SIDNEY — Though Sidney opened the season with a heartbreaking 25-22 loss to St. Marys last Friday, its varsity newcomers proved they were capable of playing in key roles.
Sidney’s coaching staff spent most of the summer and preseason looking for about two dozen newcomers to fill holes left by season’s graduating class of 15.
The search is over. Now comes the quest for improvement.
“We have some young guys that got a lot of playing time, specifically from our sophomore class,” Doenges said. “With the stakes being higher, they’re showing they can be counted on a little bit more. …I’m looking forward to watching those guys progress and get better.”
Sidney will try to progress as it continues nonconference play this Friday. The Yellow Jackets will travel to Bellefontaine (0-1) for a 7 p.m. kickoff at AcuSport Stadium.
Doenges said he was happy with the play of many of the team’s newcomers last Friday, including offensive lineman Zane Snider, junior lineman Keenan Johnson and sophomore linebacker Devin Taborn.
They weren’t the only ones who stood out. Junior linebacker Beau Davis, who is a first-year starter, intercepted a pass that was tipped by junior defensive back Grant Fair. Sophomore running back Jaden Swiger scored on a short touchdown run after being called in on a third-and-goal.
Their performances also came in addition to sophomore returnees Quamir “Philly” Brown and EJ Davis taking on bigger roles and starting at a position for the first time. Brown had 141 all-purpose yards and also played at cornerback for the first time while Davis started at running back and scored one touchdown.
The group’s toughness was evident according to Doenges by seeing how they responded after trailing 11-0 early.
“In the past when you get down two scores to a team like St. Marys, we’ve kind of folded, and the game turns into a 35-7 game,” Doenges said. “We were able to climb back Friday and take the lead. Our guys competed real well, and I thought they did a good job of continuing to compete and fighting to the end.
“They took the loss pretty hard, and I’m glad they did. We had good talks that night and the next day and have had good talks this week about being able to respond and use that as a teaching moment. We’ve got some tough football games ahead, and we’re going to be in these dogfights this year.”
Doenges was pleased Sidney didn’t commit a turnover on offense. That was a problem in losses last year and led to defeats oftentimes getting out of hand.
He was also pleased with the defense’s overall performance. St. Marys gained 274 yards of offense, 249 of which came on the ground. The Roughriders were a combined 5 for 14 on third and fourth down conversion tries.
“I thought we did a good job on the defensive side, minus two drives,” Doenges said. “(St. Marys’) opening drive of the game and the opening drive of the second half were long, sustained drives that they drove down on us.
“We can’t allow that. One of our big goals each week is to win the first drive of each half. We didn’t do that last week, and it culminated into us not being able to come out on top at the end.”
Sidney will try to bottle up another running opponent this week in Bellefontaine, which amassed 344 rushing yards against the Yellow Jackets a year ago.
The Chieftains had a rough start on Friday at Wapakoneta. They managed 94 yards of offense while Wapakoneta gained 382 and were a combined 2 for 9 on third and fourth down conversion tries in a 28-0 loss.
Bellefontaine did much better in preseason — including in a scrimmage against St. Marys when its varsity players amassed 21-7 lead before being removed in the third quarter.
The Chieftains lost to Wapakoneta and Sidney last year and then won seven of their last eight games to finish 7-3. The Yellow Jackets trailed in the fourth quarter of last year’s matchup before scoring a late touchdown to secure a 31-28 victory.
Two of the biggest pieces of Bellefontaine’s spread offense from last year are back in seniors Grant Smith and Garrett Gross, who had 24 of the team’s 29 carries against the Redskins.
Smith (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) is the team’s quarterback. He threw for 778 yards and ran for 580 yards a year ago. Gross (5-10, 205) ran for 916 yards last year.
The duo had success running the ball last against Sidney last year. Gross led the squad with 211 rushing yards and scored one touchdown while Smith ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns. They combined to average 6.6 yards per carry in the loss.
“They both run like the weigh 20 pounds more (than what they do),” Doenges said. “They run down low and they run downhill, and they really come and bring it. When you’ve got a quarterback that’s a threat to run but runs like a fullback and then have another running back that runs like that, it’s tough.
“Gross is a really good, physical kid. He’s really good on the defensive side of the ball too.”
Wapakoneta had several long runs against Bellefontaine, including a 79-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The Redskins didn’t attempt a pass.
Sidney will bring its more balanced attack this week and will be looking for more consistency.
The Yellow Jackets amassed 276 yards against St. Marys. Senior quarterback Ryan Dunham completed 9-of-18 passes for 104 yards and one touchdown while sophomore running back EJ Davis ran for 131 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.
Sidney started slow on its first two drives but got going late in the first half. Similarly in the second half, the Yellow Jackets started slow but were able to move the ball late.
“We need to find a way to sustain some drives,” Doenges said. “We had a few penalties, and we have to find a way not to do that and put ourselves back in a first-and-15 or a second-and-20 situation. We’ve got to be more successful on first and second down so we’re in a better position on third down. We weren’t very successful on third down (1 for 9).”
Doenges said many of Sidney’s players said last Friday’s game against St. Marys was the most physical they’ve been involved in.
It may be more of the same Friday.
“They are an extremely, extremely physical team,” Doenges said of Bellefontaine. “I think we’re going to be in a dogfight again this week because I think Bellefontaine is just as physical as St. Marys, if not more physical.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.