Kenston senior receiver Tyler Mintz came up with a 17-yard reception down to the 5-yard line on a play that took four seconds, at most, during the Bombers’ road playoff opener against New Philadelphia on Friday night.
The No. 8-seeded Kenston gridders (8-3) were attempting to drive 80 yards in 21 seconds for a potential game-winning touchdown against the top-seeded Quakers (10-1) in the Division III, Region 9 quarterfinals at Woody Hayes Stadium in Tuscarawas County.
Bomber senior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik dialed up Mintz on a 34-yard toss and then redialed Mintz on a 24-yard completion down to the New Philly 22-yard line with seven seconds left and the possibility of two more plays.
But only one more play came – that previously mentioned 17-yard catch by Mintz down to the 5-yard line. Instead of three seconds remaining, somehow only one second remained, which wasn’t enough time to spike the pigskin.
The home-field advantage paid off for New Philadelphia in a 31-28 victory.
“It was a pretty simple message,” Kenston eighth-year head coach Jeff Grubich said of his postgame speech.
“These kids have taken the program to a whole new level, and they had a great year,” he said. “It was the first time for all of us to have that state championship target on us, and we took everybody’s best shot. And to lose three games by a total of seven points, and all three games basically on the last drive, the coaches and the players have nothing to hang their head on. They’ve given everything they’ve got.
“So, I’m proud of these guys who have given so much and raised our expectations for the football program. It’s just a lot of pride at the end of the day.”
Kenston opened the game with a 10-play, 62-yard scoring drive that was highlighted by Tomcufcik’s 14-yard run on third-and-19, followed by a 14-yard reception by Mintz to convert fourth down and a 15-yard pickup by senior running back Jack Porter, before Porter finished it off with a 4-yard touchdown up the middle for a 6-0 lead with 8:14 to go in the frame.
The Bombers’ defense held New Philadelphia to a punt on its only full drive of the first quarter, but the host Quakers got working on a 24-point second quarter that was ignited on a 38-yard field goal by sophomore Elliot Warner to cut their deficit, 6-3, 12 seconds into the frame.
On Kenston’s ensuing series, the Bombers were first-and-10 at the Quaker 34-yard line when a 9-yard pass was delivered on the money but hit off the hands of a receiver and was intercepted by New Philadelphia 6-foot-1 senior safety Sam Zemis.
Five plays later, Zemis caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from senior backup quarterback Kobey Hoover, a 175-pound linebacker who subbed in for all-Ohio signal-caller Baron May, who broke his arm the previous week.
“They played (Hoover), a great athlete who basically had one read,” Grubich said. “He chucked it up to his guys, and his guys made some great plays. They’re a very good football team and very deserving of the No. 1 seed. Unfortunately, our guys didn’t make enough plays.”
Hoover would complete 12-of-19 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns before it was all said and done.
But Kenton came back and reclaimed a lead, 14-10, on a 40-yard keeper by Tomcufcik on a third-and-12 play, followed by a two-point conversion, with 7:02 to go in the frame. Tomcufcik had one of his better tuck-the-leather performances with 94 yards on 11 carries for two touchdowns.
“We knew they were probably going to give us a box where they weren’t going to account for him in the run game, and he was able to capitalize on that,” Grubich said. “So, it was a great job by him recognizing that. (The touchdown) was a read by him.”
New Philadelphia found pay dirt on back-to-back touchdowns, the first on a 69-yard reception by 6-foot senior Austin Kohl and the latter on a 26-yard catch by Zemis that he hauled in off the helmet of a Kenston cornerback for a 24-14 Quaker lead with 3:29 to go in the half.
But Kenston responded on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that included a 20-yard reception by senior Jay Middleton and a 14-yard reception by Porter, before Tomcufcik dialed up 6-foot-5 sophomore tight end Ryan Miller on a 5-yard touchdown toss to cut the deficit, 24-21, with 17 seconds left in the half.
“Ryan is one of our big-time playmakers,” Grubich said about stopping the bleeding before intermission. “I believe that helped our confidence without a doubt.”
New Philadelphia opened the third quarter on a drive down to the 1-yard line, but Kenston’s defense stuffed the Quakers three times to turn them over on downs. Quaker running back Josh Sciarretti was held to 108 yards on 26 carries for the night, behind a game-high 15 tackles by Kenston senior linebacker Logan Vargo.
On New Philadelphia’s next series, the Quakers came up empty on a 42-yard field-goal attempt, but the score remained in their favor, 24-21, early in the fourth quarter.
Kenston’s offense then got caught behind the sticks and was forced to punt from its own 7-yard line, but the boot hit off a Quaker and was recovered for a clean set of downs.
The Bombers drove 11 more plays with a 27-yard reception by Middleton setting up Tomcufcik’s 7-yard end-zone find on a quarterback draw to take the lead, 28-24, with 4:12 to play.
But New Philly responded on a 10-play drive that Sciarretti capped off with a 1-yard touchdown run to reclaim the lead, 31-28, with 21 seconds left.
Kenston then put together what would have been the impossible – those three consecutive completions by Tomcufcik to Mintz for 75 yards with a first down at the 5-yard line and three seconds to spare. But those three seconds somehow disappeared before the Bombers could line up for a spike.
“Honestly, we thought we were going to win the game,” Grubich said. “We were able to throw a pass down to the (5-yard) line. We threw that pass, and there was three seconds left on the clock. By rule, the clock has to stop, because it was a first down. And we thought we would have the opportunity to line up and spike the ball with maybe one or two seconds left. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, that time ran out.
“We didn’t even get a chance to spike the ball or to line up to kick the field goal. So, too bad for our guys, and it is what it is.”
Tomcufcik finished the game 22-of-32 passing for 285 yards to end his senior campaign with 2,147 yards on a 67.9 completion rate with 26 touchdowns. He concludes his three-year varsity career with 6,963 yards passing for 58 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions.
Mintz finished Friday night with nine catches for 148 yards to end his senior campaign with 66 receptions for 1,158 yards and 12 touchdowns. He concludes his high school career with 137 receptions for 2,383 yards, or 17.4 yards per catch, with 25 touchdowns.
And Porter finished his final game with 20 carries for 81 yards and two catches for 20 yards to end his senior campaign with 1,148 yards rushing on 211 carries for 12 touchdowns. He concludes his three-year varsity career with 867 carries for 5,014 yards, or 5.8 yards per rush, for 66 touchdowns.
All three gentlemen own program marks and helped Kenston rise to the rank of a state powerhouse after the varsity Bombers finished just 2-8 when they were freshmen in 2016.
“Between the senior class and the class we had last year, and the young bucks underneath them, they’ve set the standard to basically a state championship,” Grubich said. “When you fall short, it feels terrible. But, again, the three games we lost, we lost by a total of seven points. So, look around the state of Ohio; how many teams are in that category?”