SIDNEY — The chances of Sidney overlooking Stebbins in Friday’s Miami Valley League Valley Division game set for 7 p.m. at Sidney Memorial Stadium were slim.
The Yellow Jackets are 3-5 and want to finish 5-5 and send the seniors out as the first class in 43 years to have posted three consecutive seasons with records at or above .500 — meaning there’s no room for error in the last two games.
But any chance of overlooking the Indians ended when Sidney’s players watched them on film earlier this week. Stebbins (2-6, 1-6 MVL Valley) picked up its first conference win and broke a six-game losing streak with a 21-13 victory over Vandalia-Butler on Friday.
“It seems like this is the line for a lot of teams in the MVL this year, but they’re just young,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said of Stebbins. “They only have two or three seniors playing on defense and have a few more than that on offense, particularly on the line.
“… They’re just young across the board, and they’re progressing and getting better. It’s been fun watching film from them from Week 3 or Week 4 and watching what they did in Week 7 and Week 8.”
Like a lot of other MVL teams, Sidney’s starters are mostly juniors and sophomores. The younger players will try to help the team win back-to-back games for the first time this season on Friday, which is senior night.
The Yellow Jackets, which are 2-3 in conference play, ran away late to a 49-25 victory at West Carrollton last Friday.
The game was one of reversal for Sidney. The Yellow Jackets utilized the same balanced-attack mentality on offense through much of the first seven games that they’ve used in recent seasons while opponents largely stuck to the ground.
But against the Pirates, it was Sidney who stuck to the ground while containing their opponents’ balanced attack. The Yellow Jackets gained 411 yards, 402 of which came on the ground out of what Doenges describes as the “loaded pistol” formation.
“We’ve been trying to establish the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball all year, and we haven’t been able to do that in quite a few of our games,” Doenges said. “We were able to do that on Friday on both sides. I thought the offensive line did a nice job of moving guys around, and same thing on the defensive line.”
The squad will try to keeping running against Stebbins, which has allowed an MVL worst of 24 rushing touchdowns and 2,027 rushing yards to eight opponents this season.
The Indians have played better on both sides of the ball the last two weeks, though.
After suffering lopsided losses to Piqua, Xenia, Fairborn and Troy between Weeks 3-6, they overcome a slow start and stayed close the rest of the way in a 28-19 loss to Tippecanoe on Oct. 11 and then followed with the win over Butler. They held the Aviators to 111 rushing yards on 28 carries.
Stebbins has averaged 304 yards and 20 points in its last two games after averaging 211 yards and 10 points in its first six games.
The Indians have a balanced attack on offense. Sophomore quarterback Nate Keller has completed 76-of-139 passes for 891 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions, and the team has gained 962 rushing yards on 268 carries.
Junior running back Marvelous Rutledge has run for 505 yards and five TDs on 127 carries while Keller has gained 330 rushing yards on 114 carries and scored four rushing TDs. Senior Kelby Cox (28 receptions, 303 yards) and junior Daniel Bowman (17, 262) are the team’s leading receivers.
Doenges said Keller is mobile and compared his ability to Troy senior quarterback Brayden Siler.
“He can move in the pocket,” Doenges said. “He’s not as big as (Siler) but he can do some things with his feet. He’s got good vision when he’s running and is very good at seeing some cutback lanes. The hole might not develop for him on some of their designed runs, and he can see and cut back. He’s mobile, and he’s definitely going to be a threat.”
Doenges has been pleased with Sidney’s late-season defensive progress and is hoping for another good performance against Stebbins. The Yellow Jackets held West Carrollton’s high-powered attack to 324 yards — nearly 250 less than the squad amassed two weeks prior against Piqua.
A big part of the defensive performance was containing West Carrollton’s rushing attack. The Pirates averaged 3.6 yards per carry and gained 111 yards on the ground.
“We came in knowing their quarterback was a threat at throwing and running the ball,” Doenges said. “We did a nice job containing the run, and in the end he threw for a little over 200 yards, which kind of felt like 400 yards because we haven’t seen many people throw on us this year.
“We have to do a little bit better job in our coverage, because both our next two opponents with Stebbins and Greenville can throw the ball. Some of our guys got lost a little bit in coverage, but that’s something we’ll get better at the next two weeks.”
The game will be the last at Sidney Memorial Stadium for the team’s 16 seniors, including three-year starters Ryan Cagle (linebacker) and Darren Taborn (cornerback).
“We weren’t aiming for 5-5 by any means, but we’ve had to look at things to motivate us after (early-season) losses, and winning out and finishing 5-5 gets us something that hasn’t happened around here in 40 years,” Doenges said. “That’s something we want to get for these seniors to finish them off the right way, but we’ve got to take care of business with Stebbins, which has had some big improvements.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.