SIDNEY — After two competitive losses to open the season and a Week 3 victory, last week’s lopsided loss at Piqua was a bad surprise to all involved with Sidney’s football program.
The Yellow Jackets will look to insure the 29-0 loss isn’t the start of a trend when they travel to Xenia for a Miami Valley League game on Friday.
It’ll be the first game against an MVL Valley Division opponent for Sidney (1-3, 0-1 MVL Valley). Xenia (3-1, 1-0) started league play with a 42-0 depantsing of Stebbins last Friday.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “They only thing we can do is keep coming in, watching film and keep making adjustments if we have to with our personnel and keep moving forward.”
Sidney will be looking for progress on the offensive end after one of its worst games in years.
Last Friday’s loss was the first time Sidney had been shut out since a 29-0 loss to Vandalia-Butler in Week 7 of 2015 and the first time the team had under 100 yards of offense in a game since a 41-7 loss to Bellefontaine in Week 2 of 2014.
“We just couldn’t get a rhythm going,” Doenges said of the team’s offensive struggles last Friday. “It started from the first play of the game, where we had a nice gain that was wiped out by a holding call, and it was a good call.
“… As the game went on, we just couldn’t get a footing. Times we got moving a little, we’d have another penalty or put the ball on the ground. Our young guys are going to have to keep learning lessons, not putting the ball on the ground and not holding when we don’t need to hold.”
The Buccaneers are in the midst of a revival under third-year coach Trace Smitherman, who previously helped revive Stebbins. Xenia finished 2-8 in Smitherman’s first year at the helm in 2017, including a narrow 55-49 Week 4 loss to Sidney. The squad went 7-3 last year and won the Greater Western Ohio Conference American South Division.
“This is a really, really good football team,” Doenges said. “… You can tell everything has gotten more crisp for them in the last couple of years. Last time we were over there (in 2017), we had a heck of a football game, and hopefully we can duplicate that again.”
Xenia and its triple-option offense are off and running this year. The squad blew a 20-7 lead in Week 1 against rival Beavercreek by committing several turnovers in the fourth quarter in a 21-20 loss. Aside from Stebbins, the squad has posted wins over Eaton (25-14) and Franklin (27-20) since the opener.
The Buccaneers average and MVL-best 353.3 yards and 31 points per game. Most of their offensive yardage comes on the ground behind an offensive line that averages 292 pounds.
“I remember being a kid in the 90’s and getting a Sports Illustrated that made a big deal of the Dallas Cowboys having an offensive line that was all over 300 pounds,” Doenges said. “That’s how far the size of people in football has come, looking at a high school team that’s this big, with three guys over 300 pounds.”
Junior running back Kevin Johnson is second in the MVL behind Sidney’s E.J. Davis with 472 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Senior RB Andrew Pollender has 454 rushing yards and four TDs and senior quarterback Brett Russell has gained 265 rushing yards and scored four TDs.
The team almost exclusively uses running plays. Russell and junior QB Isaiah Hoyt have combined to complete 4-of-13 passes for 65 yards in the first four weeks of the season.
Sidney will try to improve on defense against a running opponent after having struggles in the first four weeks. The Yellow Jackets are allowing an average of 331.8 yards per game, with an average of 304.5 coming on the ground.
The main problem for the squad has been an inability to stop opponents in third- and fourth-down situations, including last Friday when Piqua converted a combined 11-of-16 third and fourth downs.
Doenges said the team’s youth and injuries haven’t helped but said improvements are needed. He said he’s happy a few defensive players will return this week after missing last week, including junior linebacker Beau Davis, who has missed the last two games with an illness.
“We’re not giving up a lot of plays for big yards, but we’re still giving up yards in chunks, and part of that reason is not doing well on first and second downs,” Doenges said. “We talked coming into the year that one of our goals was to do better at first and second down, and we didn’t do that last week.
“We’ve been giving teams a lot of third-and-two and third-and-threes, and those are a little easier to pick up than third-and-sevens. We’ve got to do a better job at that to have more success on the defensive side of the ball.”
The Yellow Jackets will try to get moving on offense again against the MVL’s best defenses. The Buccaneers have allowed an MVL-low of 174.5 yards and 5.3 points per game. The team has recovered four fumbles, intercepted three passes and recorded 12.5 sacks.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.