JFK vs Minister DVII State Final
By ERIC MAUK
The Warren JFK football team calls its defense the Blue Storm, and the moniker could not have been more apt Saturday after a furious defensive effort left the Minster Wildcats seeking evacuation routes out of Columbus.
JFK (14-1) used that relentless defense and a wrecking-ball offensive scheme to claim the school’s first Ohio High School Athletic Association state championship in 25 years Saturday morning, besting Minster 24-6 in the Division VII state final in Ohio Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University.
“A state championship for Warren JFK was a goal that we’ve had for three years and it feels very special for us to be able to accomplish that today,” JFK coach Jeff Bayuk said. “I think we were a little nervous early and I know I was a little nervous as well, but we got our feet under us and played like we knew we could.”
The Blue Storm defense limited a Minster offense that had scored 34 points per game in their playoff run to one first-quarter touchdown and held the Wildcats (10-5) without a first down in three of their four second-half possessions.
“They flew all over the field today and made us do a lot of things differently,” Minster coach Geron Stokes said. “They rattled our cages a little and we didn’t handle it well. They make you speed things up because they are always attacking.”
While the Eagles’ defense limited Minster’s opportunities when it had the ball, it was the continuous pounding of the JFK offensive that made sure that the Wildcats didn’t get many opportunities.
First-team All-Ohio tailback Evan Boyd carried the ball 36 times for 166 yards and two touchdowns while the Eagles’ offensive line allowed the Warren squad to control the ball for more than 31 of the game’s 48 minutes. JFK ran the ball on 55 of its 59 plays, and threw just one pass in the second half as the Eagles bludgeoned the Minster defense.
“Our offensive line is a group of guys that weren’t very big, but they have a lot of heart,” Bayuk said. “They allowed us to take a lot of time off the clock in the second half and that was a key.”
Boyd took full advantage of the heart shown by his offensive line and added a few extra beats of his own in the decisive second half. The senior spun out of an open-field tackle and dove over for a 1-yard score in the third quarter and then channeled former Washington Redskins fullback John Riggins in breaking a fourth-and-2 run for a 39-yard score that provided the final margin.
“The guys on the offensive line did a great job and once I got to the corner on the last run, all I had to do was make one person miss, because the line had done all the rest of the work,” grinned Boyd. “I knew it would be a special day because of it being championship day in Ohio Stadium and we just wanted to give it everything we had.”
JFK survived a worrisome first quarter that saw Minster (10-5) make two deep drives into Eagle territory. A key open-field tackle by Jacob Coates on third down followed by a fourth-down sack by Boyd turned the Wildcats away on the first drive, but Jared Huelsman’s 1-yard plunge just four minutes later claimed a 6-0 lead for Minster.
The Blue Storm turned the tide in a furious second quarter, forcing two key turnovers that slowed Minster’s charge. Minster fumbled on its first play of the second quarter, but JFK coughed the ball back up just two plays later. Undaunted, senior linebacker Ryan Lee intercepted a tipped Huelsman pass to give the Eagles the ball on the Minster 6 three plays later, and JFK took the lead soon after when Gregory Valent snuck over from a yard out.
Minster had the ball for mere seconds after the JFK score as a fumble on the kickoff return set JFK up at the Wildcat 30, leading to a Justin Bofenkamp field goal from 29 yards away that gave the Eagles a 10-6 halftime lead.
“I really think that they punched us in the mouth early but we were able to bounce back fairly quickly,” Bayuk said. “This is as good a defense as I have ever been associated with and the staff, led by our defensive coordinator Dominic Prologo, really gets the most out of the kids.”
JFK made some adjustments that stymied the Minster offense in the third quarter, going to a one-linebacker set after halftime, affording more secondary help against the dangerous Huelsman. With Coates and Joe Millard making big one-on-one plays against Wildcats receivers and the front four pressuring the passer, the only Minster completion in the third quarter came when Huelsman caught his own tipped pass for a 5-yard loss.
“When I watched Minster on offense, we weren’t sure how to attack them,” Bayuk said. “We don’t play a read style of defense, we attack. Minster does such a great job of counterattacking, that we knew we had to come up with something new.”
Minster regrouped at the start of the fourth quarter and made things uncomfortable for the Valley area fans that had made the trek to Columbus. A 31-yard kick return by Jonathan Niemeyer set the Wildcats up at their own 46, where Huelsman went to work. The junior quarterback either ran himself or passed the ball on the first 11 plays of the fourth quarter, but the drive ended with a fourth-down incompletion on the JFK 8.
The last gasp for Minster came when it forced a fourth-down punt by Bofenkamp with 4:06 to play, trailing by 11. The Wildcats sent 10 players after JFK’s first-team All-Ohio kicker, and one of the 10 made contact with Bofenkamp’s plant leg, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that set up Boyd’s 39-yard scoring romp just three plays later.
“We didn’t play our best football today, but that is because of what JFK did to us today,” lamented Minster’s Stokes. “They deserve a state championship.”
The state title was the first since the late Tony Napolet led JFK to the 1991 championship and marks the team’s fifth appearance in the championship contest.