ROSS — Branden McDonald punctuated the game with anger.
With eight and a half minutes left in the Division III, Region 12 final, the Alter Knights’ senior running back delivered a vicious stiff arm to a Ross defender before galloping into the end zone to make it a two-score game.
“It was really aggressive,” McDonald said. “It was a lot of anger. Through the game and talking smack, I ain’t gonna say too much, but it felt good. I was really angry.”
But after the job was finished and the clock hit zero, he was all smiles. He tallied 168 rush yards and a touchdown to help Alter to a 35-21 win over the Rams Friday. It advances to the state final four and will play Columbus St. Francis DeSales at an unannounced location next week.
“It never gets old,” Knights coach Ed Domsitz said. “It’s just a good feeling, particularly after we started off 0-2. And I’ve been where Ross is. I understand the pain they feel. This was a heck of a team for them — maybe the best they’ve had in many years.”
The Rams exploded at the start, putting 14 points on the board before Alter ran an offensive play.
Ross senior quarterback CJ Boze found the end zone from 35 yards out on the second play from scrimmage before the Rams recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and drove for another touchdown.
“We started off as a disaster,” Domsitz said. “Couldn’t have been any worse.”
After finally having the opportunity to take an offensive snap with 5:46 left in the opening quarter, the Knights went on a 35-7 run the rest of the game.
Senior quarterback Brian Shane punched their first touchdown in from the goal line, and after another score with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Alter went into the intermission tied, 14-14, with the Rams.
“I give our kids a lot of credit for fighting back and not losing their poise in a game of this magnitude and this level,” Domsitz said. “If you lose your poise, you’re going home. So I think our kids did a great job with that. There was no quit in either team. They left it on the field.”
Just like Ross did in the first half, the Knights struck for a long touchdown run on the second offensive play of the second half. Junior CJ Hicks gave Alter a 21-14 lead with a 56-yard carry.
The Rams fired back after draining nearly eight minutes off the clock, when Boze sped for another short score.
Less than two minutes later, the Knights took the lead for good on a 74-yard bomb from Shane to senior receiver Patrick Connor. McDonald tacked on his insurance points in the fourth to make it 35-21.
“It was a good game,” Ross head coach Kenyon Commins said. “It was just a slugfest back and forth, so I think everybody is going to be sore in the morning.”
Alter has won eight straight games after dropping its first two of the season. Friday’s game was the first the Knights claimed by less than 17 points.
The Rams hadn’t lost since Week 1. They earned the first three playoff victories in program history this year.
“I’m really, really proud,” Commins said. “We always talk about, sometimes the destination is the journey in a year like this. As probably frustrated as people are with the whole plight of the world, I guess, at this point in time, they got to be something positive for this community …
“I tip my hat to Alter. I hope they bring one back for our region.”