High school football: Monroe off to best start since 2014

Monroe quarterback Alex Pitsch (6) carries the ball slowed down by Ross defender Kyle Becker (12) during football game against Ross Friday, Aug. 27, 2021 at Ross High School. Ross won 21-14. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Monroe quarterback Alex Pitsch (6) carries the ball slowed down by Ross defender Kyle Becker (12) during football game against Ross Friday, Aug. 27, 2021 at Ross High School. Ross won 21-14. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Monroe High School football coach Bob Mullins came into this season feeling like the Hornets had the ingredients for success in his third year at the helm, but they still needed to learn how to win.

Heading into Friday’s game at Oakwood with a 3-1 record, they are off to their best start since 2014 (6-1) and on pace to notch the program’s first winning season since 2015 when Monroe won four of its last six games to finish 6-4.

Mullins got the team to 4-5 last year in the pandemic-shortened schedule after a 2-8 finish in 2019.

“Our practices and the locker room are very positive,” Mullins said. “The culture is just different. You can talk about winning all you want, but you don’t know how to win until you start winning. They are winning, seeing the fruits of their labor pay off. There is a right and wrong way to do things, and they are buying into doing things the right way, and it’s showing in the win column. It starts in the offseason, working hard and not caring about who gets the credit and it has turned into a true team in that regard.”

It helps having several third-year players who have been through his system now for two full seasons. However, even with confidence he had “really good players working really hard,” Mullins still knew the team needed to experience some early success to reinforce what Monroe has been working on since the offseason. Instead of thinking about the season as a whole and what the Hornets wanted to accomplish, they focused on breaking the upcoming matchup into pieces and setting more game-specific goals and tasks.

That started with Talawanda in the opener, and Monroe rolled to a 49-14 win. The Hornets then took the positives from a 21-14 loss against Ross and learned some lessons that now have carried into Southwest Buckeye League play. The Rams had beaten them 52-14 in the playoffs last year.

“The No. 1 thing was we learned we could compete with Ross,” Mullins said. “They are a solid program, and it was a one-score game. Our kids played hard and learned in big games that are close, little things add up and that’s the difference in winning and losing in a tight game. If we did two or three things differently, that changes outcome. That was one of best teams in the region last year and we can play with these guys.”

Monroe won a shootout with Western Brown in Week 3, prevailing 66-58, and then last week beat Brookville, 33-13, to end a six-game losing streak in the rivalry series. In that one, the Hornets rushed for 336 yards and burst to a 23-0 lead in the first 18 minutes, a fast start that Mullins credits to preparation and leadership.

The victory last week especially was important starting off Southwestern Buckeye League play on a good note, as the Hornets now head on the road for two straight weeks.

“Brookville has been one of the best teams in our league for a while, always in the top two or three, and we haven’t beaten them in seven years, so there’s a lot of momentum moving into this week,” Mullins said. “Oakwood is a solid program, and they are moving in the right direction. They beat us last year in a tough, hard-fought game that was really close. We expect it to be a really good game.”

Monroe’s has scored a league-high 162 points through four games overall and will be looking to give problems to Oakwood’s defense. Quarterback Alex Pitsch effectively runs the Hornet’s triple-option offense, which is led by running backs Elijah Jackson and Ryan Miles.

Working behind an offensive line of Zechariah Kidd, Tysen Rupp, Karson Gomia, Chris Reber, Zach Hagedorn and tight end Konnor Loper, Jackson already has 851 yards and five touchdowns on 96 carries, while Miles adds 454 yards and six touchdowns on 37 rushes.

“It all starts up front with the offensive line, where we are big and strong and get a lot of movement,” Mullins said. “They do a great jo creating space for our backs to score the football. I think that’s the strongest unit on the team. We win games up front with those guys, and then our quarterback also has done an outstanding job putting the ball where it needs to go. We’re a read offense, so he does a great job reading things and he puts the ball where it needs to go on every play and that gives us a great opportunity for success.”

Oakwood brings a spread offense that shows more balance than a lot of the teams Monroe faces. Ever since the high-scoring affair with Western Brown, the Hornets have been working on their pass defense and that will be the focus Friday, as well.

Monroe’s defense is led by linebackers Wyatt McPherson and Tanner Chastain, as well as the defensive line of Konnor Loper, Andrew Sharp, Hagedorn and Rupp.

“We just want to continue to do what we’ve been doing,” Mullins said when asked what he wants to have achieved by the midway point of the season, following Friday’s game. “Play as hard as we can, prepare as hard as we can and see what comes out of that. If we line up and play hard, we feel we have a great shot to win every week. Our goal is to be 4-1. That’s the best we can do this week.”