Mentor's running game leads to Stow football's elimination from playoffs

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Stow-Munroe Falls running back Jack Bryden runs through the Cleveland Heights defense during Stow's opening playoff game. Bryden ran for 91 yards and a touchdown in Stow's 31-14 playoff loss at Mentor Oct. 16.

MENTOR — Coming off its first playoff win of the Tom Phillips era, Stow-Munroe Falls football had to feel good going into the second round of the Division I, Region 1 playoffs.

However, Phillips knew his team faced a different animal Oct. 16 when the Bulldogs made the trip to Jerome T. Osborne Stadium to face Mentor.

The Cardinals had trounced Stow in their previous two playoff meetings, beating the Bulldogs 43-0 in the regionals semifinals in 2013 and 49-17 in the first round in 2017.

Stow played the Cardinals much tighter this time around, especially in the first half. In the end, it wasn't enough.

A burst of scoring early in the second half paved the way for the Cardinals to score a 31-14 win over the Bulldogs.

Mentor improved to 7-1 on the season and advanced to take on Brunswick in the regional semifinals next Friday. Stow fell to 5-2 on the season.

Phillips said his team put up a solid effort, but made too many mistakes to win.

"The effort and attitude is what you wanted to see when you're playing a great program like Mentor," Phillips said. "You've got to have a perfect game in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — to win a game like this."

Mentor coach Matt Gray said the Bulldogs made his team earn the win.

"We knew they were a very good football team. They've got at least five Division I level athletes for a reason," Gray said. "They played played tough, physical football. It was just the kind of football we wanted to play."

The Cardinals are known as a pass-heavy spread offense, but it was Mentor's running game that dominated the contest. The Cardinals finished with a 297-171 edge in rushing yards.

Senior Riley Coughlin was nearly unstoppable for the Cardinals, as he finished with 22 rushes for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

"We held him back a little bit over the last couple weeks," Gray said. "We knew we were going to unleash him running downhill in the playoffs."

"He's a good runner, but what I walk away with tonight is a lot of missed tackles," Phillips said. "You can't do that in the playoffs."

While Phillips lamented his team's inability to stop the run, Stow defense keep the Bulldogs in the game with three turnovers. The first of these ended Mentor's first driven when William Luketich picked off Mentor quarterback Ian Kipp in the end zone.

Kipp had an up-and-down night. He went 7-of-16 for 110 yards passing and also ran for 92 yards and a touchdown, but also was intercepted once and fumbled twice.

"We've got to clean that up as we go forward in the playoffs," Gray said.

Stow's next drive ended with an interception on fourth down in Mentor territory. The Bullsdogs had five drives stall in Cardinals territory.

Mentor took the lead on the ensuing drive, as Kipp ran in a 9-yard touchdown run.

Stow would answer the drive. Mixing up its offense, Stow tied the game at 7-7 with 11 minutes left in the half, as Jack Bryden ran in a 20-yard touchdown.

Bryden led Stow with 91 yards rushing and a touchdown.

The Cardinals would answer back with a 8 play, 73-yard drive, which was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run from Coughlin.

Mentor looked to have a chance to score right before the half, but Stow forced Kipp to fumble with 52 seconds left in the first half.

Down just 14-7 at halftime, Stow felt like it was right in the game — but Mentor opened the second half with the biggest play of the game.

Cardinal receiver Mike Harrison took the second half kickoff and returned it 93 yards for a touchdown.

After Stow's next drive went three-and-out, the Cardinals came back with another touchdown drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Coughlin to make it 28-7 with 5:35 left in the third.

Stow did not give up and its next drive saw Stow get to first and goal at the Mentor 5. However, on fourth and goal, Stow quarterback Owen Bainbridge's pass fell incomplete on the last play of the third quarter.

It was one of two drives where Stow had first and goal and came up empty.

"We've got to be able to score points in those situations," Phillips said.

However, Stow's defense came up big on the next play, as it forced another Kipp fumble and took over on the Mentor 16.

Four plays later, Xavier Preston ran in a 7-yard touchdown to cut the lead with to 28-14.

After being sidelined for a month with injury, Preston came back with 10 rushes for 39 yards.

Mentor again would answer. This time, Anthony Smith would nail a season-long 50-yard field goal with 8:34 left to put the game out of reach.

Gray noted that Bainbridge was the focal point of Mentor's defense, as they did not want the junior to beat them with his rushes.

Bainbridge went 12-of-24 for 123 yards and one interception through the air, while rushing 13 times for 41 yards.

Phillips noted Stow is scheduled for "three more weeks of football," though their opponent for Oct. 23 is in flux after Medina upset St. Edward in the playoffs.