SIDNEY — It was a relief for area football squads just to get on the field on Friday. After months of uncertainty about whether games in the COVID-19 era would happen, teams took the field — even with dozens of safety protocols to follow and limited spectators in the bleachers.
Now that teams have a handle on what game days will look like during the pandemic, more energy can be spent on preparation for opponents.
“It’s all going to take some getting used to for everybody,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said after the team’s win at Greenville on Friday. “We’re going to have to watch staying in the cones we’re supposed to on the sidelines and some other things. A lot of little nuances for everybody to learn, from coaching staff to players to ball boys.
“… But it was great getting out there. I think it was a relief for everybody to just be playing. We’re going to have to worry about other things and the pandemic when we’re off the football field, but when we’re on, it’s a beautiful place to be, because that’s all you’ve got to worry about.”
Sidney and Riverside are two area squads that will be looking to follow up blowout victories in their season openers. The Yellow Jackets, which streamrolled Greenville 56-0, will face Stebbins on the road on Friday. The Pirates, which blasted Crestline 53-7, will travel to Sidney Memorial Stadium to take on Lehman Catholic.
“It was awesome to get out and play,” Riverside coach Bryce Hodge said. “It was like Christmas in August. The guys and even me, I wasn’t sure we were going to get that this year. It was great to be back out there and have a game against someone else.”
Sidney at Stebbins
Sidney benefited from dominating offensive line play in its win. Greenville defenders rarely got into the backfield, and senior quarterback Cedric Johnson thrived with time to throw, as he completed 10-of-17 passes for 160 yards with two touchdowns. The team amassed 100 rushing yards, 44 of which were by Johnson and 55 of which were by junior running back E.J. Davis.
The Yellow Jackets have four starters back from last season on the offensive line in junior left guard Isaiah Huggins, senior center Bryon Jones, senior right guard Zane Snider and junior right tackle Evan Kennedy.
Taking over at left tackle is junior Jaden Swiger, who played a bit as a tight end and running back last year.
“It’s a beautiful group of guys,” Doenges said by phone earlier this week. “With our four guys that are returning, I think it was really evident how comfortable they were, and you could tell they were comfortable because they didn’t have to think. They knew were they had to be and knew their blocking assignments and knew what the scheme was.
“… It was Jaden’s first-ever start on the offensive line since we didn’t have a scrimmage. But his athleticism was able to take over at times. I think he’s going to have the biggest improvement of anybody on the team from Week 1 to Week 2 just because he’s got a week under his belt and a week of film we can watch on him to help him improve.”
The Green Wave managed 76 yards of offense in the game and committed six turnovers, one of which was a fumble recovery Jacob Wheeler returned 35 yards for a touchdown.
Junior newcomer Carson Taylor had a big part in Sidney’s domination. Taylor, a starter for the school’s boys soccer team, is also handling the football team’s kicking duties this season. He takes over for four-year starter Hallie Truesdale, who graduated.
Taylor made all eight of his extra point attempts and averaged 55.3 yards on nine kickoffs, three of which were touchbacks.
“I wasn’t really expecting him to be perfect like he was, but he was pretty darn good and pretty efficient,” Doenges said. “Having a weapon with a guy who can potentially put it in the end zone is big. Not just that, but it’s the height the ball gets to. Even the (kickoffs) that didn’t get into the end zone, the height he was able to get on it allowed us to get back and make some tackles inside the 20, which is something we haven’t been able to do for five or six years.”
Stebbins edged Sidney 23-21 last season and returns most of its roster, including quarterback Nate Keller, running back Marvelous Rutledge and nine of its top 10 tacklers.
The Indians started the season with a 28-25 win over rival West Carrollton, which also has most of its roster back. The Pirates jumped out to a 12-0 lead and led 25-14 late in the third quarter, but Stebbins scored the game’s last two TDs.
“Being able to come back in a game like that says a lot about them, because West Carrollton’s got some really good athletes,” Doenges said. “… They’re a veteran team, similar to ours, with another year of growth and maturity from last year. It’s a pretty good team that’s really well-coached.”
