SIDNEY — With freshman quarterback Andre Gordon and sophomore running back Isaiah Bowser running a high-scoring offense, Sidney showed potential to be one of Southwest Ohio’s better Division II teams during a 6-4 campaign in 2015.
Though injuries and other problems hurt the team in 2016, the Yellow Jackets become one of the region’s top teams last year.
Sidney had one of its best seasons in school history in a 10-2 campaign that featured the school’s first playoff berth since 1989.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said after a playoff loss to Cincinnati LaSalle. “We’ve had a tremendous turnaround, going from back-to-back 0-10 seasons when they were in fifth and sixth grade when bad things are happening in the school district… but the kids and their parents bought in for the long haul. I’m extremely proud of these kids to still be here and to see to some good things happen.”
The Yellow Jackets entered 2017 with high hopes. Gordon was returning at quarterback after missing most of 2016 with an injury, and Bowser was poised to be one of the state’s best running backs. Senior Devan Rogers returned for his fourth year as a starter and anchored a group of 12 senior lineman.
“We got a lot of kids on the field last year,” Doenges said before the season. “Four or five freshman lettered, and we return 25 or 26 letterman, which is unheard of. Normally we’re in the mid-teens in returning letterman. That experience has made lot of guys better, and we’re hoping for better results when they’re on the field.”
The better results came fast.
Sidney opened the season at home with their first win over St. Marys in five years. The Roughriders built a 25-15 lead late in the second quarter, but Sidney scored the next 10 points to tie the game.
After St. Marys took a 32-25 lead late in the third quarter, Gordon scored on a 4-yard run with 9:54 left in the fourth to tie it and Bowser scored a 4-yeard run with 2:17 left to put the Yellow Jackets ahead for good in the 39-32 win.
The dramatic game was a prelude to many others that followed, including a 42-33 road win over Bellefontaine in Week 2. Darren Taborn scored on a 12-yard pass from Andre Gordon to put Sidney up 28-14 late in the first half, but the Chieftains battled back.
Bellefontaine quarterback Dezmin Lyburtus scored on a short run to close the gap to 35-33 with 4:56 left in the fourth, but Bowser scored a 57-yard run with 1:18 left to push Sidney’s lead to nine points.
The Chieftains drove late, but defensive back Josiah Hudgins came up with his second interception of the quarter to seal the win. Sidney had 573 total offensive yards, while Bellefontaine had 554.
Sidney rolled to a 35-7 win over Carroll in Week 3 to move to 3-0. Bowser rushed for 304 yards and three touchdowns — his second consecutive 300-yard game.
Gordon went down in the first quarter against Carroll with a shoulder injury and missed a Week 4 game at Xenia.
The Buccaneers had struggled through their first three games but gave Sidney all it could handle.
Though Sidney took a 49-28 lead early in the fourth quarter, Xenia scored two consecutive touchdowns to pull within 49-41. Both squads scored touchdowns with under two minutes left to make a final of 55-48.
The squads combined for 1,135 yards of offense. Bowser rushed for a school-record 413 yards and six touchdowns and also completed two passes for 90 yards to help push his all-purpose total to a school-record 508 yards.
Gordon returned for a 42-0 home win over West Carrollton, which pushed Sidney to 5-0 heading into a Week 6 showdown at Piqua.
The Yellow Jackets’ game against the Indians proved to be their most dramatic yet. Sidney took a 21-7 halftime lead, but the Indians tied it a 27-27 with nine minutes left in the fourth.
Ratez Roberts caught a dazzling 21-yard pass from Andre Gordon with 2:40 left to put Sidney up 34-27, but Piqua scored with 45 seconds left on a 2-yard run by Ben Schmiesing. The Indians went for two to pull ahead, but Bowser snuffed out a two-point conversion try by Schmiesing in the backfield to secure the victory.
Bowser said the win was a statement to doubters.
“It’s all about toughness,” Bowser said. “Everyone says we’re not tough enough, we don’t work hard enough, all this stuff. They don’t respect us. We need some respect around here. We’re good.”
The Yellow Jackets showed their resiliency in a Thursday night game at home against Tippecanoe in Week 7. It was another shootout, but Bowser scored on a 71-yard run up the middle with 1:54 left and Caleb Harris grabbed an interception to seal a 49-42 win over Tippecanoe.
The win improved Sidney’s record to 7-0 for the first time since 1974. Troy traveled to Sidney Memorial Stadium in Week 8, though, and gave the Yellow Jackets their first loss.
The Trojans scored three second quarter touchdowns to take a 20-0 lead and won 48-21. They held Sidney to a season-low 334 yards of offense and Bowser to a season-low 68 rushing yards.
It was Sidney’s final regular season home game, and the team’s seniors vowed to win out and earn the team a home playoff game.
The Yellow Jackets were good on that promise. Sidney beat Vandalia-Butler 55-34 in Week 9 after building a 42-20 halftime lead. The win secured a playoff berth against Butler, and the Jackets secured a home playoff game with a 40-8 demolishing of Greenville in Week 10.
Sidney finished fourth in Division II, Region 8 and earned a home playoff game against Dayton Belmont, which finished regular season 9-0.
Like most other games, there was plenty of drama. Belmont scored a touchdown late in the third quarter to tie the score 26-26. But Bowser ran for two touchdowns — one a 68 yard run — and Gordon threw a touchdown pass to Harris to seal a 46-33 win.
“This is crazy,” Bowser said of Sidney’s packed home stands after the win. “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.”
Sidney advanced to face two-time defending Div. II state champion Cincinnati LaSalle in a regional semifinal. The Lancers were too much for Sidney to handle and won 41-6 after building a 34-0 halftime lead.
Sidney had 13 players win all-Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division recognition. Bowser and Rogers were first team all-Southwest district. Bowser was named all-Ohio in D-II and was a Mr. Football finalist. He signed with Northwestern after the season, while Rogers signed with Toledo.
Bowser amassed 3,192 yards all-purpose yards and scored 32 touchdowns during the season. Gordon passed for 1,636 yards and 19 touchdowns and ran for 689 yards and 13 TDs.
Sidney opens the 2018 season next Friday at St. Marys.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.