High Schools: Monroe opens league play with another title in mind

Monroe High School football coach Bob Mullins wasn’t surprised by his team’s first two wins. A barnburner loss to Western Brown didn’t deter his excitement about the Hornets’ progress.

The Hornets (2-1) enter Southwestern Buckeye League play Friday at Brookville (3-0) looking to build off an especially strong start for the offense and to get back on track defensively. They opened with wins against Talawanda and Ross, but dropped a 65-51 loss to Western Brown last week in a game that exposed some areas to improve as Monroe seeks to repeat as East division champions.

“I was happy with the 2-0 start, but I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet and we’re hoping that’s still coming,” Mullins said. “We’re really focused this week. When you lose a game, you have to reflect on what happened, you talk about adversity and how to handle that, and one thing I said to the kids this week is it’s easy when you are winning all the time, but how do you respond to loss? We are going to learn a lot about ourselves in how we respond to failure. That’s our focus is looking in the mirror, reflecting and looking at how we can improve and get back in the win column.”

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The Hornets had done particularly well in the run defense their first two games, including a 13-9 win against Ross, which traditionally relies on its ground attack. However, Monroe saw some weaknesses in its pass defense last week, as Drew Novak threw for 310 yards to lead Western Brown’s offense.

Fortunately for the Hornets, they play in a run-first league, for the most part, and Brookville fits that description, but Mullins said the pass defense is still something that needs work. Monroe is missing one of its top players in the secondary, as cornerback Tre Daniels is out with a knee injury, and the group is relying on young guys that are still learning.

Brookville is led by running back Tim Davis, who has 431 yards rushing and seven touchdowns already. Quarterback Keegan Mehr has completed 12 of 20 passes for 158 yards and five touchdowns.

“That’s one of the best-coached teams we will play,” Mullins said. “They are disciplined, they play hard. It’s going to be a tough, hard-nosed game against them. They don’t give you anything. I think it will be a low-scoring game, and the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will win the game.”

Monroe brings a fairly experienced squad to the gridiron. Mullins said the majority of the team returned from last year’s Co-East Southwest Buckeye League championship roster with the exception of four starting offensive linemen and an outside linebacker that graduated.

The defense is led by linebacker Wyatt McPherson, a 2021 second-team all-state selection, and defensive lineman Tyson Rupp.

On the other side of the ball, Monroe’s all-state running back paves the way, as Elijah Jackson is coming off a season in which he came up just shy of 2,000 yards rushing. He’s already amassed 516 yards and four touchdowns.

“Teams throw a lot of bodies in the box to contain him, but he’s already off to a great start,” Mullins said. “We have multiple guys you have to respect, ... but a lot of guys are focusing on Elijah. He was a second-team all-state pick for a reason, an explosive player that knows how to get the ball to the end zone.”

Mullins had high expectations coming into this season with so many talented players returning, and he believes the Hornets are ready for another step forward. Monroe went 8-3 last year after a 4-5 in 2020 and 2-8 in Mullins’ first season in 2019.

“Our goals are pretty much the same,” Mullins said. “We want to win the league, that’s our No. 1 goal. It’s a really good league and if you win our league, you’ve got a good shot in the playoffs to have a strong showing there. That’s our goal, but we have high expectations from this group because of the hard work put in and momentum from last year. We learned how to win last year and that’s something coming into this season, we didn’t have to teach them that. They know what it takes so that’s been a big jump in our expectations. We can focus on improving in other ways, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”

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