HAMILTON– Every year as July fades into August, and the smell of fall starts to linger into the air, everyone’s brain starts to fill with memories of Friday night lights. Every single person that was fortunate enough to be in attendance at Virgil Schwarm Stadium on Friday night, will forever remember 2019’s iteration of the Battle of the Rams.
For the first time in the history of the rivalry, Ross proved to be the better Rams. They didn’t take the Ram trophy without a fight. In a game that went beyond regulation, it wasn’t a five yard punch-in by Jackson Gifford, or a 30 yard touchdown pass from Zach Switzer that separated these two teams, but instead a PAT. Ross put one in the win column with a 20-19 victory over their rival.
“What does this game mean? It means we are 1-0,” said Ross’ head coach Kenyon Commins, downplaying the win over the rival. “We had a huge win last year and then we fell on our face the next week.”
Though, the maroon and gold held the Ram head trophy high at the end of the night, it was a concerning start for Ross to say the least.
Each of Ross’ first two drives ended quickly. The first on a three and out, then second on a fumble. Something Coach Commins chalks up to the nerves of playing Badin.
“I don’t know what it is with this game, we come out with jitters,” said Coach Commins. “It’s not the atmosphere, we play with these atmospheres in the SWOC, especially with Edgewood and Harrison. I just don’t get that piece of it, it’s something we have to address. It’s definitely not the way we drew it up,” Commins said has he started to chuckle.
Badin didn’t let those opportunities go by, either.
Zach Switzer handed it off to Alex DeLong and Marshall Flaig as the home squad came out firing. On first and goal, Flaig took a hand off and put Badin on the board with an inside-reverse.
Ross broke one of the cardinal rules of running the option, and put the ball on the ground– giving their opponents possession just outside the redzone. Just as a tree in a windstorm, Ross’ defense bent but didn’t break. Badin was held to a field goal, and salvaged momentum by not going down 14-0. Ultimately turning out the be the difference in the ball game, as the score was 13-13 at the end of regulation.
“My defensive coordinator, Casey Myers, and that defensive staff does an absolutely phenomenal job,” said Ross’ head coach. “To hold them down there [to a field goal] that allowed us to even have the opportunity to go to OT.”
After those two drives, it was time for Ross to shine, and perhaps more importantly for their run game to shine.
Talking to several people around the Badin staff, they kept alluding to one thing– Ross’ line has the ability to control the game. And for the rest of the contest, they did. Even when they didn’t, it wasn’t easy to bring down Ross’ fullback Jackson Gifford.
“I’ve had the pleasure of being very good friends with the Gifford family, and watching Jackson play football from k1 to now getting the opportunity to coach him,” said Commins. “I remember in his barn as a kid, I drew a play up on the dry erase board that we talked about. I told him he would run that his senior year in the state championship game. For me to see Jackson run the ball, and to see him develop the way he has physically, is a very proud moment. I can only imagine how his mom and dad feel.”
“He is a tank,” Coach Commins said what presumably every Badin defensive player and fan was thinking and he gained five yards with each handoff. “We have him for another year, so he is going to be a tired pup.”
Gifford didn’t score the first Ross touchdown, the Rams’ quarterback CJ Boze did on a seven yard keeper. Which was set up by a deep ball to Nathan Latimer.
The 10-7 score stayed put until after halftime, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying on Ross’ behalf. The maroon Rams, got into the red zone, but Evan Schlensker came through with a stop on 4th and 2 and under one minute remaining.
The second half was marred by penalties and mental mistakes, despite this they were able to send the game into overtime.
“There was a lot of pentalies on us,” said Badin’s head coach Nick Yordy. “It wasn’t just one penalty. There were many, many mistakes by us. Credit to Ross, they were hungry, they were ready to go. They did a great job executing a game plan, they moved the ball and kept the ball away from us. It’s hard to get a rhythm on offense.”
If there was any beat to the life of Badin’s offense, then it was essentially stopped by the long drive of Ross in the third quarter.
More than 15 plays and more than eight minutes ticked off the clock from the time Ross took over the ball, to the time they took the lead on a Jackson Gifford hand off. That’s what the triple option does, it controls the game and the clock. When Gifford is breaking every run off for five plus yards, it’s tough to beat. That being said Badin had Ross stopped in their tracks at 4th and 4, but an offsides penalty on the punt gave the Rams a first down.
Ross missed an extra point attempt after Gifford’s score, which left the game in the balance at 13-10.
Both teams struggled to get anything moving. Badin’s Rockey Anzalone was able to pin Ross within the one, which got an otherwise quiet Badin crowd jolted back into the game.
The most glaring fault to Ross’ run game was their three fumbles, two of which they didn’t recover. The second of which gave Badin the ball within the red zone and under five minutes remaining in the game. Or it would have, if a pair of penalties on subsequent plays didn’t tarnish the Ram’s field position.
Regardless, Badin pushed the ball towards the end zone, but everytime it seemed as though a touchdown was imminent, a penalty got in their way. The Rams and David Schwinefuss settled for a 23 yard field which split the uprights, knotting the game at 13.
When Ross got the ball back they didn’t try and move the ball downfield and instead elected to run the clock out and take it to overtime, which seemed off at the time but eventually worked out for Commins and the Rams.
Ross lost the toss (look at me rhyming) and got the ball first. They continued what they did for the last three quarters and handed the ball off to Gifford for five or six yards at a time. The junior full back punched it in for a five yard touchdown. The PAT would eventually be the game winner.
It was Badin’s turn. And, on the first play they ran in OT, Zach Switzer was sacked for an 11 yard loss. Second and 21, Badin didn’t have a lot of options left. They lined up Michael Schwinefuss on the open side of the field, alone. Switzer dropped back and delivered a ball in the bread basket, but Ross defensive back Zach Ungerman broke the play up as it hit Schwinefuss’ pads. After a bubble screen gained two yards, the Rams found themselves at 4th and 20, from the 30.
Switzer lined up with four wide on the left hash mark, three to his right, one to his left. The senior, 6’5 quarterback scrambled to his left. Alex Delong, immediately took off for the left side of the end zone beating his man. Switzer saw his captain open and delivered a dime in the back half of the end zone. Touchdown Badin.
“We needed it,” said Yordy. “It was a great play by [Switzer] and Alex, but it is what it is.”
Badin missed the subsequent PAT short and to the right, which sealed the game for Ross.
“Schwinefuss [Badin’s kicker] didn’t lose that game,” said Yordy alluding to the penalties and mistakes his team made throughout the contest. “As a team, I think collectively we lost that game.”
It was one of the best games southwest Ohio will see all fall, and one that will be bitter in the memory of Badin and sweet in the memory of Ross. Regardless, it was an opener that both coaches can turn to and say we learned something about ourselves.