High school football: Ross tries to bounce back as league play begins

Rams suffered first loss last week after opening with three victories

After winning the program’s first Southwest Ohio Conference title last year, the Ross High School football team is anxious to defend its crown.

That quest begins Friday when the Rams (3-1) open SWOC play at home against Northwest (3-2).

Ross went unbeaten in conference games last year but now is looking to get back on track after a 21-10 loss to Badin that followed an unexpected bye week. Dunbar cancelled in Week 4 because of COVID-19 protocols. Meanwhile, Northwest looks to rebound after falling just short against Kettering Alter, 30-28 last week.

“Anytime you get into conference play it’s exciting,” Ross coach Kenyon Commins said. “We divide the first half of the year up into non-league and then conference play, so it’s like two seasons. Our goal was to come out the first half 5-0, but after the seniors we lost (to graduation last year), we’re feeling pretty good at 3-1, 4-1, however you want to slice it, however the state decides to call that. We look forward to playing for a SWOC championship the next five weeks.”

Last year’s SWOC title, won with a roster featuring 22 seniors, was Ross’ first league championship since 2011. The 2021 brand of Rams feature just 10 seniors, and Commins said the group has a bit of a “chip on their shoulders” and wants to pass the torch to the next class in the same fashion it was delivered to them — in championship fashion.

The Rams finished 8-2 last year and made it to the regional final.

“It’s a group of seniors who are extremely driven to not let the program take a step back or stop being successful,” Commins said. “Being a small class, they’re playing with some extra edge and extra fight. They’ve been excited week to week, and coming off a big week against Badin, a big rivalry, they’ve been as excited to get into SWOC play as any other game.”

Commins thought Northwest outplayed Alter, the team that beat Ross 35-21 in the regional championship last year. The Northwest Knights are “really good up front, well-coached, fast and physical,” he said, and team speed is something Ross has struggled with in the past.

The Rams could have their hands full because of that, but Commins likes that this group brings an extra element of fight to the field, something that makes them a little different from last year’s team, which was overall a more talented roster because of experience. That could be the thing that keeps Ross on top.

“We had a great year, and it was great winning that first SWOC title, but what happened before doesn’t buy you anything,” Commins said. “All it does is put a target on your back, and we say take it off your back and put it on your front. Our best is needed, and we don’t want to be outworked. If we can outwork our opponent, we think we have a chance to beat anyone, and if not, we’ll still go back to work on Monday.”

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That’s what the Rams did this week after playing a strong Badin team close. Commins views Badin as one of the top two teams to beat in the region, and he was pleased with the way Ross played, despite the outcome.

Northwest lost to Badin 35-0 two weeks prior. Ross had lost to Badin 41-7 in the 2020 opener but was trailing just 14-10 going into the fourth quarter last week.

“It re-emphasized what we already knew — that we have an extremely scrappy football team,” Commins said. “We are undersized, but we have some fighters. We have some guys that fight tooth and nail, and that’s something you can’t teach or coach. I’ve spoken and acknowledged Badin is one of the top two teams to beat in the region. If they clean up a few things, they have the talent and ability to make a deep run. I think we were right there in that football game, and that says a lot, but there’s no moral victories either. We didn’t prep hard enough, didn’t play hard enough, so it’s time to move on to the next one.”

Ross is led by senior Brayden Fraasman, who played running back last year and now leads a run-oriented offense from the quarterback position, and sophomore running back Riley Caldwell. Fraasman has 489 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, and Caldwell adds 439 yards and three touchdowns.

Defensively, Josh Botts leads the team with 40 tackles, while Bryson Bastin adds 36 tackles and one sack and Brenden Sevier and Derrick Rack each have 1.5 sacks. Richie Jackson has a team-high two interceptions.

“We need to improve up front,” Commins said. “We are young and inexperienced except for Landon Herrmann, our senior captain, so we have to shore up a lot of things up front. Brayden needs to make clearer reads as far as the quarterback goes, but we just keep improving each week. We’re not an extremely deep team, but I’m happy with the unselfishness. We just need to improve both sides of the ball up front and get better today than we were yesterday and get better tomorrow than we were today.”

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