Division III, Region 9
No. 8 Kenston Bombers (8-2) at No. 1 New Philadelphia Quakers (9-1)
7 p.m. Friday at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium
Securing the final playoff spot in the Division III, Region 9 computer rankings, the No. 8-seed Kenston Bombers (8-2) will hit the road to take on the No. 1-seed New Philadelphia Quakers (9-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Woody Hayes Stadium in Tuscarawas County.
Both teams will be hungry to get after it after losing their regular-season finales in the final minute of play last week.
The Bombers lost a 24-21 home battle against Division II AP No. 7-ranked Mayfield (10-0), with the Wildcats connecting on an 18-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining to secure an outright Western Reserve Conference title.
The AP No. 5-ranked Quakers, who had the top spot in the Division III AP poll before their loss, had their perfect season disrupted against rival Dover (7-3) in a game the Tornadoes scored the winning touchdown, 34-28, on an 11-yard keeper with 43 seconds remaining.
“There’s no doubt,” Kenston eighth-year head coach Jeff Grubich said about both his squad and New Philadelphia coming in with a bad taste of last-minute defeats from week 10.
Grubich owns a 57-32 record at the helm.
“It’s do-or-die time,” he said. “Everybody knows that, if you lose this game, you’re turning your equipment in. So, I expect a hostile environment. I expect a team that’s well-prepared, well-coached. I met that coach (Matt Dennison) last year, and he’s got a very good football program down there with a ton of tradition. When your football stadium is named after Woody Hayes, I would have to say that your football program is pretty important.”
Overall, Kenston football, now ranked No. 12 in the AP poll, is making its 11th playoff appearance with a 12-9 record in the postseason. Grubich will lead the Bombers in their fifth postseason appearance since 2012, with a 6-3 mark, including a state title run last year.
In Grubich’s first year at the helm in 2012, the 6-4 Bombers secured the No. 8 spot in their region and went on the road to upset No. 1-seed Tallmadge, 26-23, for their first playoff win in 17 years. Then-senior quarterback Darryl Richards scored three touchdowns with his feet and tossed a fourth touchdown 61 yards to then-senior receiver Joey Tomcufcik in what was Kenston’s first true road playoff win.
“Back then, I think it was a different mindset of our kids, because our kids weren’t used to being in the playoffs,” Grubich said. “Back then, I feel like we were more intimidated by our seed going against that big No. 1.
“I think now that we’ve been here as long as we have, it’s more of the mentality of, ‘Hey, just let us get in.’ It doesn’t matter who we play. We know we can play with just about anybody. So, I think that’s kind of the growth and maturity of the kids in our program. But we’ll still play up the fact that we are the No. 8 seed.”
In terms of coming off a loss against Mayfield, Kenston was a bit conservative in terms of only attempting 14 passes on 45 plays. After starting 0-of-4, returning all-Ohio senior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik finished the night six-of-14 for 94 yards, with a dropped pass and pressures in the mix.
But Kenston’s offense proved to make the necessary adjustments at halftime to score all 21 of its points after intermission, picking up the pace of play and dialing up jet sweeps to the edges to orchestrate effective drives.
Defensively, Kenston held Mayfield 205-pound senior back Joe Suchy to 123 yards on 29 carries and put a pair of sacks on junior quarterback Michael Huss, but the Bombers surrendered seven pass plays of 20-plus yards with the Wildcats’ speedy receivers getting a step in the secondary.
The bottom line is that Kenston competed toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in Division II, but the Bombers didn’t execute well enough on the margins to come away with a victory.
“I like where we were at in the fourth quarter there,” Grubich said. “We weren’t playing our best football, yet we still had a chance to try to win that game. But I truly think our WRC schedule is going to help us in the long run. We have four teams in our conference in the playoffs right now.”
Those four teams include Division II Mayfield and Willoughby South (6-4) and Division III Chardon (8-2) and Kenston.
New Philadelphia is under 17th-year head coach Matt Dennison, who owns a 132-50 record at the helm with a 2-10 mark in 10 playoff appearances. But this is the first time the Quakers are hosting a first-round game since getting upset by No. 8-seed Louisville, 18-7, in the 2004 playoffs.
Before Dennison took over the reins in 2003, New Philadelphia’s only postseason appearance was in 1974.
Featured wins for New Philadelphia this season include a 37-8 toasting of Division IV Struthers (6-4), a 28-21 grinder against Division III Steubenville (6-3) and a 48-21 drubbing of Division III Zanesville (7-3) – all playoff contenders.
In New Philadelphia’s lone loss against Dover, 34-28, last week, the Quakers owned a 28-21 lead entering the fourth quarter, but 6-foot-1 senior quarterback Baron May, a second-team all-Ohioan last year, suffered a gruesome arm break late in the third quarter, and his offense couldn’t put any points on the board without him in the fourth.
May finished the game nine-of-18 passing for 162 yards with a touchdown, as well as 14 carries for 109 yards with a touchdown as the Quakers’ main chain mover. The lone pass New Philadelphia attempted without him resulted in an interception.
“I feel bad. You never want to watch a kid go out like that; I don’t care whose team he’s on,” Grubich said. “It happened so late in the game that I don’t know if New Philly really knew how to adjust accordingly.
“So, they might possibly go with a wildcat quarterback with one of their skilled players, because they have some great skilled players out on the perimeter. Maybe they have a backup quarterback who can still throw it. So, there’s all sorts of scenarios that we have to get our guys prepared for. It makes practice a little bit more difficult this week.”
New Philadelphia’s May finished his senior season completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 2,031 yards with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions, in addition to 92 carries for 775 yards and nine touchdowns.
The good news for the Quakers is that 6-foot, 200-pound senior running back John Sciarretti returned to action last week after missing six games with a broken foot. In four games this season, he’s averaged 6.4 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns.
In the receiving corps, New Philadelphia has two main targets – both all-Ohio selections last season – in 6-foot senior Jent Joseph, who has 51 catches for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns, and 6-foot-1 senior Sam Zemis, who has 46 catches for 797 yards and nine touchdowns. Without May to pass them the ball, however, the Quakers will likely try and get their receivers involved in other facets.
Defensively, New Philadelphia has surrendered 12.7 points per game and is headlined by 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior tackle Justin Rimer, an all-Ohio special mention last season who plays on both sides of the line.
This Friday will be the first meeting between Kenston and New Philadelphia on the gridiron.
TONY’S TAKE: Kenston wins, 24-20.