SIDNEY — Sidney sits in a good position at the midpoint of the season to compete for the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division title.
The Yellow Jackets are not alone. Troy enters Week 6 with a 4-1 record, while the five other GWOC North schools are 3-2.
After learning a good bit through the first half of the season, Sidney coach Adam Doenges is confident in the team’s ability to compete for a league title after coming in second last year in a 10-2 campaign. But that ability hinges on a tough test against archrival Piqua on Friday at Sidney Memorial Stadium.
The Indians enter Friday’s matchup coming off a 48-13 loss to Trotwood-Madison, which beat Sidney in lopsided fashion in Week 4. The Yellow Jackets bounced back from the loss with a 40-12 win over Fairborn.
“Our kids know the situation we’re in,” Doenges said. “The goal at the beginning of the year was not to be the Sidney team that follows up a really good year with a bad one. If you look back at our history, for almost every 7-3, 8-2 year, we follow it up with the opposite record. That’s sitting in front of us. We don’t want to be the team that goes 10-2 and follows the next year going the opposite way.”
The Yellow Jackets have shown flashes of conference champion potential, even in lopsided losses to the Rams and St. Marys. Sidney competed early in both games, only for multiple turnovers to pile up in the second and third quarters.
The lesson from those losses to state-ranked teams may help the Sidney in league play.
“We didn’t take care of the ball (in those losses), and then the defense didn’t respond well in those situations with quick turnarounds,” Doenges said. “Our offense fumbles or throws a pick, the defense has to go back out there real quick.”
“In our wins, we’ve controlled the ball, had few turnovers, and when we did have turnovers, our defense did a nice job of going back out and not letting our opponents capitalize on them. We’re going to need that this week. Piqua is one of the most fundamentally-sound, well-coached teams we play. If you’re going to give them an edge, they’re going to make you pay.”
Sidney’s offense has amassed an average of 324 yards and 24.6 points per game, while its defense has shown improvement from last season. The Yellow Jackets have allowed 315 yards and 16.2 points per game — down from the 362 yards and 25.3 points per game they gave up last year.
A big part of the success on both sides of the ball has been senior Caleb Harris, who has amassed 499 rushing yards, scored four touchdowns and recorded 24 tackles.
“He just wants to go out and win,” Doenges said. “He’s a winner by the way he practices and by the way he handles himself. Not just on offense, but he’s an integral part on defense. We try to get him breaks on both sides of the ball here and there, but as the season goes on, we’re going to have rely on him a little bit more at running back and a little bit more at strong safety.”
Piqua averages 296 yards and 26.4 points per game and allows an average of 300 yards and 20.8 points per game on defense.
Four players have rushed for over 100 yards for Piqua and seven players have two or more pass receptions. Senior receiver Owen Toopes leads the team with 11 receptions and 166 receiving yards while senior quarterback Micah Karn leads the team with 369 rushing yards on 64 carries.
Karn, who has six rushing touchdowns to his credit, has completed 29-of-54 passes for 431 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions. Doenges said Karn is the best athlete of the field for Piqua.
“He’s a really good athlete and kind of a deceiving athlete,” Doenges said. “He might not be the biggest kid out there but he has very, very good vision and a good grasp and control of the offense.
“As far as running back, they’ll run four or five guys out there during a game. A lot of those guys also play on defense. And though running back is by committee, the rest of it is pretty much carbon copy of Piqua every year. Big, thick offensive line, the majority all seniors. Your outside receivers are 6-2, 6-3, and a good size tight end they use quite a bit.”
Piqua has intercepted six passes so far this year, with three coming by Karn. Junior linebackers MaKeegan Kuhn and Matt Blankenship lead the Indians with 21.5 tackles.
“Normal Piqua defense,” Doenges said. “Big, physical defensive lineman that can use their hands real well and get up field. Good four linebackers there in the 4-4 (scheme) that can run downhill, and then corners and safeties that are going to play deep and make them beat you by keeping the ball in front of you.
“They don’t blitz a whole lot. It’s just typical Piqua defense. They’re going to play good, solid, fundamental defense that tackles well and really makes you work to get down the field.”
Aside from Fairborn and Trotwood, Piqua and Sidney share a common opponent in Chaminade-Julliene. The Eagles were Sidney’s last scrimmage opponent and opened the season a week later against Piqua.
“This is the time of year you start figuring out things on them and them figuring out things on you,” Doenges said. “Obviously, you’ve got to start doing some things a little bit differently, because everybody’s got film on each other.”
Sidney is trying to beat Piqua for consecutive seasons for the first time since 1975-1979, when it won five straight. The Yellow Jackets won 34-33 last year.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.