Twinsburg football stuns Kenston in lightning-shortened game

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Twinsburg wide receiver Nathan Christensen runs ahead during the Tigers' playoff win at Brush earlier this month. Twinsburg scored a 28-14 home win Kenston Oct. 23.

It wasn’t a state playoff football battle. It wasn’t even a league game, but Twinsburg’s 28-14 victory at home over Kenston was invaluable.

In a game that wasn’t even completed, both clubs saw tremendous value and opportunity for their athletes to compete in a regular season contest that was added just a week ago in this crazy COVID-19 campaign.

For Twinsburg, it was an impressive showing in a team victory in a shortened game due to lightning strikes.

The game was started two hours early to avoid a line of storms, but Mother Nature won as the game was “called” after halftime.

“It felt great to see our guys play so well and we really wanted to get this game in,” declared veteran Tiger head coach Mike Bell, whose club was recently ousted from the state playoffs by powerful Austintown Fitch.

“With the lightening strikes and the concern with COVID and keeping everyone spread out, it was a safety decision, but we were excited to play a well-coached team like Kenston,” added Bell.

Bell went on, “This odd season has given us the opportunity to play different teams and our kids responded.”

Twinsburg had Kenston as a longtime rival dating back to the 1990’s in both the Chagrin Valley Conference as well as later, in the North Division of the Western Reserve Conference.

Through two quarters, Twinsburg battled some early wind gusts and then won in all facets of the game – defense, offense, and special teams.

Unofficially, Twinsburg (2-5) held the Bombers (3-4) to just 55 yards rushing.

While junior quarterback Trevor Horvath amassed four touchdowns – three through the air and one on the ground, teammate Alex Branch had his best game of the year on both ends of the pigskin.

“The coaches talked after the win and we thought that Alex had a great game and he did the type of things we know he can do on the football field,” stressed Bell.

Branch had four catches for 99 yards and one TD, plus had a crucial interception on defense as the standout has played both cornerback and safety.

At the 5:57 mark of the second quarter, Branch had a beautiful back-shoulder one-handed catch for a 48-yard touchdown to put Twinsburg up 21-14.

Horvath had a solid throw as Branch was streaking down the field and the ball sailed over the outstretched hands of Bomber J.P. Germano, who Branch just beat in coverage.

Only Branch could catch the pass and as good as the pass was by Horvath, the one-handed snag by Branch was better.

“That was one of the best catches I have seen,” stressed Bell. “Alex did a phenomenal job adjusting to catch that pass.”

Germano later picked off a Tiger pass to give Kenston a golden chance at the Tiger 41, but on fourth down, Branch intercepted a Bomber pass by promising sophomore QB Nikko Georgiou (137 yards passing and two scores).

Branch had an electrifying 50-yard interception return to the Kenston 13, where Twinsburg would score two plays later as Horvath found wide open senior Dylan Crouch

in the flat, as Crouch scored from eight yards out to make it 28-14 with 19 seconds left in the first half.

Much like Horvath, Georgiou has a lot of promise as he had 373 total yards in Kenston’s playoff game.

Besides stout run defense, the Tiger defense didn’t allow Georgiou to cut loose and the defense produced big plays.

Kenston drove 65 yards to the Tiger 24 on the opening drive of the game, but standout Twinsburg sophomore defensive end Declan Malanchek pressured Georgiou.

As Georgiou scrambled, he lost control of the football and senior defensive tackle Keith Golphin recovered the loose ball at the Bomber two-yard line!

Two plays later, Horvath used a ball fake and kept the ball around the left end for the one-yard TD run to make it 7-0 at the 8:43 mark.

“Keith Golphin has done a nice job in his senior year and we like to keep our guys on the line fresh by rotating different guys in there,” explained Bell.

“We like to play a lot of guys and Keith made a big play,” he added. “This was one of our best run defense performances this year and it all starts at the linebacker spot with Dylan Crouch.”

Bell was also pleased with how the Tiger defense held down 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior Ryan Miller – one of the top tight end prospects in the Midwest region of the country. He had two catches for 14 yards.

“He (Miller) is a tall drink of water and he may be taller than 6-6,” mused Bell. “We did a nice job on him.”

Kenston tied it 7-7 on a nine-yard TD strike to Carson Rivera-Gebeau at the 5:38 mark of the opening period.

Tiger sophomore punter Kyan Barnes then pinned the Bombers at their own 17 as he struck a 75-yard punt that was aided by the bounce. It’s possible that Barnes’ boot may be a new school record.

After Rivera-Gebeau had a 22-yard catch and run, Georgiou was picked off by senior Amaree Cunningham.

Cunningham, a vocal team leader, jumped in front of the pass to thwart another Kenston drive.

Branch then had two first down catches – the first being a 27-yard gain as junior Nathan Christensen sprung Branch to get loose down the sideline with a key block downfield.

Then Christensen had a nice fingertip catch for an 11-yard TD catch from Horvath as the wide out got his feet inbounds in the end zone. It was 14-7 with 11:56 left in the first half.

However, Kenston struck back when Colin McCleery beat coverage and was wide open for a 56-yard scoring toss to tie it 14-14 with 8:22 left.

Yet another first down catch by Branch, coupled with a seven-yard first down catch on third down by senior wide receiver Cade Laverdiere, led up to the huge one-handed reception by Branch.

Despite sacks by Crouch and senior end Jordan Maxwell, Kenston moved into Tiger territory on the next possession.

On fourth-and-2 with 3:07 left, the Bombers converted on an option pitch to 5-11, 206-pound running back Stanley Sell, who rambled nine yards.

Twinsburg’s defense held again on fourth-and-15 and did so on the next Bomber drive when Branch had his big pick and return.

Besides the rushing TD, Horvath was 7-of-12 passing for 125 yards, three scores and one pick.

“Trevor is making great progress and he’s catching up to the speed of varsity football and it’s beginning to happen,” noted Bell.

“Our offensive line is getting better and better, and doing a better job of keeping him clean and that allows the game to slow down a bit for Trevor, who has shown a great deal of growth and maturity.”

Besides Barnes, seniors Aiden Corrigan and Tacarda Patterson played well on special teams along with fixture Griffin Willmott, a 6-1 junior who plays well in coverage.

Junior kicker Shantonu Banerjee hit all four extra points for the Tigers, who host Cuyahoga Falls Friday.