After firing a 35-yard touchdown pass on his team’s first drive of the Division I championship game, Rutland’s Andy Kenosh booted the extra point and then took honors on the return kickoff to Middlebury.
On Middlebury’s ensuing possession, Kenosh made the correct pre-snap read and booked it across the field from the back side to snare an interception.
Four plays later, Kenosh connected on a longer touchdown pass than his first score and the Raiders were on their way to ending the Tigers’ 32-game unbeaten streak and return to top of Vermont high school football following a nine-year title drought.
The star quarterback. A lockdown defender. The team’s kicker and punter. Kenosh did it all for the Division I champion Raiders.
“He plays offense, defense; he punts, he kicks, he does everything but drive the bus,” Rutland’s longtime coach Mike Norman said. “A lot of our success went through Andy.”
And after leading his team to the state title on their home turf last month, Kenosh, a senior, receives one more honor for the 2015 season: The Free Press’ football player of the year.
“After the first quarter, I was saying, ‘my gosh, I wish I knew how good he was,'” said Middlebury coach Dennis Smith in a reference to watching film vs. live action. “Not that we could have done anything about it. He just shredded us and there was no answer.
“Those special type of kids, all you have to do is get them on the field and then they will make things happen.”
In mastering the controls in Year 2 of Rutland’s switch to a read-option offense, Kenosh completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,018 yards and 25 touchdowns against six interceptions, while rushing for 809 yards and 13 more scores.
When he wasn’t directing Rutland’s high-scoring offense, Kenosh played in the secondary, where he picked off 11 passes, and on specials teams. He kicked a pair of field goals, made 52 of 57 point-after tries and bombed punts (41.5 yard average) and kickoffs (48.0) routinely to pin opponents deep into their own territory.
“He likes being a playmaker. The ball is in his hands every time. He’s smart, he’s selfless,” Norman said. “We really needed a decision-maker running this type of offense. He was able to get us in the right play most of the time.”
But that hadn’t always been the case for Kenosh and the Raiders.
As the Raiders transitioned to a new offense, ditching the I-formation, Kenosh and Co. needed time to work out the kinks and form an identity. The 2014 season had its ups and downs — the overtime win at Essex and the deflating home quarterfinal loss to Colchester were examples of an uneven 5-4 season.
“As I said to him when he became quarterback a couple years ago, ‘you are going to get all the praise, but understand besides me and maybe before me, you are going to get all the criticism when we don’t do well,'” Norman said.
Kenosh took the playoff defeat to Colchester hard. He turned the ball over twice on back-to-back possessions late in regulation, the former on a goal-line fumble as he was looking to put Rutland back on top in a seesaw affair.
“He came to the sidelines and he was visibly, emotionally upset because he thought he lost the game for everybody,” Norman said. “The learning piece was he had the courage to go for it and he came up a little bit short.
“Ultimately, that’s what this is about, teaching these kids not to be afraid to fail. That being said, I think we and he grew up and I think it snowballed this year.”
For Kenosh, also a champion Alpine skier, it was a driving force of the Raiders’ unblemished run through Vermont competition.
“In the back of my mind, I just said I wasn’t going to have that happen this year. I’m going to help my seniors from this group get to where I didn’t get them last year,” Kenosh said. “I realized I needed to get stronger and faster. I made sure I didn’t have any regrets this season.”
The Raiders were tested in the final two weeks of the regular season. They needed to rally late against upset-minded BFA-St. Albans. Then, a week later, they overcame a 20-0 deficit at Hartford to wrap up the No. 1 seed for the playoffs, where the Raiders set up shop at home for three wins, culminating in the 35-7 triumph over Middlebury.
“There were times when he was a junior that some people thought that other people should be playing and that we weren’t doing the right things,” Norman said. “So it was nice to see things go full circle.”
In the championship, Kenosh completed his first six passes and wrestled early momentum by creating the game’s first turnover.
“I was just waiting for a pass because I knew they would eventually try it,” Kenosh said of Middlebury’s first possession. “I was reading the tight end and he didn’t go down inside to block so I knew pass and automatically I bailed.
“I knew I needed to get back that ball and give it back to our offense to score again.”