ROCKINGHAM — Rocky River coach Jason Fowler wants his team to make a better showing than it did last year against Richmond Senior.
The Raiders rushed for 402 yards and passed for another 102 en route to a 37-13 victory over the Ravens. Richmond’s defense limited Rocky River to 249 total yards and shut out the visitors in three of the four quarters.
“They are so hard to prepare for,” Fowler said about Richmond. “We don’t see it (the spread option) in Charlotte. We are preaching to our kids to stay with their assignment.”
The 24-point defeat was the biggest last season for Rocky River, which went on to win the Southwestern Conference title. The SWC includes Butler, Independence and Porter Ridge. Rocky River beat Reagan and Porter Ridge in the 4A playoffs before falling to eventual state champion Dudley 28-7 in the third round to finish with an 11-3 mark.
Even though the Ravens return starting quarterback Naiil Ramadan as well as leading rusher Elijah Jett from a team that averaged 27.1 points a game, Fowler believes the strength of his team will be on the other side of the ball. Jaire Alexander, who has verbally committed to South Carolina, and Darian Washington, another Division I prospect, lead a defense that surrendered 14.8 points a contest.
“We are also returning an outside linebacker and we are getting a middle linebacker back who was ineligible last year,” Fowler said. “But I think our strength is going to be our front four. Last year it was probably our weakness. We’re not very big, probably 220 or 230 pounds, but they are strong as a bull and can run.”
Richmond coach Paul Hoggard said he understands why Rocky River is expected to be one of the top teams in the state this season.
“Secondary-wise, they will be probably be one of the top secondaries we will see probably,” Hoggard said. “They run really, really well. They’ve got great speed. They are more athletic then they were a year ago on defense. Their linebackers have really good speed. Their front guys have that good high school size, that 230 to 250 range that can move and are athletic. They’ve got a really, really good-looking defense that can run.”
With a stout defense, Rocky River may remind some of the Baltimore Ravens of 2000 when their offense was asked to not lose games, not necessarily win them. Fowler said his offense is run-first and will look to shorten the game to limit the touches by Richmond’s offense.
“We can’t have three incomplete passes and give the ball back to them,” Fowler said.
Hoggard said in the limited film he has seen of the Ravens, they have added some new wrinkles to their playbook.
“They’re running some option stuff, they’re trying to run some of the stuff we do option-wise,” Hoggard said. “They’re still an inside zone team…one-back power stuff. It appears they want to be about 60-40 run, maybe 50-50.
“I think their strong suit is defense, they look really good defensively. I can’t speak for their coach, but I would think they would want to play it close to the vest offensively and try to stone you defensively and let the other team make mistakes.”
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.