SIDNEY — The most unique football postseason in Ohio High School Athletic Association history will kick off this weekend, though most area teams won’t start their playoff runs until next week.
For the first time, all teams are eligible for the postseason. The OHSAA announced the expanded postseason format in August as part of its COVID-19 influenced season schedule reorganization.
The quirky postseason will be even more unique for Sidney and Lehman Catholic, which both have playoff openers scheduled for Friday. The Yellow Jackets will be facing the same opponent for the second time in a season, which hasn’t happened since 1989. Lehman’s playoff game will be its first contest in three weeks.
“It’s what was needed with the virus,” Lehman coach Dick Roll said of the expanded playoffs. “There’s nothing that’s the same. I think this is a good scenario for what we’ve given to play with. It’s a different year.”
The OHSAA — which is projecting a $1.3 million budget deficit for its 2020-21 budget — is hoping to cash in on the expanded playoffs. The vast majority of the OHSAA’s revenue comes from tournament ticket sales.
Postseason tickets for the first five rounds are $12. Tickets will only be sold on the OHSAA’s website, and due to spectator restriction policies generally won’t be made available to the general public and will be limited to relatives and friends of participants.
Sidney will open the playoffs by hosting Miami Valley League foe West Carrollton on Friday, while Lehman Catholic will host South Charleston Southeastern at Alexander Stadium in Piqua.
Anna (1-5) will host Miami East in a Division VI playoff opener on Saturday. Minster (2-4) was scheduled to host Delphos Jefferson on Saturday in a Div. VI opener, but Jefferson forfeited the game on Wednesday. As a result, the Wildcats scheduled a regular-season game at Pandora-Gilboa on Friday.
The top several seeds in each region earned first-round byes. Fort Loramie, Riverside, New Bremen and Versailles all earned first-round byes and won’t play their first postseason games until next weekend.
It’ll be only the third postseason appearance in program history for the Yellow Jackets, which last made the playoffs in 2017. Sidney’s other postseason appearance was in 1989, which was also the last time it faced an opponent two times in one season. The Yellow Jackets lost to rival St. Marys in a season opener but beat the Roughriders in a regional final 11 weeks later.
The gap between matchups against the same opponent is much shorter this time. Sidney beat West Carrollton 32-20 on Sept. 25 at Sidney Memorial Stadium.
“It’s always difficult trying to beat somebody for a second time, and playing so close together makes it tough,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “… We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Playoff berths had previously been limited to the top eight teams in each region, but the playoffs will expand next year to include the top 12 teams in each region.
While all teams were eligible for the postseason this year, Doenges told the squad it can be proud of having been voted the No. 10 seed in the 25-team Division II, Region 8.
“Even though everybody is making it this year, I told them that if it’s next year, we were voted the No. 10 team, so we would have made it then,” Doenges said. “… It’s great to be able to host a game. It’s going to be a tough one, and tougher than maybe we would have expected being a 10th seed, but you’re going to have to play and beat a really good team sometime in the playoffs, so having it right up front makes you focus.”
Roll is happy his squad will be back on the field after missing the last two weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the school affecting players. The Cavaliers last played on Sept. 18, when they lost 27-21 at Hardin Northern.
“It’s exciting,” Roll said. “They came back in good spirits. After all of injuries and being ill, I think the biggest problem is going to be how we’re going to play after three weeks off. Practice so far has been pretty good.”
West Carrollton at Sidney
Sidney (3-3) will look to get back on the winning track against West Carrollton in Friday’s D-II playoff opener. The Yellow Jackets lost 44-0 to archrival Piqua last week following Week 5’s win over the Pirates.
Early offensive miscues hurt the Yellow Jackets against the Indians. The team committed three turnovers in the first quarter and quickly fell behind 24-0. The squad amassed a season low 110 yards of offense in the contest after having gained 337 against West Carrollton the week before.
“We go into every game looking for what the defense gives us, and Piqua doesn’t give you very much,” Doenges said of the undefeated Indians. “… We thought we had a good game plan, but it didn’t work. We’ve got to get back to (how well we were moving the ball) before.
“… A big part (in that first game against West Carrollton) is we were able to move the ball early and built a (17-0) halftime lead. We’ve got to try to do something like that again, but it’s always tougher when you’re playing someone for the second time. …We can’t make turnovers and mistakes like we did against Piqua.”
The No. 22 seed Pirates (1-3) picked up their first win of the season last week by beating Greenville 35-13 on their home field.
