Though Week 4 hasn’t even kicked off, area football coaches are already making postseason plans.
The OHSAA announced in early August there would be a drastically different format this season. Citing concerns of a COVID-19 surge in early winter, the association shortened the season from 15 weeks to 13 weeks and will wrap it up before Thanksgiving.
The OHSAA is also making every team eligible for the playoffs for the first time. Postseason play will take seven weeks to complete; the playoffs are scheduled to begin on Oct. 9 and conclude with state championship games the third weekend in November.
The shortening of the season by two weeks and playoff expansion limits regular-season play to six weeks, though teams will be allowed to schedule more regular-season games after they’re eliminated from the playoffs. Teams can also choose to opt out of postseason play and instead continue to play regular-season games.
Thursday is the deadline for teams to opt in or out of the playoffs. The OHSAA will assign new playoff regions for each of its seven divisions on Friday.
“I imagine most teams will be playing,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “Obviously we’re opting in. I don’t know what teams aren’t opting in, unless they’re not playing at all right now.
“It’ll be a little different for some divisions, where some teams are just starting back up. Cincinnati Public (Schools) are just starting back up (Wednesday), and there are some others starting up too. They may only have one game in by the time the playoffs start.”
The OHSAA normally adjusts division and region assignments each spring but eliminated its prior region assignments after deciding to make all teams eligible this year. The association will redraw regions based on the total number of teams in each division that opt in to postseason play.
“It’s kind of a fun thing for this year,” Anna coach Nick Marino said. “A little different obviously, but I think it gives everyone something to look forward too. Hopefully we’ll get in there and be successful in there in a few weeks.”
Also new this season, coaches in each region will vote to seed all teams. Playoff berths and seeding are normally determined with the Harbins points system, which awards teams points for victories and for victories by defeated opponents.
Coaches will vote for seeding in their regions on Sept. 29 and 30. The OHSAA will make brackets for each region and place teams based on their seeds. Brackets will be released Oct. 1.
“It will sort of be like a basketball tournament draw,” Marino said. “It’ll be different. I really haven’t put too much thought into that yet; it’ll be interesting to see.”
Sidney at Xenia
Doenges has repeatedly credited the selflessness and leadership Sidney’s senior class has displayed throughout the past several months as the team worked out, trained and practiced amid concerns COVID-19 would prevent the season from happening.
He said he’s seen that leadership on display each of the last two weekends as the team has refocused on its next opponent following a close loss. The Yellow Jackets (1-2) lost 22-20 to Stebbins in Week 2 and gave up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in a 21-7 loss to New Richmond on Friday.
“The seniors and myself had good conversations on Sunday,” Doenges said. “… We know that all of us, assistant coaches, coordinators, players and myself, have to be better Monday through Thursday in practice.”
The Buccaneers (0-3) are hoping to pick up a win after losing 26-23 to Stebbins on their home field last week. Similarly to Sidney in a Week 2 loss to Stebbins, Xenia grabbed an early lead against the Indians but couldn’t hold on in the second half.
The Buccaneers finished 9-2 last year and won the overall MVL championship but lost the bulk of their starters to graduation, including two of their top three rushers.
“They’re a little inexperienced overall, but that being said, they’ve done a really good job moving the football,” Doenges said. “They’ve had some problems like us where they’re moving the ball down, then they’ll have a procedure penalty or something or fumble on the 5-yard line.”
Sidney’s offense hasn’t had many problems moving the ball but has stalled in critical situations.
The Yellow Jackets gained a season-high 342 yards against New Richmond but had three interceptions and one fumble. They also had three turnover on downs, two of which came in the red zone.
“At the end of the day, we all came to an agreement that it’s not a scheme thing or a play-calling thing, we just have to be more consistent Monday through Thursday,” Doenges said. “… We’re not a bad offense. It’s tough week-in and week-out to gain over 300 yards at the high school level, and we’re doing that.
“Now we’ve got to figure out how to clean up the mistakes, whether they’re penalties or turnovers, and get the ball in the end zone. We have the ability to do it; the kids know it.”
Senior quarterback Cedric Johnson has thrown for an-MVL best 502 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions and has gained 146 rushing yards on 35 carries. Junior running back E.J. Davis has accumulated 214 rushing yards on 41 carries and scored six rushing touchdowns.
“Ced has done a really nice job,” Doenges said. “… We’re doing a really nice job of moving the ball overall; it doesn’t really matter to us if it’s through the air or on the ground. We’ve just got to find a way to score more touchdowns.”
