some weaknesses exposed during their home clash against West Geauga (0-3) on Friday night in Bainbridge Township.
For a team that takes pride in taking care of the pigskin, Kenston was uncharacteristic in losing two fumbles and tossing an interception.
For a team that takes pride in limiting big plays, Kenston surrendered a 79-yard touchdown run, as well as a 30-yard chunk play.
And for a team that takes pride in protecting its quarterback, Kenston rolled over on two sacks. Senior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik endured just two sacks in 15 games last year.
“Oh, there’s no doubt they did,” Kenston eighth-year head coach Jeff Grubich said about West Geauga exposing his gridders’ vulnerabilities.
“I think everyone saw it,” Grubich said. “Offensively, we were very inconsistent. I think we were trying to force too many plays, and I think we realized that, when we get pressure, our O-line needs to recognize it and pick some blitzes up. And defensively, they understand that you can’t just let teams grind on you. We’ve got a lot of work to do – bottom line.”
Nonetheless, the Bombers forced West Geauga into submission, 27-10, when the thunderstorms arrived with 10:47 left in the third quarter.
While several teams across Northeast Ohio resumed play on Saturday to finish up their games, the Wolverine gridders decided a 17-point deficit against the defending Division III state champs was too much to overcome.
On the first play of the game, Kenston senior Tyler Mintz had a 65-yard touchdown reception called back on an illegal block, and then the Bombers lost a fumble four plays later.
“When you get a touchdown like that called back for a dumb mistake that’s behind the play and should have never happened, as a coach, you’re always harping on that, because you never want to take points off the board,” Grubich said. “And against great football teams, if you take points off the board, you’re going to lose.
“So, yeah, we still had 14 points in the first quarter. That’s great. But, at the same time, we think we should have had 21 points on that board.”
The Bombers still managed a 14-0 lead at the quarter mark thanks to a 65-yard pick-six by senior defensive back Tyler Kestranek with 7:10 remaining in the frame and a 39-yard touchdown toss from Tomcufcik to senior receiver Jay Middleton with 1:53 left.
But West Geauga responded on an eight-play drive down to the Kenston 22-yard line to set up sophomore kicker Joey DiLalla’s 39-yard field goal to trim the deficit, 14-3, with 10:53 to go in the second quarter. Those were the first points Kenston surrendered this season.
“There’s no doubt that’s a piece of a humble pie, and our defense has been needing that to understand that they need to be better,” Grubich said. “Our goal is always not to let the other team cross the 50, and bend but don’t break. And when points get on the board, those coaches and players take it personally, and that’s a good thing.
“So, they’ve got a lot of self-pride, and you want to make sure they’re doing a great job over there. I think they’re going to take it and use it to get better.”
Kenston’s offense came back on a nine-play, 65-yard drive that concluded with senior running back Jack Porter’s 19-yard touchdown run for a 20-3 upper hand with 5:57 to go in the half. Porter had 13 carries for 91 yards in the first half, before weather ended the game early.
But the Bombers’ defense got another reality check when West Geauga 6-foot-1 junior speedster Trae Zimmermann found daylight on a 79-yard touchdown run to trim the Wolverines’ deficit, 20-10, with 5:26 to go in the half.
The largest play Kenston surrendered last year was 65 yards.
“One of our biggest rules on defense is no big plays,” Grubich said. “We do not want to give up a big play. We want to do our assignment and alignment. Unfortunately, on that play, we had a young man go the wrong direction, and when he goes the wrong direction and you have another guy who is not doing his job as well, you don’t have a perfect fit in all your gaps.
“So, it was off to the races, and it’s a touchdown. It’s a simple message: you do your job, you do your one of 11, and you’ll be OK. And that’s what we have to do.”
Kenston’s offense was working on an answer in the red zone, but West Geauga intercepted a pass on the goal line and returned all the way to the 21-yard line with eight seconds left in the half.
DiLalla lined up to attempt a 38-yard field goal – after splitting the uprights from 39 yards earlier – in an effort to trim the Wolverines’ deficit to one possession before the break.
But Kenston 190-pound senior linebacker Logan Vargo and 175-pound senior defensive back Tyler Mintz thought otherwise, as they busted off the line on special teams and blocked the punt. Middleton capitalized on a scoop-and-score touchdown from 65 yards out as time expired in the half.
That 10-point swing provided the Bombers a 27-10 lead for the eventual game-shortened final.
“Huge. That was huge,” Grubich said. “I think that’s the point where they got the nail in the coffin, I don’t know.”
Overall, Kenston outgained West Geauga, 257 yards to 199 yards, with 15 first downs compared to the Wolverines’ seven.
Tomcufcik finished the game 13-of-20 passing for 185 yards, with Mintz collecting four receptions for 51 yards, Middleton snatching three receptions for 55 yards and 6-foot-5 sophomore tight end Ryan Miller hauling in three tosses for 31 yards. Vargo led the defense with seven tackles and an interception.
Up next, Kenston will open up Wester Reserve Conference play with a road test against Eastlake North (2-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Carter Stadium in Lake County.
“They are big, they are physical,” Grubich said. “I’ll tell you what, it’s going to be a close game, and, honestly, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to stop their offense. They’re very impressive offensively. They have a huge offensive line. They have good skilled players with great running backs at all the positions – the wings, the fullback and the tailbacks.
“So, it’s going to be without a doubt our toughest test that we’ve had all year, and we’re going to have to work our butts off this week.”