It’s the third time Sidney has prepped for West Carrollton this season. The teams were supposed to face off in Week 3 in Sidney, but the Pirates canceled their Week 3 and 4 games after a player tested positive for COVID-19.
The squads rescheduled their MVL matchup for Week 5, and it was the Pirates’ first game since Sept. 4.
“They were still figuring things out against us that first game,” Doenges said. “As the game got going they starting moving better, and you could see them get into a flow.”
West Carrolton averages an MVL-best 391.3 yards and 28 points per game on offense but has given up an average 355.5 yards and 29.5 points per game.
The Pirates are led on offense by junior quarterback Kamaury Cleveland and junior running back Tyron Darby. Cleveland completed 12-of-19 passes for 146 yards with one TD against Sidney on Sept. 25 and ran for 75 yards on 10 carries. Darby ran for 134 yards and one TD on 17 carries.
Most of the Cleveland and Darby’s yards came in the second half.
“They were able to break a couple of big plays against us, and that hurt us,” Doenges said. “You could see on film against Greenville that they kept getting better as that game went on. We have to make sure we’re on top of things defensively.”
Sidney senior quarterback Cedric Johnson completed 7-of-10 passes for 163 yards with one TD and one interception against West Carrollton in Week 5 while junior running back E.J. Davis ran for 139 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries.
The winner of Friday’s matchup will face No. 7 Stebbins in a second-round playoff game on Oct. 17 in Riverside. Stebbins edged West Carrollton 28-25 in Week 1 and edged Sidney 22-20 in Week 2.
Southeastern at Lehman Catholic
The No. 14 seed Cavaliers (2-2) will host the No. 19 seed Trojans for the D-VII opener in Piqua since Sidney Memorial Stadium is being used by the Yellow Jackets on Friday.
Lehman will look to quickly shake off rust from its three-week layoff against Southeastern (2-4), which beat neighboring Ohio Heritage Conference rival Cedarville 41-26 last week.
Southeastern averages 239.5 yards and 14.6 points per game.
“I think they’re well-coached and have a good system,” Roll said. “They’re going to be a challenge for us, there’s no question. But it’s definitely a game we think we should be able to compete in, no question.”
Most of Southeastern’s success has come on the ground. Roll said the team has solid offensive line is anchored by tackle Aaron Swigart, who also plays on the squad’s defensive line.
“We’re going to have to stop the run, control the ball and not turn it over,” Roll said.
Southeastern senior Tanner Stoops has gained a team-high 470 rushing yards on 93 carries and has scored two touchdowns while senior Nick Harris has gained 291 rushing yards on 63 carries and has scored two TDs.
Junior quarterback Wade Eriksen has thrown for 322 yards with five touchdowns and one interception and has run for 291 yards and two TDs on 51 carries.
“He’s a good athlete,” Roll said of Eriksen. “When they go spread, we have to look for him to run the ball.”
The Cavaliers have averaged 294 yards and 24.3 points per game.
Junior Michael McFarland and freshman Donovan O’Leary have split time at quarterback for Lehman. McFarland threw for 139 yards and one TD with six interceptions in the first four weeks while O’Leary threw for 72 yards with four interceptions.
“Michael McFarland is starting, and we go with him as long as we can,” Roll said. “He gets tired, playing both defensive end and quarterback. Our last game, he had a nice game running the ball.
“We’re still looking for our identity, and I think it’s more of, ‘We’re going to run the ball at you.’”
Sophomore Nathan Sollmann has gained 465 rushing yards on 63 carries and scored three TDs while McFarland has gained 151 rushing yards and scored three TDs on 36 carries. Sollmann also returns punts and kicks and has amassed 805 all-purpose yards.
“He’s got a great future ahead of him, and we’re excited that we’ve got him for two more years,” Roll said. “He’s doing a real good job running the ball this year.”
Junior linebacker John Edwards, who was a D-VII all-Ohio selection as a freshman and sophomore, has made a team-high 33 tackles and has also made two sacks and one fumble recovery. McFarland leads the team with three sacks.
“He’s the real deal,” Roll said. “He leads our defense not only in tackles but in his enthusiasm and work ethic. He’s a special player. …He’s the heart and soul of our defense, and people scheme their offense around John. They’ve got to figure out how to block him.”
The winner of Friday’s matchup will travel to No. 3 seed New Bremen for a second-round game on Oct. 16.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.