Sep. 23—BRUNSWICK — Matt Gray stepped before his victorious squad Sept. 23 and held up his index finger.
"That," Mentor's football coach said, "is Step 1."
A year ago, the Cardinals' season fell apart via a three-game stretch that saw them lose to Brunswick, Medina and Solon in consecutive weeks to start the Greater Cleveland Conference part of their schedule.
With a 35-14 throttling of host Brunswick on Sept. 23, the Cardinals began the Redemption Tour portion of their 2022 season.
"We started off 2-2," Gray said. "We had a bye week last week and broke it down. Here's our next season. Here's our next step, our progression. That's Step 1 of it."
Playing short-handed with a revamped offensive line that had three starters out of action, Mentor relied heavily on the passing game to pick apart the Blue Devils' defense. Sophomore quarterback Scotty Fox threw touchdown passes to five different receivers to lead the Mentor offense.
Two other potential scoring drives were snuffed out by interceptions in the red zone.
"Whatever the defense gives us, we want to be able to take advantage of it," Gray said.
On this night, it was the passing game, with both crossing patterns and quick-outs to the perimeter eating up big chunks of yardage against a Brunswick defensive line that was larger than Mentor's makeshift offensive line.
"The passing game was working," Snow said. "If it's not broke, don't fix it. They couldn't stop it, so we kept throwing."
Mentor (3-2, 1-0 GCC) got off to a good start when Caleb Pohto returned the opening kickoff 91 yards to the 3. Fox then connected with Henry Schenk for a three-yard touchdown.
"First game of the GCC, we waned to come in here and send a message," Pohto said. "First return of the game, I had to knock it out of the park."
Brunswick answered with a long touchdown of its own, but missed the conversion, and it was 7-6 a mere 63 seconds into the game.
A three-yard touchdown pass from Fox to Mitchell Waite made it 14-6, but again, Brunswick answered. Quarterback Ethan Roksandish plowed in from the 3, with Jack Safko's conversion run tying it, 14-14.
Mentor got a crucial score just before the half when Fox found Holden Cerny for a two-yard score and a 21-14 lead at the break.
The game took a big turn early in the third when Brunswick attempted a fake punt deep in its own territory. Junior Aidan Schwalm stonewalled the attempt, Mentor took over and scored three plays later on a three-yard pass from Fox to Snow.
"It wasn't (a surprise) the way the game was going," Gray said. "There are times you take a calculated risk. I thought it was a good call on their part. Our guys did a great of executing. We kept our defense on the field, we read it and made the stop. Then we were able to capitalize."
Brunswick never recovered and never came close to scoring again.
"It came down to understanding our gap responsibilities and getting 11 hats to the ball," Gray said of his team's second-half shutout performance on defense.
Mentor tacked on an insurance touchdown in the fourth on Fox's three-yard pass to Nick Jares.
After the game, Gray praised his team for adjusting to lineup changed with players out of action and for their attention to the task at hand.
"We knew and understood we got beat by this football team, 16-14, last year," Gray said. "We knew we could not overlook this. We singularly focused on the Brunswick Blue Devils this week."
He mentioned that Sept. 30 calls for a trip to Medina, which put a 35-14 hurting on the Cardinals last year. But his players, well, they already knew what Step 2 meant.
"(Last year) left a sour taste in our mouths the next three games of this ride," Snow said. "Every dude on this team is very, very excited to get back after those teams. We're all pretty fired up, but it's one step at a time."