SIDNEY — Moving the ball hasn’t been a problem for some time for Sidney’s football squad. But the team was faced with an unusual situation last Friday in a Miami Valley League game.
The Yellow Jackets contained one of the MVL’s most vaunted rushing attacks by holding Xenia to 194 yards. Sidney had allowed an average of 304.5 rushing yards against its first four opponents while Buccaneers had averaged 336.5 rushing yards per game in the same time.
Despite that strong defensive showing, Sidney struggled on offense for the second straight week and was shut out for a second consecutive game for the first time since 2004.
Sidney will start the second half of the season by hosting Fairborn in a MVL Valley Division game on Friday at Sidney Memorial Stadium. The game will be elementary night for the Yellow Jackets (1-4, 0-2 MVL Valley), which are hoping to give their young fans a better showing than the previous two games.
The squad has averaged better than 300 yards and 23 points per game each season since 2015 and looked on its way to doing so again after posting an average of 299.3 yards and 21 points per game in its first three games.
But Sidney struggled to move the ball the last two weeks against Piqua and Xenia. The Yellow Jackets managed 91 yards in a 29-0 loss at Piqua on Sept. 20 and 104 yards in a 20-0 loss at Xenia last Friday.
The team particularly struggled with passing against Xenia. They finished with 33 passing yards, which is their lowest amount in a game since 2016.
“We’re just not playing clean,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “It’s not one specific thing or the other. Coaching staff, players and everybody had to look at ourselves a little bit more this week and keep evaluating.
“It seems every play we’re doing something like putting the ball on the ground, running the wrong route, not making a throw when it’s there or not picking up a blitz and losing 10 yards. We’ve just got to play cleaner football.
“We know we’re good enough to do it; we did that (the first two games) against good defenses in St. Marys and Bellefontaine. Now we’ve just got to be a little more consistent. We think we’ve got a good game plan, and hopefully after a good week of practice, we can show that again.”
The team is hoping to rebound in the second half of the season after struggling against tough competition in the first half of the year.
The slate for the last five weeks doesn’t appear to be as strong. Four of Sidney’s first five opponents are over .500, and the group has a collective 15-10 record. Two of Sidney’s last five opponents have a record better than .500, and the group has a collective 10-15 record.
“At the end of the day, we’re still 1-4, and you’re still what your record says about you, but looking at some of the teams we’ve faced, they’re pretty good,” Doenges said. “We’re not going to take Fairborn or anyone on the rest of the schedule lightly. There are still pretty good football teams left on our schedule, and we’ve got to continue to worry about ourselves and getting better.
“I’m pretty excited about the opportunity, starting with this week. Elementary night is always a fantastic crowd, and is always a really neat night. It’s going to be an exciting night for our guys.”
To continue its defensive progress, Sidney will have to contain its first passing opponent of the season.
All of Sidney’s first five opponents were run-oriented, but Fairborn (2-3, 1-2) has gotten most of its yards in the air. Senior quarterback Garison Secrest has completed 63-of-109 passes for 751 yards and has thrown six touchdowns without throwing an interception.
The Skyhawks have amassed 609 rushing yards on 146 carries. Junior running back Hunter Warner leads the team with 407 rushing yards and five TDs on 69 carries.
“Usually during the week during practice, you try to have a period for your defense where you’re doing 7-on-7 or offensive plays the other team wants to pass with,” Doenges said. “We haven’t done that since (a scrimmage) with CJ.
“… This week, we’ve got ourselves back into running that period, because they’re a little more balanced than what we’ve faced. They’re one of the more balanced teams on our schedule.”
The Skyhawks (2-3, 1-2) beat Stebbins 32-14 last week in Fairborn after losing at home 29-26 to Greenville the previous week in MVL play.
“They’ve got a new coaching staff this year and things seem to be better; they’re a better team than they were last year,” Doenges said. “Their quarterback is returning and is big and can do some things back there.”
Fairborn’s defense has allowed an average of 215 yards and 18.2 points per game. The squad has intercepted two passes and recovered four fumbles.
Warner, who was an all-Ohio honorable mention selection in Division II last year, leads the team with 47.5 tackles. As a linebacker on defense, he’s recovered two fumbles and recorded one sack.
“He and (Secrest) are two really nice football players,” Doenges said. “Warner’s a really nice player, kind of in the mold of an E.J. Davis, that kind of size. He’s a really good linebacker, and if they’re not tossing it around on offense and trying to hit some short stuff with an occasional deep ball, they’re definitely handing it off to him.”
Sidney’s defense has allowed an average of 309.4 yards and 23.2 points per game. They’ve allowed an average of just 27 passing yards per game — partially because opponents haven’t thrown the ball much.
Doenges is pleased with the trend of the defense heading into the second half of the season.
“Some of our younger guys on defense have made a nice progression,” Doenges said. “We’ve been playing physical on defense all year, just not real smart. Last week, I thought the kids executed the game plan really well and made some nice adjustments at halftime.
“When you hold a pretty powerful offense about 150 yards below their average, you’ve got to feel pretty good about your kids. The morale on the defensive side is a little bit higher.”
Senior linebacker Ryan Cagle is Sidney’s leading tackler. He’s recorded 46 tackles and has forced two fumbles.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.