West Holmes Football

Knights take Kenston to the brink before falling in playoff tilt

A great season comes to an end as Knights fall to Bombers 48-34

The West Holmes Knights were on the precipice of pulling out a stunning comeback win in the Div. III Region 9 first-round playoff versus Chagrin Falls Kenston on Friday, Nov. 12.

All night long the Knights had scraped and clawed their way back into the game, not once but twice, coming back from 14 points to tie the game.

Then, of all things, an incredible effort proved to be the turning point in the game as Kenston came up with a huge interception and went on to post two late scores to earn a 48-34 victory.

The pivotal play came after senior defensive back Shiloh Jones made a huge interception in the Knights’ end zone with Kenston threatening to break a 34-34 tie.

Jones returned it to the 27-yard line, where the Knights took over with their eyes on churning out a game-winning score of their own.

Quarterback Bridger Cline stepped back into the pocket and went deep downfield to Shane Jones, the Knights’ biggest play-maker all season long. The ball sailed a tad high, and Jones put forth an incredible effort, leaping high into the air, where he somehow managed to get his fingertips on the throw. The ball caromed up in the air, where defender Tyler Mintz grabbed it and tore down the right sideline to the Knights’ 32-yard line. Moments later Jack Porter bolted in from 5 yards out to put Kenston ahead by a touchdown, and the Bombers were able to put the game away on another desperation interception and a late rushing touchdown.

West Holmes head coach Zach Gardner said on the pivotal first interception that it was nothing more than an outstanding player giving an incredible effort, and that is something he will take 100 percent of the time.

“Shane Jones has made a million amazing catches in his career, this year and even in this game, and that play was just an amazing effort,” Gardner said. “We will take effort like that every day of the week. That’s not on him. That is a kid making an amazing effort to help his team win a game, and we had more than enough opportunities throughout the game to win this thing.”

That play was just one of many in the game, and it would be Shane Jones providing huge play after huge play throughout that gave West Holmes a chance to win.

The Knights experienced the ultimate high and low on back-to-back plays early as Cale Ogi created a fumble and fell on the ball for a turnover on Kenston’s first possession. However, Ogi coughed it up on the very next play, turning the ball back over to Kenston, leading to a Jon Tomsufcik to Jay Middleton 31-yard scoring strike that opened up a 7-0 Bombers lead. When West Holmes went three-and-out, the Bombers went up 13-0 on Jack Porter’s 5-yard scamper.

“Anytime you play a team of this quality you can’t put yourself in a hole,” Gardner said. “We climbed out of a huge hole two times, and we were right there in the end. We just couldn’t find that one play to get us over the hump.”

The Knights were reeling but never panicked, and after Ogi picked up a key first down and penalty, it put West Holmes in position to score, and Gavin Sheldon did the honors on a 2-yard run. On the ensuing kick-off, Middleton ran the wrong way, losing 27 yards, where he was tackled on the 1-yard line.

The Knights took full advantage of that when Shane Jones intercepted a pass and set up Jones for an end-around from 10 yards out to tie the game at 13.

The Tomsufcik to Middleton connection struck again on a 21-yard pass play, but the Knights responded with a drive that culminated on a Cline 3-yard pass to a wide-open Grady Hay in the corner of the end zone. However, the Bombers blocked their second Nate Ginsburg extra-point attempt, and West Holmes trailed 20-19. Tomsufcik then came up with a huge play near the end of the half when he scooted around the left edge with 20 seconds remaining for a 14-yard touchdown that put Kenston up 27-19 at the half.

Tomsufcik duplicated his earlier 14-yard effort to stretch the Bombers’ lead to two scores at 34-19.

Once again the Knights were facing an uphill battle, and once again they responded. Near the end of the third quarter, Sheldon burst in from 10 yards out to trim the deficit to 34-26, and after West Holmes got a huge stop to begin the fourth quarter, Shane Jones delivered again, this time hauling in a 9-yard strike from Cline, and when those two connected on the two-point conversion, it was all locked up at 34.

Kenston then drove down the field and set up the Shiloh Jones interception, putting the Knights in position to earn a win.

However, it wouldn’t play out in their favor down the stretch, and the Bombers would move on when Porter scored and a late 38-yard rushing TD from Porter iced the game away for Kenston.

Kenston head coach Jeff Grubich said seeing a huge number of his players step up and contribute in mighty ways was typical of this group.

“That all starts in June, where we try to put our kids in tough situations so that when they get out here in a playoff game, the lights are on and there is all kinds of pressure, they can respond,” Grubich said.

Coming into the game, both teams realized this was going to be a shoot-out. Each team runs a spread offense, and each is loaded with tons of offensive weaponry.

“We saw film on West Holmes, and I said, ‘Geez, they chuck it all over the year,’” Grubich said. “We all expected this to be a shoot-out, and I don’t think they felt it would be any different. When it came right down to the end, both teams had a chance to win. That’s a great football team, and it is a testament to our kids that we found a way to win.”

It was a tough way to bow out of the playoffs for the Knights, but Gardner said he was proud of how his team responded to adversity in falling behind twice by two scores, only to battle back and give themselves a chance to win. He said because he knows the character of this group, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone to see them showing such resiliency and heart.

“They don’t ever quit. They fight and fight and fight until the final whistle, and that is going to be a virtue that serves them well in life,” Gardner said.

Statistically the Bombers held an edge, racking up 472 yards compared to West Holmes’ 307. The biggest edge came on the ground, where Kenston put a damper on the Knights’ running game by limiting West Holmes to just 55 yards. Cline completed 18-of-31 passes for 252 yards and three scores. The fleet-footed Porter rattled off 198 yards on the ground and scored three times to lead the Bombers. Shane Jones grabbed six passes for 98 yards while Hay hauled in four passes for 91 yards.

For West Holmes it was a thrill to reach the playoffs but a bitter ending to an otherwise great year.

For Kenston it marks the first-ever home playoff victory, and in 52 years Grubich said it was a long time in the making.

“These seniors are going to sign this football, and it is going in the trophy case,” Grubich said.

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