Stebbins gathered 336 yards of offense in the win. Rutledge ran for 156 yards and two TDs and Keller completed 5-of-13 passes for 83 yards with one TD and one interception and ran for 64 yards and one TD.
“Rutledge is big, kind of like an E.J. Davis. Just a really physical runner,” Doenges said. “He’s a really good wrestler and is very, very physical. If the hole’s not there, he’s not afraid to cut back and go against the grain. He’s got pretty good vision, and the offensive line in front of him is pretty physical.”
It’ll be the second consecutive road game for the Yellow Jackets. Doenges credited the squad’s senior class following Friday’s win for keeping the team focused before last Friday’s road game and for leadership during an offseason of uncertainty due to the pandemic.
“There’s nothing that they worry about other than football,” Doenges said. “There’s all kinds of extra things that happen for you when you’re a senior. There’s a lot of good things, but these kids don’t ask me about it; they don’t care about it.
“It doesn’t matter that there’s a pandemic going on. They just want to get out on that field and play football.”
Riverside at Lehman Catholic
It will be Lehman and Riverside’s final Northwest Central Conference matchup. The two schools are leaving the NWCC at the end of the school year and will join the Three Rivers Conference next season. The new league will be made of current Cross County Conference, Southwestern Buckeye League and Metro Buckeye Conference squads.
Riverside, which was a founding member of the NWCC in 2001, hasn’t beaten the Cavaliers since they joined the conference in 2012.
Lehman opened with a 22-12 victory at Ridgemont on Friday. The squad lost most of its offensive producers from last season but amassed 280 yards of offense in the win.
Lehman coach Dick Roll said he was happy with how the Cavaliers played, especially since their scrimmage against Parkway on Aug. 21 was the only time all preseason they faced an opponent.
“With the lack of numbers and the difference in ability, it’s hard for us to do any live contact or go against each other in practice,” Roll said. “We’d have liked to have had two more scrimmages.”
The Cavaliers took advantage of five Ridgemont turnovers in the victory. The Golden Gophers had 220 yards of offense in the game.
“I was happy with our defense,” Roll said. “Going into the year I was worried about the defensive side of the ball, but we’ve made good progress and hope to continue with it.”
Sophomore running back Nathan Sollmann led the Cavaliers with 178 rushing yards in Friday’s win while 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior quarterback Michael McFarland threw for 43 yards.
“(Sollmann) is extremely quick, and that makes me nervous,” Hodge said. “(McFarland) is big and looks like he’s going to be hard to tackle. It’s not often you see a quarterback also listed as a defensive lineman on the roster. …We’ve got to make sure we stop their run.”
The Pirates accrued 343 total yards against Crestline, 278 of which came on the ground. They took a 26-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and pushed the advantage to 47-0 by halftime.
Crestline finished with 123 yards of offense, the bulk of which came in the second half.
“We were much improved (on defense) from a year ago,” Hodge said. “We had some of the rough spots I guess most teams would have right now. Tackling at times was a struggle for us; it’s hard to simulate that in practice without risking injury, and we only had one scrimmage (against Springfield Northeastern).
“We need to improve tackling, but overall, we were much, much better than we were a year ago, and we did a good job all around.”
Riverside senior Kale Long was expected to start at quarterback this season but Hodge flipped spots in the backfield with Long and senior tailback Ethan Jackson. He said the two could see time at their old positions sometime later this year.
Jackson completed 5-of-9 passes for 85 yards and one TD against Crestline and ran for 20 yards and three TDs while Long ran for 200 yards and two TDs on 14 carries.
“Kyle Long is just a player,” Roll said. “I thought he was a good running back last year when he was at quarterback, and I think it’s a good move for him. We’ve got to be able to stop their run, there’s just no question about it.”
The Cavaliers scrimmaged Parkway at Sidney Memorial Stadium, but Roll said the squad will be happy to play a game at its main home facility.
“With all the uncertainty, we’re just excited to get back and play a game at the stadium,” Roll said. “We’ll see what happens. It’s nice to be home, and hopefully things will work out for us.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.