High School Football: Run-heavy Ross, Monroe set to clash

The Ross Rams reached the Division III regional finals last season. The Rams are off to a 1-0 start this season and host Monroe (1-0) on Friday night. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF FILE
The Ross Rams reached the Division III regional finals last season. The Rams are off to a 1-0 start this season and host Monroe (1-0) on Friday night. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF FILE

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

There’s at least one thing Ross High School football coach Kenyon Commins and his long-time friend, Monroe coach Robert Mullins, can agree.

Fans who attend their game on Friday at Ross shouldn’t blink. They’re liable to miss the whole thing.

“It could be over by 8:30,” Commins said Wednesday morning.

“If I was a betting man, I would say it could be over by 9:30 p.m.,” Mullins said a few minutes later.

Understand, kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

They were sort of joking, of course, but there is an element of truth in their prediction. Commins’ Rams and Mullins’s Hornets both operate run-oriented triple-option offenses that chew up game clocks. They combined to attempt seven passes last Friday in season-opening, non-conference wins, Monroe by 49-14 over Talawanda and Ross by 48-31 in a back-and-forth game at Wilmington.

The Rams are coming off an impressive 8-2 2020 season that included a deep Division III playoff run which started with an overpowering 52-14 win over Monroe. Commins and his coaches had to replace five of six starters on the offensive line, including three who were named Southwest Ohio Conference first-team picks and two more who were named to the second team. Coming from behind on the road was to Commins a good sign.

“There’s a lot of newer guys on our line,” Commins said. “Once they settled down and settled in, we were able to beat a really good team. For me, it starts up front, replacing five out of our six starters.

Ross also lost to graduation senior running back Jackson Gifford, the SWOC Offensive Player of the Year, and all-conference first-team quarterback C.J, Boze, so Commins welcomed the contributions of 5-foot-10, 185-pound sophomore running back Riley Caldwell and 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore quarterback Aidan Brown. Caldwell gained 279 yards and scored three pivotal touchdowns on 20 carries.

“Riley is a sophomore we were trying to get a few reps there,” Commins said.

Commins was most impressed with his team’s resiliency. The Rams trailed or were tied for most of the game until taking the lead late in the third quarter.

“I learned that they have a lot of fight and won’t back down,” he said. “That’s our culture. We preach work ethic. We’re a blue-collar community and we talk about trying to be a reflection of the community. We were down, but we kept fighting and fighting until the end of the game. You could see the physicality of the game and the value of the kids being in shape. They’ve done a good job of taking care of themselves.”

Commins pointed out that such commitment was due as much to the team’s leaders as it was to the coaches.

“It’s gotten to the point where the coaches aren’t doing the accounting because the kids are doing the accountability,” he said. “We’ve been lucky to have the success we’ve had recently, and our kids know what it takes to get to the level of where we want to be.”

Mullins, who coached with Commins at Oak Hills, also was impressed with the production of some newcomers to the Monroe lineup, but veteran Elijah Jackson led the way against the Braves. The 6-foot, 205-pound junior gained 219 yards and scored a touchdown on 27 carries in the season-opener.

Senior Alex Pitsch, moved this season from running back to quarterback, capably ran the offense in his new role. The 5-9, 170-pound Pitsch threw two passes, but both went for touchdowns to 5-9, 118-pound sophomore Ryan Miles, and Pitsch also scored two on the ground.

Miles added a rushing score and Monroe piled up 482 yards of total offense and led, 35-7, by halftime.

“We have a lot of young guys starting in our skill positions,” Mullins said. “We knew those guys were talented and we kind of expected that they’d play well, but they exceeded our expectations as far as getting the ball into the end zone. We’re also still trying to figure out how good we are or if we’re good. It’s still early in the season. We played well, but this week is a measuring stick.

“Our quarterback making his first start as a quarterback was a pleasant surprise,” Mullins added. “He’s one of the guys who played extremely well. We’re happy to see a kid like Miles have success. Andrew Sharp played well on the defensive line.”

Mullins figures Ross’ overpowering win over Monroe in last season’s playoff could have a two-pronged impact on this year’s game. It could be motivational. It also could be a harbinger.

“It’s a little bit of both,” he said. “We’ll prepare the same way. We’ll do the same things. You look at a team like Ross that had a very successful season and a deep playoff run – we look at it as a challenge. We’ll see how we stack up against them. We’ll see what we can do.

“This is going to be a heck of a football game.”