Chardon vs. Kenston football: Hilltoppers grind out 35-18 win over Bombers

·5 min read

Sep. 23—Tied at 7-7 after 24 minutes of play, Kenston felt confident against visiting Chardon on Sept. 23.

But the Hilltoppers and AJ Bruce flipped a switch flipped a switch at the start of the second half to take control of the WRC clash.

Two touchdowns later, and the junior running back helped guide Chardon to a 35-18 victory.

Bruce wasn't able to find his way to the end zone until Chardon's second drive of the second half but had compiled a handful of big rushes during prior Hilltopper drives. That instilled confidence in the back as he knew he would find his way to pay dirt sooner rather than later.

While he's one of several running backs in the rotation for Chardon (5-1) and not getting the bulk of the carries, Bruce knew it was important to establish the run game.

Two second half touchdowns for AJ Bruce and the junior talks about getting the run game going and how @toppernation was able to pull away late #NHFootball

— Ben Hercik (@BHercikNH) September 24, 2022

"My coaches and I preach on establishing the blocks," Bruce said. "We have to focus on blocking our guys, and they were very well-aligned to our formations in the beginning of the half. After halftime, we made those adjustments to open those windows and make some plays. This shows us that we have to be able to grind it out, especially against a team we expect to see in the playoffs. That's a tough program, and it was great to see them give us a battle."

Both of Bruce's scores came from 22 yards out on sweep plays.

Also a member of Chardon's veteran-laden secondary, Bruce is able to make an impact both ways. That is something with which Hilltoppers coach Mitch Hewitt is impressed.

Chardon coach Mitch Hewitt talks about the performance of AJ Bruce as well as where he wants to see the defense improve @toppernation #NHFootball

— Ben Hercik (@BHercikNH) September 24, 2022

"He's a very talented kid, but we're trying to limit some of his miles," Hewitt said. "In a game like this, though, it feels like a playoff game and that's a team that we could see later on in the postseason. We respect Kenston, they're very well-coached so we needed to have AJ play both ways."

Alex Henry also recorded a pair of scores on the ground and a touchdown by Zach Frey with under a minute left in the fourth sealed the game.

However, it was a slow start for the defensive side of the ball for Chardon, as the Bombers (4-2) struck first as Nikko Georgiou took a quarterback draw in for the six-yard score. And the defense forced Henry to fumble deep in Chardon territory on their first drive of the game.

Patrick finished with 227 total offensive yards (111 rushing and 116 passing) and a score that drew Kenston to within three points. Yet there were some bright spots for the Chardon defense in the game.

Several times it was able to force Kenston's drives to stall and punt. The Hilltoppers also had Leo Columbi snag an interception on their first drive of the second half, as well as a goal-line stand to force a Parker Munday field goal in the third quarter.

Hewitt knows there is another level for the defense to reach, and he and his coaching staff are going to spend their bye week attempting to reach that.

"We didn't play great, but that's a lot of credit to Kenston," Hewitt said. "They have a lot of weapons. Their quarterback is pretty good, their running back is one of the best you'll find and they schemed it well. They're moving the chess pieces, too. We need to have our defense get better, we need to get more of a rush and we'll get there."

While their defense held just enough, the Hilltoppers got it done on the ground with 401 combined rushing yards to wear down the Bombers' defense.

Kenston coach Jeff Gurbich knows both sides of the ball need to improve if they want to make another deep postseason run, especially against a team at the caliber of Chardon.

Kenston went toe to toe with Chardon until the final two drives. Head coach Jeff Grubich talks about where @KHSBomberSports needs to improve to turn close results into wins #NHFootball

— Ben Hercik (@BHercikNH) September 24, 2022

On offense, Gurbich highlighted their fumble recovery in Chardon territory as well as the aforementioned Hilltoppers' goal-line stand after Cohen Clark was able to reel in a deflected pass as missed opportunities. If the Bombers want to make another deep postseason run, they need to be able to capitalize on those chances.

"They're a really well-coached team, and they had a great game plan coming in," Grubich said. "It's probably the best front seven we've seen so far, and they pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. I need to be able to get the kids in better position to make plays when we need them to win. We hope to be able to see them again down the road, but we still have a lot of work to do."

The Bombers look to rebound as they remain on their home turf when they welcome Madison on Sept. 30. After their by week, Chardon will also see the Blue Streaks, Oct. 7 on the road.