Defending state champion Kenston was supposed to rely on its offense early in the season, but the Bombers closed off the end zone during the entirety of its opener on Friday night at Black River in Medina County.
With eight returning starters, the Bomber offense did its thing with 35 points in the first half to enact a running clock after intermission.
And despite just four returning starters on defense, Kenston posted a shutout by limiting the host Division VI Pirates’ wing-T to 114 yards – all rushing – for the 35-0 victory. The Bombers had just one shutout last season.
But with Kenston averaging a 23.6-point margin of victory last season, it had plenty of opportunities to get some young bucks under the varsity lights in second-half action, and those young bucks who became starters in the offseason hit the ground running against Black River.
“I think that’s huge, the second-half experience, as well as that extra five games (in the playoffs),” Kenston eighth-year head coach Jeff Grubich said. “So, that helps us with the experience, and I think it puts our kids in our program ahead of schedule. And I think it kind of showed. Our kids were well-prepared and everything like that, but that comes with time, and that comes with a lot of work.
“So, I’m really pleased with our team overall. The good thing is, we’re in the film room right now, and there’s things we need to get better at and we need to coach up. We’ve got some areas to improve on still.”
Kenston opened the game on a four-play, 44-yard drive that concluded with senior receiver Jay Middleton’s 11-yard touchdown catch from senior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik. Senior Blake Torres provided the extra point for a 7-0 lead 86 seconds into the game.
Black River went three-and-out, and Kenston put together a 60-yard drive with senior slotback Tyler Mintz hauling in an 18-yard touchdown toss from Tomcufcik for a 14-0 upper hand with 4:28 to go in the frame.
“I think the biggest thing was that we wanted to get up quick, just do our jobs and then try to get some of the young bucks in there and just stay healthy and coach the heck out of the kids,” Grubich said. “It was a good experience. It was good to see the wing-T. They had a pretty good offense. We had to make some adjustments before half, because they were gashing us a little bit, but, when you don’t see the wing-T every day, it’s tough sometimes. So, I was pretty happy with our defensive performance.”
Black River did gain 10- and 17-yard chunks on its second possession and a 30-yard pickup on its fourth drive, but that was the extent of the Pirates’ wing-T.
Kenston, meanwhile, added 21 more points in the second quarter on a 5-yard touchdown run by Mintz, a 20-yard keeper by Tomcufcik and a 16-yard touchdown toss from Tomcufcik to Mintz for the 35-0 upper hand with 41 seconds left in the half.
Tomcufcik finished the night 11-of-15 passing for 168 yards with three touchdowns and a rare interception – he only tossed four a year ago – but Kenston 215-pound junior linebacker Anthony Valocchi, a returning starter, made up for it with an interception of his own on the very next play.
Slot receiver Mintz, meanwhile, had six catches for 91 yards with two touchdowns and two carries for 16 yards with a touchdown.
“Going into it, we thought our inside slot guys could have a decent night, and that remained true,” Grubich said. “The good thing about our offense is that as these guys are calling the plays, we have multiple options every play where Jonny can deliver the ball. And some nights it’s going to be Tyler Mintz who gets the ball, and other nights is going to be Ryan Miller that’s going to get the ball, and some nights it’s going to be the guys on the outside.”
In addition to those options, all-Ohio senior running back Jack Porter did not find the end zone on Friday, but he did have 19 carries for 124 yards, which was his 19th consecutive game eclipsing the century mark for yards rushing.
“That’s a pretty good thing for a team overall, to have that many yards rushing,” Grubich said. “It says a lot about our offensive line and our balance.”
Only five guys in Ohio High School Athletic Association history have eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in 20 consecutive games or more, and Porter has the opportunity to add his name to that list during rivalry week.
The Kenston gridders will host Chagrin Falls (0-1) at 7 p.m. Friday for their home opener at Bomber Stadium in Bainbridge.
“When it comes down to beating Chagrin, it doesn’t matter what the records are,” Grubich said. “This is a rivalry game, and this is going to be their super bowl. And it doesn’t matter who we play this year; everyone is going to want to knock us off and give us their best shot. That’s no different with Chagrin.
“So, we expect a freaking battle up here and a close game and a game that we’re going to have to win in the fourth quarter. And we’re looking forward to it. It’s fun to play these local teams, and it’s fun to have that local rivalry.”