Ronan football meets adversity head-on
RONAN — This year, the Ronan Chiefs faced more than their fair share of adversity.
Three of their opponents — Florence, Loyola Sacred Heart, and Manhattan Christian — remain undefeated heading into the playoffs. Broadwater and Bigfork have a combined three losses. Several opponents are picked to win their respective conferences, and one is heavily favored to win the state championship.
“We’ve played some fantastic teams this year,” coach Jim Benn said. “This is the toughest schedule we’ve ever played.”
In addition, the team has dealt with a laundry list of injuries to starters and key players. Benn said the Chiefs have had a different starting offensive line for every game until Friday night.
Despite this, Benn said his team never quit in the face of adversity. On Oct. 2, Ronan was beating the still-undefeated Florence team by a score of 28 -14 at the end of the first half.
“We played our absolute best; we just couldn’t hang on,” he said. “It’s been a challenge. We’ve had a lot of adversity this year with injuries and such. It’s been a tough year, but (the team has) continued to work every week, and the kids that have hung in there and stuck it out have had a great attitude.”
Benn said the Chiefs have gotten better every week, and specifically credited the offensive line with playing a great season despite injuries and lineup changes.
“Those kids have played their butts off, and they deserve a lot of credit,” Benn said.
Benn also called attention to Carston Baertsch’s 200-yard game against Florence two weeks ago. Baertsch averaged 12 yards per carry in the game.
Senior center and anchor on the offensive line, Cody Mock, said he had too many great memories playing for Ronan to pick a favorite. Even so, he said if he had to pick one, it would last year’s semifinal playoff game.
“It was a hard-fought game; we were down and as a team we overcame the adversity,” Mock said. “That’s the number one thing about Ronan — we really strive to get better and be better.”
Benn said a major component of Ronan football is a sense of teamwork engrained in the day-to-day drills and practices. That philosophy is personified in their pregame, as the Chiefs do not announce starters as the game begins.
“We feel it’s a team sport, so we try not to single out individuals,” Benn explained.
Mock said his favorite part about playing for Ronan was the camaraderie.
“We work as a team, and when we’re faced with adversity, we overcome it as a team,” he said.
The Chiefs played the Bulldogs on Friday night. Neither team will see the playoffs this year, so it was the last regular season game — and last conference game — that many seniors would ever play.
Prior to the game, Benn was asked what he would say to his players in his pre-game speech.
“I’m going to tell them the same things I told you,” Benn said. “Let’s win. Let’s finish on a positive note. Let’s take care of our seniors and give them a good memory to end it all.”
Rather than focusing on his last game as a senior, Mock was preparing to help the underclassmen prepare for next year.
“If I had to say something to my younger guys, it would be to Keep fighting, don’t quit. When an opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it and don’t back down from a challenge;” he said.
Rise to the occasion. Play like a Chief.”
Ronan beat the Bulldogs 40 - 25 Friday night. Quarterback Connor Benn scored three touchdowns with a total of 138 yards passing. Running backs Baertsch and Lucas Gerhardt combined for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. On defense, Baertsch raked up nine tackles — three of them solo.
“Friday was a great finish for out seniors,” Benn said in an e-mail last weekend. “Carston Baertsch, Dallas Jore, Cody Mock, Quentin Denton, Brad Hartwell and Shelby Grant all came up with big plays to finish out their careers with the chiefs on a high note.”