XENIA — Isaiah Huggins looked around midway through Sidney’s Miami Valley League game at Xenia on Friday and realized he was the last starting offensive lineman left on the field after injuries had knocked the other starters out.
“I went up to all the new linemen and was like, ‘Look, you may not be starters or this and that, but now is your time to shine and put on for this team to help us get this victory, because we need you.’” Huggins said.
Huggins and Sidney’s second-string linemen helped pave the way for the squad to score two third-quarter touchdowns and rally for a 28-21 victory in an MVL Valley Division contest at Doug Adams Stadium.
The loss comes after two consecutive close losses for the Yellow Jackets (2-2), which had been unable to overcome multiple turnovers and other offensive miscues in the losses.
“This feels a lot better,” Huggins said. “We told ourselves at the beginning of the week we had to practice harder; we were getting out-practiced every week. We came in this week, practiced harder, and this game was the outcome; we got the ‘W’.”
It was the third close loss in four games for the Buccaneers (0-4), which lost to Fairborn by five points in Week 1 and lost to Stebbins by three points last week.
“We talked all week that the team that was going to win this game was going to be the one that banded together during the week,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “These are two football teams that are kind of on that ‘Y’ in the road with where the season is going to go.
“We had our moments there at halftime where we could have resorted to pointing fingers, but I was proud of some seniors stepping up and saying, ‘We’re not going to do this. We’re going to go out and get this done.’
“There was definitely a lot of adversity during that game and a lot of adversity during the week, but I’m proud of the guys for getting it done.”
Some of the adversity that came Friday was injury-related. Senior center Bryon Jones left the game early in the first quarter after suffering an injury and junior tackle Evan Kennedy left in the second quarter after suffering an injury. Senior tackle Jaden Swiger left the game early in the third quarter due to injury.
The Yellow Jackets were also without senior Zane Snider, who was out all week with a non-COVID-19 illness.
“We were playing kids that hadn’t been on the varsity field yet in their life,” Doenges said. “I’m really, really proud of our kids. We had told them there would be times this year, whether it’s a COVID issue or not, that you’re going to lose guys before you can get on the bus, and some other kids are going to have to step up. I’m proud of some of our sophomores and juniors that stepped up tonight.”
Those linemen also contributed on defense and had a tall task at trying to stop Xenia’s triple-option attack, which is anchored by several linemen that weigh 300 pounds or more.
The Yellow Jackets were able to contain Xenia’s rushing attack. The Buccaneers had one lengthy touchdown drive in each half; one of their touchdown drives came after a Sidney fumble at midfield.
“I give a lot of credit to the Xenia kids, because they kept pushing the pile, pushing the pile, pushing the pile against us,” Doenges said. “Our kids kept responding, which was great to see.
“… We rotate between seven and nine guys on the defensive line, and I bet we had between 11 and 12 guys play tonight.”
Sidney senior quarterback Cedric Johnson ran for two touchdowns and threw touchdown passes to Avante Martin and Izayah Clarke. Johnson helped lead the squad’s rushing attack, as he and junior running back E.J. Davis picked up yards in chunks.
Clarke, a junior, came up with two big plays in the third quarter. He caught a two-point conversion pass to give Sidney a seven-point lead and then scored on a 92-yard TD pass shortly after.
“He’s a top-three fastest kid on our team,” Doenges said. “He’s worked his tail off. He was a JV kid last year and he’s been a starter for us all year. He’s been building his confidence up, making sure he runs his routes correctly. It’s just a process for him. Today, it kind of started clicking a little bit more for him.”
Clarke’s TD reception came after Swiger left the game and was the first play four of the squad’s five linemen were second-stringers.
“We scored the very first play with them all in there,” Huggins said. “The blocking had to be well done by them. I’m proud of them.”
The Yellow Jackets drove 74 yards on the first possession of the second half and scored when Johnson scrambled and ran 16 yards up the visitor’s sideline for a touchdown. He threw a two-point conversion pass to Clarke to give the Yellow Jackets a 21-14 lead with 8:16 left.
Xenia was quickly forced to punt and pinned Sidney back on its own 8-yard line. Clarke grabbed a short pass up the middle, ran toward the home sideline and raced for a touchdown to boost the lead to 14 points.
“That was a beautiful route,” Doenges said. “We tried to emphasize to our receivers and quarterbacks to run our routes harder in practice this week, run a little bit more crisp. Hopefully some of that translates into game film when we turn it on (Saturday).”
After Clarke’s TD, the Buccaneers responded with a long drive, which Tremell Wright capped off with a 2-yard touchdown run with 8:09 left in the fourth quarter to pull within 28-21.
Sidney picked up a couple of first downs on its next drive but was forced to punt with 3:44 left. Xenia drove to midfield and had a 42-yard touchdown pass called back due to an illegal procedure penalty. The Buccaneers turned the ball over on downs shortly after, and Sidney ran out the clock.
Sidney forced a quick Xenia three-and-out to start the first half and quickly drove 51 yards. Johnson capped off the drive with a 15-yard TD run with seven minutes left to give Sidney a 7-0 lead.
Wright threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Runako Rucker with 1:21 left in the first to tie it 7-7.
Sidney’s next drive ended when Johnson fumbled at midfield. The Buccaneers’ triple-option attack slowly drove down the field, and Ramon Browder scored on a 1-yard run with 8:21 left in the second to give Xenia a 14-7 lead.
The Yellow Jackets then quickly drove 61 yards and scored when Johnson threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Martin with 5:37 left. Carson Taylor’s extra-point attempt was blocked, though, allowing Xenia to keep the lead at 14-13.
Sidney (2-2) will host West Carrollton next Friday in a makeup game. It will be the first game for the Pirates (0-2) since Sept. 4.
West Carrollton cancelled its last two games after a player tested positive for COVID-19, including a matchup against the Yellow Jackets that was scheduled for Sept. 11.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.