HURON — This was exactly the role reversal Medina football coach Larry Laird was hoping to avoid.
Seven days after the Bees dominated Canton McKinley in the second half, Toledo St. John’s Jesuit pulled the same trick on Medina and rolled to a 24-6 victory Saturday at Huron Memorial Stadium.
It was hard to choose what hurt Medina (9-3) more in the Division I, Region 2 semifinal — a grinding 14-play, 79-yard drive to begin the half or a quick 91-yard jaunt featuring big plays — but both contributed to the Bees’ demise as the Trojans (11-1) advanced to play Toledo Whitmer in the regional final.
“Honestly, I thought the biggest difference was the size,” Laird said. “They wore on us.
“We played three meat grinders the last three weeks.
We went from Solon to Brunswick to Canton McKinley and now Toledo St. John’s.”
Medina trailed 10-6 at the half, though it was lucky to be that close, as defensive back Ben Hamel ran back an interception 54 yards to the St. John’s 13 that set up a late 24-yard field goal by Justin Letts.
The Bees simply needed to stop the Titans on the opening drive of the second half to give themselves a puncher’s chance.
It never happened.
Behind an offensive line that averages 6-foot-3, 263 pounds, Titans running backs Kent Kern (13 carries, 95 yards) and Nate White (14, 80) shoved the ball down Medina’s throat.
They weren’t alone, however, as quarterback Brogan Roback (9-for-14 passing, 183 yards, 2TDs, int.) hit All-Ohioan Cheatham Norrils (5 receptions, 121 yards) for a pair of third-down conversions to keep the drive alive.
The 6-2, 215-pound Kern capped the 5:42 march with a 2-yard plunge in which he beat blitzing Medina linebacker Alex Harris deep in the backfield on a stiff arm.
“It’s very well-coached and very athletic,” Laird said of the Titans’ offensive line. “I don’t think tape does them justice. There’s a reason they have almost two 1,000-yard rushers.”
Instead of responding like they did against McKinley, the Bees went three-and-out on their first possession of the second half.
St. John’s took just four plays to all but seal the deal, as Kern broke free on a 33-yard run and Norrils finished things by beating Medina cornerback Laterian Brown on a deep post from 45 yards out.
The Titans were up 24-6 before Medina had its fourth play of the second half.
“They were capable of taking our defense off the ball, and that was the difference,” Laird said. “McKinley was not able to do it and these guys were.”
Medina, thanks to another hard-charging performance from running back Jason Suggs (31 carries, 151 yards), had a glimmer of hope, as it had second- and-3 from the Titans 19.
Unfortunately for the Bees, guard Werner Ostmann was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, pushing the ball out of field goal range. A personal foul followed on the next play and Medina stalled.
Making matters worse later in the half, tight end Kenny Kaminski and wide receiver Walter Bailey dropped critical third-down passes, Norrils completely shut down Letts (3 catches, 19 yards) and Medina never could get that clutch play to move the chains and keep drives alive.
“It’s just what happens,” said Laird, whose team threw a season- high 17 passes that garnered just 64 yards. “We were due for one of those games. We just chose the wrong time to do it.”
Despite being manhandled up front on defense, Medina kept the game close in the first half by moving the ball into the red zone and relying on Letts’ leg.
St. John’s scored on its first drive on a play Medina safety Ben Cunningham would like to have back. On third down from the Medina 39, Roback looked deep to the right for Sean Beach into double coverage. Cunningham went for the interception and whiffed, giving Beach wiggle room to duck underneath and scamper into the end zone untouched to give the Titans a 7-0 lead.
The Bees responded with their best offensive showing of the night. Suggs, who ran the ball on 14 of Medina’s first 16 plays from scrimmage, carried the Bees 73 yards to set up Letts’ first field goal from 27 yards.
Medina got the score back to 10-6 on Hamel’s interception return and Letts’ second field goal, then survived a missed 37-yard try by St. John’s Brandon Smith at the end of the half.
That set up the disappointing finish, though Medina will look back at its season with fond memories.
Suggs broke Dean “Mighty Mite” Brubaker’s 63-year-old school rushing record with 1,839 yards, while Letts secured the Medina County mark for career field goals with 19.
Most important, the Bees finished with their most victories since 1923 and set a foundation to build upon.
“They’re going to have great memories,” Laird said. “Think about it. We’ve been 4-6 the last three years and have only been to the playoffs once (2006).
“If someone would have told me back in August, ‘Hey, you’re going to go 9-3 and make it to the second round of the playoffs, will you take it?’ I would have said, ‘Yes.”’
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.