Sidney’s defense will look to keep up its marked improvement from last year against the Buccaneers. The unit has allowed an average 218.7 yards and 7.3 points per game, intercepted seven passes and recovered five fumbles in the first three weeks.
“A lot of those guys (on defense) were young and inexperienced when they first started last year, and they took some lumps early on,” Doenges said. “The last few games of the season last year, we really started to see improvement.”
Junior linebacker Devin Taborn has led Sidney with 29 tackles while senior linebacker Beau Davis has made 15 and senior free safety Cam Vordemark has made 14.5. Senior defensive backs Jacob Wheeler and Grant Fair have each made two interceptions.
Doenges credits the team’s defensive linemen for handling blocks and first contact and allowing secondary players to come in and make tackles.
“They’re really unselfish team players,” Doenges said of the defensive linemen. “… They realize that if they do their job, they may not get a lot of tackles and sacks, but they get first contact and (our linebackers and free safeties) are the ones coming in and cleaning up a lot and getting tackles. …They may not get their names in the paper a whole lot, but their jobs are critical to our defense.”
Sidney’s defensive linemen will be counted on for absorbing blocks and making early contact against Xenia.
The Buccaneers are continuing to rely on the triple-option attack coach Trace Smitherman brought to the program in 2017 and have one of the league’s largest offensive lines.
Sophomore running back Ramon Browder has led the squad with 285 rushing yards on 64 carries. Senior RB Kevin Johnson, who gained 1,011 rushing yards last year, didn’t play the first two weeks and gained seven yards on six carries against Stebbins.
“It’s assignment football,” Doenges said. “With that triple option, you can get undisciplined. If you let your eyes move around and you do something else, that can create holes for them (to run through).”
Xenia’s has averaged 197 yards of offense and 15.3 points per game and allowed an average of 252 yards and 27 points.
The squad lost six of its top 10 tacklers from last season to graduation. Sophomore defensive back Tremell Wright, who has seen time at quarterback, has led the squad with 26 tackles and has one fumble recovery and one interception.
Anna at Fort Recovery
Anna struggled through its first two games and struggled in the first half against Parkway last Friday. But Marino was pleased to see the squad respond in the second half against the Panthers to earn its first win of the season.
The Rockets (1-2) lost by 20 points to Versailles in Week 1 and 31 points to St. Henry in Week 2, but rallied from an early 12-point deficit to beat Parkway 34-33 on Friday at Booster Field.
“The kids gave a good effort there, and we fought back,” Marino said. “They did a good job. We made a few plays there at the end where we needed to. We really started to play well in the fourth quarter, which was good to see.”
Marino said several players are stepping up in new roles, including junior safety/running back Brandon Axe. Axe ran for 42 yards and two touchdowns against Parkway, threw a 39-yard TD pass to Trevor Kloeppel and made an interception. He has made 19 tackles on the year.
Running back/linebacker Hunter Schmidt has run for a team-high 117 yards and has made 15.5 tackles. Axe has run for 109 yards and made 19 tackles while safety Zach Ambos has made 19.5 tackles.
Ambos also plays at receiver, and Marino said he made several catches in the fourth quarter against Parkway. Marino also credited senior center Dylan Seigle for leading the team’s offensive line.
“We’re making some improvements gradually,” Marino said. “We’re trying to get a little bit better each week.”
Senior linebacker Isaac Egbert led the squad with 26 tackles in the first two games.
“He’s done a good job,” Marino said. “He’s an explosive kid and one of our game-changers defensively.”
Junior quarterback Kohlten Carey has led the offense through the first three games. Carey, who is in his first season as a starter, has thrown for 309 yards and three touchdowns with four interceptions and run for 85 yards and one TD.
“He’s definitely shown a lot of improvement,” Marino said. “He’s got a lot of upside to him.”
Fort Recovery (1-2) lost to Marion Local in Week 1, beat Parkway 43-6 in Week 2 and lost to Coldwater in Week 3.
The Indians have averaged 293.7 yards and 31.3 points per game. Senior quarterback Clay Schmitz has thrown for 628 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions. After a quiet start to the season, senior running back Derek Jutte ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns against Coldwater.
Marino said the Rockets will need an improved defensive performance against the Indians. Anna has allowed an average of 292 yards and 37 points per game.
“They’re putting up a lot of points,” Marino said. “They’re throwing the ball really well and have a good running attack. They make you work really hard on the defensive side of the ball.”
Fort Recovery’s defense has allowed an average of 288.3 yards and 26.7 points per game.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.