The matchup at Twinsburg Tigers Stadium saw a downpour for most of the game, and Medina’s air raid offense struggled between the weather and the secondary play of the Cardinals.
“These guys have been working so hard, and they believed,” Mentor coach Matt Gray said. “Our defensive staff came up with a great game plan and presented it to those guys. They fully bought in and played so incredibly hard and they did their job tonight.”
Mentor picked off Medina three times and was dominant on fourth down, causing the Bees to turn the ball over on downs six times.
“They’ve worked extremely hard and they’ve had an unbelievable faith in themselves and their team, and that’s when special things happen,” Gray said. “That’s why it's been such an enjoyable year for us. We’re progressing, we’re improving and that’s the reason why.”
Mentor quarterback Scotty Fox led his offense to take advantage of those extra possessions. The sophomore was 13-of-25 for 155 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and added 68 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
“That was a huge difference for us tonight, (Fox) carrying the ball,” Gray said. “We knew we had to keep them honest… we knew we had to run him tonight and he’s growing up. I’m glad he’s a Mentor Cardinal, he’s a special young man and we’re going to cherish every opportunity with him.”
A 34-yard touchdown run by senior running back Mitchell Waite put the Cardinals up 21-0, a lead that the Bees would threaten late in the first half but could never surmount. Mentor leaned increasingly on Waite in the second half, with Fox throwing only six of his 25 passes after halftime.
Waite ran the ball 31 times for 191 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s all my offensive line,” Waite said. “Every single yard, every touchdown, that’s all them up front. They make it easy for me.”
Both Waite and Gray pointed to the development of Mentor’s offensive line unit as the key to the Cardinals’ success on the ground.
“We knew we had to kinda bang on them tonight and just really challenged those guys,” Gray said. “It was a very green offensive line unit at the beginning of the year. I give coach (Jordan) Wilcox and those young men an unbelievable amount of credit. They’ve kept working, they’ve kept improving.”
The Cardinals offense was churning, but the most impressive unit of the night was its defense.
Mentor took the ball out of Medina’s hands a total of nine times while holding the high-powered offense that came in averaging over 47 points per game to just three scores.
The Cardinals interceptions were made by seniors Jake Geduldig and Caleb Pohto and junior Caden Markowski. Mentor lost the turnover battle in its first matchup with Medina, a 52-38 loss in Week 7, and Gray said winning that part of the game was key to the playoff win.
“When you went back and we studied that Week 7 game we left too many zones, we didn’t do our jobs, we were trying to be superhuman,” Gray said. “To start off that game like that, that was absolutely huge defense, we made a couple big stops. The offense took care of the football… We had four turnovers there in that first go around. We didn't have that tonight.
Though he was picked off three times, junior quarterback Danny Stoddard was the one who kept Medina in the game, having a hand in every yard of offense the Bees gained.
He threw the ball nearly 60 times, going 29-of-56 for 390 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Stoddard also served as the only ground threat for Medina, picking up 119 yards on 17 carries.
“Mentor finished drives and we didn’t,” Medina coach Larry Laird said. “That’s really what it came down to. Honestly for us I think it was just a game of missed opportunities. We had opportunities and we came up short, and those are plays that we made all year.”
Stoddard spread the ball out, throwing touchdowns to junior Austin Knowles (four catches, 89 yards, touchdown), senior Brennan Schramm (seven catches, 89 yards, touchdown) and senior Carlos Corchado (seven catches, 38 yards, touchdown).
Junior Jack Wojack led Medina in both receptions (10) and receiving yards (141) but was unable to connect with Stoddard in the endzone.
Though the Bees will not make it back to the state championship, Laird said he is proud of the season his team had and that Medina is firmly on the map as a yearly contender.
“I’m very proud of these young men,” he said. “Back-to-back conference champions, Sweet Sixteen three years in a row. You know, we are a program now, not just a one-and-done team.”
Mentor enters the regional finals playing its best football all year, as the Cardinals are set to face No. 1 seed St. Edward for the Region 1 championship next week.
“(St. Edward is) the defending state champions, they’re as good as any team out there,” Gray said. “But we’ve got the Mentor Cardinals behind us, and we’re gonna give them everything we’ve got. This is a group that’s not going to back down from anybody or anything. We take a lot of pride in being from Mentor and being a part of this program, and these guys are gonna battle.”