SIDNEY — It wasn’t long ago that Sidney and Belmont played each other when both were among the worst Division II teams in southwest Ohio. The two squads will meet again at Sidney Memorial Stadium on Friday night under far different circumstances.
The Bison (9-0) will travel to Sidney to take on the Yellow Jackets (9-1) in a Div. II, Region 8 quarterfinal game. It’s the first playoff berth for Sidney since 1989 and the second in school history.
Playoff berths haven’t been the norm in Belmont’s history, either, but that’s changing under coach Earl White.
White took over at Belmont in 2014 after coaching for 13 years at Thurgood Marshall and the school’s predecessor Colonel White. Thurgood Marshall made the playoffs in each of White’s last three seasons and advanced to the state semifinals in 2012.
Belmont went 5-4 in White’s first season but compiled 7-2 records in 2015 and 2016. They made the playoffs in Division III, Region 12 each of the last two seasons and lost first-round games.
The Bison played in Sidney in 2013 and lost 69-0. The Yellow Jackets finished 4-6 that season, while Belmont was 0-10.
“This isn’t the same Belmont team that was here a couple of years ago, that’s for sure,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “Coach White and his staff, which is full of veteran coaches from the Dayton area, have done a tremendous job over the last three years of instilling some discipline and teaching very well-coached football players.
“They’re extremely fast and extremely athletic, and that offense is a little funky.”
White turned Thurgood Marshall into a powerhouse in the Dayton Public League with a tight wing-t formation. Belmont utilizes something similar, though Doenges said snaps done similarly to a shotgun formation as opposed to the quarterback being under center.
“They still call it a wing-t, but it’s not the same wing-t that we see St. Marys or Tipp City run. They’ve got some option stuff in there. It’s a funky offense that really no one else runs. Defensively, they’re just extremely fast.”
Belmont, which is the No. 5 seed in Region 8, started the season with a 42-0 depantsing of rival Dunbar and has been on a roll since. Belmont amassed a 6-0 record in the Southwest Ohio Public League (made of Dayton Public League and Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference teams) and allowed only nine total points during the season.
Belmont’s defense recovered 10 fumbles, grabbed 11 interceptions and allowed only a field goal during regular season. The lone touchdown an opponent scored came after an offensive turnover.
Though the Bison’s opponents had a combined 36-54 record, Doenges said the team’s defense is strong.
“I hear people keep saying, ‘Well, their schedule’s not very good,’ and that kind of stuff,” Doenges said. “When your defense only gives up three points in nine games, there’s something really special there. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Three players have mainly carried the load of Belmont’s rushing attack. Junior running back Elijah Malcom has 1,063 rushing yards on 158 carries, while senior Dawson Martin has 640 rushing yards on 75 carries. Both Malcom and Martin have rushed for 14 touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Rian Reaves has rushed for 582 yards and nine touchdowns and has completed 14-of-30 pass attempts for 295 yards with five touchdowns.
Belmont averages 361 yards and 45 points per game.
“The biggest key with our kids against this type of offense is just getting lined up first,” Doenges said. “After we get lined up, we have to be disciplined enough to do your individual job.
“That’s what’s kind of hurt us with the past with the wing-t offenses and the option offenses that we’ve faced, kids trying to do too much and not just focused on their jobs. They’ve got to depend on the guy beside them to do their job. We can’t freelance; all 11 have to do their job. With this kind of offense, if only 10 of the 11 do their job, they’re bound to find the one spot and be able to bust it through.”
Sidney’s offense knows how to bust plays through opposing defenses. The Yellow Jackets were second in the Greater Western Ohio Conference in yards (472) and points (41.2) per game.
Senior running back Isaiah Bowser led the conference in regular season with 2,389 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns and also had 300 receiving yards. Junior quarterback Andre Gordon completed 89-of-153 passes for 1,432 yards and rushed for 597. Gordon accounted for 28 total touchdowns.
Receivers Ratez Roberts, Darren Taborn, Kelton Stockton and Caleb Harris have all had plays 39 yards or longer.
Doenges said he hopes the team can have that big-play ability against Belmont but says it will be tough with fast defensive players.
“A lot of times I’ve felt we match up well or better than other teams in terms of speed, but this is one of those times that I’m not quite sure we’re going to be the fastest team on the field,” Doenges said. “We’re going to have a little bit different look from our kids this week, because this is one of those matchups where we’re going to find out in the first five, six minutes how our team speed compares to them.”
If Belmont takes a lead or stays close to Sidney, Doenges is confident in the team’s ability to win close games. Of the team’s nine wins, five came by nine points or less.
“We’ve had our backs up against a wall a lot,” Doenges said. “We’ve walked into the locker room at halftime numerous times not being where we wanted to be. …If that’s an occasion that arises, I think we’re a mature enough team that we’ll be alright in that situation. I think we’re a mature enough team that whatever comes at us in the next few weeks, we’ll be ready for.”
Sidney is the No. 4 seed in Region 8. The winner of Friday’s game will advance to face the winner of No. 1 La Salle and No. 8 Harrison.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.
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