SIDNEY — Isaiah Bowser has had plenty of big performances in the last three years at Sidney Memorial Stadium. In the biggest game of his career on Friday, he came up with plenty more big plays to help Sidney win one last time on its home field.
Sidney pulled away late in a Division II, Region 8 quarterfinal playoff game to a 46-33 win over Dayton Belmont.
The Yellow Jackets advance to face Cincinnati La Salle in a regional semifinal next Friday at a site to be determined, likely in the Dayton area. La Salle, which has won the Div. II title the last three seasons, beat Cincinnati Harrison 45-10 on Friday night to advance.
Friday’s game was Sidney’s first playoff contest since 1989.
“This is crazy,” Bowser said of Sidney’s packed home stands. “We haven’t made the playoffs in over 20 years, and then to win a playoff game? It’s a little crazy here. We’re just trying to win important games.”
Bowser has helped Sidney (10-1) win important games all season, and he did again against the Bison (9-1). He ran for 228 yards on 32 carries and scored four touchdowns, including a 68-yard run early in the fourth that boosted Sidney’s lead to 40-26.
The game turned in Sidney’s favor early in the fourth quarter. After Belmont got a first down in Sidney’s red zone, quarterback Tavon Hardwick was stripped of the ball by Brayden Dean, and defensive lineman Tony Straman recovered at the 22-yard line.
On the next play, Bowser ran through the line, turned left toward the visitors sidelines and ran to the end zone to give Sidney a 40-26 lead.
“I saw the cut-back and cut it out, and I had one guy to beat and got a stiff-arm and from there, it was open field,” Bowser said. “I had to go because I got caught early on an interception (late in the second quarter), so I had to get going.”
Bowser’s 94-yard interception return right before halftime was one of several big plays he made on defense. He finished with nine tackles, while Dean had 15 and senior defensive lineman Devan Rogers had 11.
“I think our team needed it,” Bowser, a Northwestern commit, said. “Coach had faith in me. I wasn’t that tired tonight, really, so I got in there and made some plays and I think I helped us a lot, rotating the guys in on defense more.”
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Bowser showed off his physical running ability several times in the game by stiff-arming or lowering his shoulder pads and running over defenders.
“He takes a beating all year, and they’re a physical football team,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “He’s a physical kid and a physical runner, and I think he came through tonight.”
The game was the final at Sidney Memorial Stadium for Sidney’s seniors. The Yellow Jackets lost 48-21 to Troy on Oct. 13 in their final home game of regular season, and junior quarterback Andre Gordon said the team was motivated to have a better performance at home this week.
“We had to bounce back,” Gordon said. “They (the seniors) were hurt, but everyone on the team knew we were going 9-1. That’s what we did. We came to the playoffs, and we finished it and we’re ready to go. …A lot of seniors don’t get this chance, especially a playoff game being home. It was pretty exciting. I’m happy for our seniors that they get to go out with a bang at Sidney.”
After Bowser’s touchdown run, Tavon Hardwick caught a 15-yard touchdown with 4:55 left in the fourth to cut the lead to seven points.
Sidney ate up most of the clock on the next drive. Gordon kept the drive alive with a scramble for a first down, and he threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Harris with 32 seconds left to close out the scoring.
“He’s a special kid, and he learned a lot from the loss this year,” Doenges said of Gordon. “Just learning that you don’t need to make a play every single time. He’s starting to do better. He threw the ball out-of-bounds a couple of times tonight.
“When you get in the playoffs, your playmakers have to come through, and they definitely did that tonight.”
Belmont’s defense had allowed just three points all season, but the Yellow Jackets offense moved as well as it normally has in 11 games. Sidney amassed 427 yards of offense and had two turnovers compared to four by Belmont.
“We knew they (Belmont) were going to make us look pretty silly a couple of times, and we preached that all week, but we weathered the storm when they did,” Doenges said. “They did make us look silly. We had some big-time negative-chunk plays. We just kept preaching to our kids to just weather the storm, find creases, and be able to make plays on them. Those guys were able to do it.”
Sidney’s defense allowed an average of 362 yards and 25.3 points per game in regular season. While the Bison were able to move the ball well through most of the game with their wing-T offense, Sidney’s defense came up with big turnovers. Aside from Bowser’s interception and Straman’s recovery, Josiah Hudgins had an interception and Tyler Shiflett recovered a fumble.
“They’re good offensively,” Doenges said. “They’ve scored a lot of points this year, and we told our kids the same thing on that side, just keep weathering the storm. I thought our kids did a nice job of not giving up 7- and 8-yard plays but instead 2-, 3-, 4-yard plays. Obviously they had some bigger runs in there, but for the most part, we held them from sustaining a drive. Those guys did a nice job.”
Friday’s playoff game won’t be the biggest of Bowser’s career (or any other player’s career) for long. La Salle, which is in the powerful Greater Catholic League South Division, has been among the state’s best teams the last three years regardless of division. The Lancers scored four touchdowns in the third quarter to pull away from Harrison on Friday.
“We’ve got to go out and compete,” Gordon said. “That’s what football is about. We don’t care about their name or how many state championships they’ve got. We know that we’ve got athletes, and we’re going to do what we can do.”
Sidney has more athletes than just Bowser and Gordon, which was shown on a touchdown reception late in the second quarter.
Belmont lost a fumble on an handoff exchange, which Schiflett recovered at the Bison 34-yard line.
After a two-yard loss on a running play, Gordon threw a pass over the middle to receiver Kelton Stockton. The pass hit off of Stockton, went through a pair of Belmont defenders and into the hands of Harris, who hauled in a touchdown pass.
“Stockton like passed it off to Caleb,” Gordon said. “It was pretty exciting… They were doing their thing tonight. They definitely came to play.”
The extra point after Harris’ touchdown reception was blocked to keep Sidney’s lead at 26-20 with 1:01 left.
Dawson Martin scored a 3-yard touchdown run with 3:55 left in the third to tie the game 26-26. Bowser scored a 3-yard run with 2:04 left to give Sidney a 33-26 lead. The Bison drove to Sidney’s red zone on their next drive, which ended with Hardwick’s fumble.
Belmont scored quickly on the first drive of the game. After Martin ran 45 yards to move the ball to the Sidney 10-yard line, Elijah Malcom ran for a touchdown a few plays later from four yards out to give Belmont at 6-0 lead after a blocked extra point attempt.
Harris returned the kickoff to Belmont’s 45-yard line, and Bowser scored four plays later on a 30-yard run to give Sidney a 7-6 lead after an extra point by Hallie Truesdale.
Later in the first quarter, Martin returned a punt from near midfield to Sidney’s 2-yard line and scored on a 1-yard run two plays later to give Belmont a 12-7 lead after a bad two-point conversion try.
Sidney quickly drove into Belmont territory on its next drive. After Bowser ran six yards for a first down at Belmont’s 14, he scored a few plays later from eight yards out to give Sidney a 14-12 lead with 15 seconds left in the first quarter.
Belmont scored in two plays on its next drive. Martin ran 50 yards on the first play to move the ball to Sidney’s 17, and Malcom ran it in on the first play of the second quarter. Malcom then added a two-point conversion run to give Belmont a 20-14 lead.
Sidney scored on a 1-yard run by Gordon with 8:07 left in the second, but the score remained tied 20-20 after the touchdown when an extra-point attempt by Truesdale was blocked.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.