SIDNEY — Sidney nearly completed big comebacks in each of its first two games but saw rally attempts fall short.
The Yellow Jackets don’t want a repeat of that as they wrap up nonconference play this Friday — because they don’t want to have to rally in the first place.
Sidney (0-2) will be seeking to avoid a slow offensive start while trying to slow a running opponent when it hosts Dayton Belmont (0-2) on Friday at Sidney Memorial Stadium. It’s the final nonleague game for the squad, which will open Miami Valley League play next week at archrival Piqua.
Slow starts on offense and an inability to stop opponents’ rushing attacks are two big reasons the squad lost 25-22 to St. Marys to open the season and fell 42-34 at Bellefontaine last week. St. Marys built an early 11-0 lead and Bellefontaine took a 27-0 lead before the Yellow Jackets battled back late in each game.
“Against Bellefontaine, we just couldn’t get that stop in the first half and we just couldn’t sustain a drive on offense,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “… It’s a goal for us every week to win the opening drives in the first and second half, and we haven’t been able to do it. If you do that, you set the tone.
“We’ve got to come out in the first and second half and put our best foot forward. I’m proud of how we’ve been able to fight and claw back, but we’re just going to have to learn how to get a lead and hold onto it.”
Penalties hurt the squad early last Friday. The Yellow Jackets managed 24 yards on 15 plays in the first half but gained 281 yards on 24 plays in the second half.
Doenges said a blocking adjustment at halftime helped make the difference. The squad had a couple of big first-half plays negated due to holding penalties, including a 72-yard touchdown run by EJ Davis on the team’s first offensive play.
Davis helped the team rally in the second half with several big runs, including a couple where he continued to move forward after initial contact. He finished with 182 rushing yards on 17 carries.
“We did a lot of good things on offense in that second half,” Doenges said. “We’ve got to do that a full game. We’ve got to do a better job establishing the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball quicker.”
It’s the third straight season the Yellow Jackets and Bison have played. Sidney beat Belmont 46-33 in a first-round playoff game in 2017 and won a Week 3 matchup last year 38-6.
Belmont had largely been a pushover in the Dayton City League before current coach Earl White left Thurgood Marshall to take over the program in 2014. The Bison have a 34-18 record since then and made the playoffs from 2015 to 2017.
Belmont uses a special wing-T variation that White also utilized while at Thurgood Marshall.
“It’s a little bit tighter,” Doenges said. “It’s kind of just a big scrum. …It’s real tight splits, foot-to-foot, coming at you. There’s still ball deception there, but they do everything out of the shotgun now. They used to do everything under center, but have used the gun the last couple of years.
“… You’ve got to stay very, very disciplined, especially with your pursuit angles. If you over-pursue things, they’re good at getting in a pile and making it look like it’s going to die, then squirt out the backside and run up the sideline.
“That’s kind of the beauty of that offense. They’ve got little (running) backs that can get lost in the shuffle. You think you’ve got the guy down, and then he squirts back out.”
Belmont opened the season with a 28-27 overtime loss to Troy and lost 49-6 at Upper Arlington last Friday. The season opener against Troy was on a Thursday night, and Doenges and Sidney assistants watched the game.
“They’ve got more varsity-ready players on the field this year than maybe they did last year,” Doenges said of Bison. “A lot of those guys are returning starters, and they were probably sophomores or juniors who weren’t quite ready last year but are this year with more experience.
“They’ve got some new guys we didn’t see last year, too, and are just a better varsity football team. They’ve got good quality players, and that’s evident by how hard they played Troy in Week 1.
“As far is it being a blowout against Upper Arlington, they did some nice things and couldn’t sustain some drives, and Upper Arlington’s a humongous Division I team with a lot of guys on the sideline and two-platooning players. So this is a quality Belmont team, a lot better than we saw last year.”
The Bison amassed 302 total yards of offense against Troy in Week 1, 268 of which came on the ground. Senior quarterback Rian Reaves ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns while Tavon Hardwick ran for 99 yards and one TD.
“He’s a lot better,” Doenges said of Reaves. “He’s got a little more presence in the pocket. They don’t sling the ball around a lot — they’re a ground-and-pound team. He’s just as good at running the ball if not better than he is at throwing the ball. He’s a lot more of a running threat than he was last year.”
Though the Bison don’t pass much, they can. Reaves completed 5-of-6 passes for 34 yards and one TD against the Trojans.
The Yellow Jackets’ contained St. Marys’ rushing attack in a 25-22 season-opening loss and allowed 249 yards on 54 carries. They struggled against Bellefontaine last week, though. The Chieftains amassed 429 rushing yards on 63 carries.
“We’re just going to have to learn from it,” Doenges said. “Looking back at film, I think our fits on defense were decent — fitting in our gaps and fitting in our holes. Sometimes we had men unblocked like we wanted, but we just couldn’t make plays.
“We’re going to have to make more plays when we’re in one-on-one situations and we’re going to have to get more guys to the ball because we’re going to continue to see more good, physical running backs.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.