SIDNEY — Sidney and Stebbins had never played before meeting in a Miami Valley League contest in Week 9 last year. They’ll meet for the third time in a year on Friday in Riverside — and the Yellow Jackets will try to find a way to come out on top after two close losses.
The Yellow Jackets (4-3) will travel to Stebbins (4-2) for a Division II, Region 8 game that looks to be the most intriguing matchup involving an area team in the second week of the playoffs.
Sidney is the No. 10 seed in Region 8 while Stebbins is the No. 7 seed. The rest of this weekend’s playoff games involving area teams are matchups of squads much more separated in terms of seeding — like a Div. VII, Region 28 matchup pitting No. 2 seed Fort Loramie against No. 15 Troy Christian.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to make up that difference,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said of the two-point gaps. “They’re a good football team. They’re probably going to be healthy and ready to go after having (a first-round bye), and I’m sure their kids are going to be ready to go.”
All of Stebbins’ games have been close except for a 27-0 Week 4 loss at Piqua, which only became lopsided when the Indians scored three touchdowns in the last 16 minutes of the contest.
Stebbins earned three-point wins over West Carrollton and Xenia in the first three weeks, followed their loss to Piqua with a 29-21 win over Fairborn and lost to Troy 28-21 in a regular-season finale on Oct. 2.
“They just do things the right way,” Doenges said. “… They just do a great job of staying in football games. They get themselves in the game, they make plays when they need to make plays and they do a good job on offense of minimizing the damage and continuing to move the ball. They may not score, but they’ll pick up a couple of first downs and play a good field position game.”
Sidney had three costly miscues that led to 16 of Stebbins’ 22 points in the Week 2 matchup. A botched punt set up a short touchdown run in the first half, and consecutive sacks on Sidney’s next offensive possession resulted in a safety.
The Yellow Jackets regained a 20-16 lead by halftime, but a turnover at midfield late in the third quarter set up Stebbins for the deciding scoring drive.
“We had five or six plays in that game that hurt us,” Doenges said. “It wasn’t anything Stebbins did, it was just things we did that hurt ourselves. That’s something Stebbins does well; they don’t hurt themselves. The games we’ve lost, it’s because we’ve put ourselves in bad situations, and our opponents have been able to capitalize.”
Stebbins averages 270 yards and 21 points per game. Junior quarterback Nate Keller ranks third among MVL players with 761 passing yards and has thrown eight touchdowns with nine interceptions. He’s gained 391 rushing yards and has scored three rushing TDs.
Senior running back Marvelous Rutledge has amassed 313 rushing yards and scored five TDs on 58 carries. Aiden Jones (18 catches, 239 yards), Jeremy Holloway (14/124) and Rayvonn Harris (12/241) are the team’s leading receivers.
“Keller does a nice job of running the ship,” Doenges said. “They’re going to try running the football; that’s kind of what they hang their hat on. Rutledge can pound it in between, and Keller is a threat to take it own his own. …But if they have to, they can sling it. They’ve got a couple nice receivers.”
Stebbins had held teams to average of 285.5 yards and 24 points per game. Junior defensive back Tyreece Lattimore ranks fourth in the MVL with five sacks, while junior linebacker Bradyn Pennington has recorded a team-high 40.5 tackles. Rutledge also plays at linebacker and has amassed 35.5 tackles.
“Tyreece Lattimore has given a lot of teams problems this year, not just us,” Doenges said. “He’s a really good athlete that can disrupt both the run game and the pass game.”
Sidney averages 335.8 yards of offense and 23.8 points per game.
After being shut out by Piqua in Week 6, Sidney got going on again on offense in a 31-12 win over West Carrollton in its playoff opener last Friday.
Sidney senior quarterback Cedric Johnson, who leads the MVL with 941 passing yards, threw for 211 yards against the Pirates and ran for 108 yards and three touchdowns.
Sidney receivers Jacob Wheeler, Avante Martin, Izayah Clarke and Sam Reynolds each had over 20 yards receiving. The four all have over 230 receiving yards on the year. Martin leads the receiving corps with 328 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Junior running back E.J. Davis ranks fourth in the MVL with 479 rushing yards. He’s scored a team-high eight TDs this year.
Doenges is hoping the offensive experience the Yellow Jackets have gotten the last six weeks helps makes the difference against Stebbins.
Sidney is under the guidance of a new offensive coordinator this season in Britton Devier, and with the team not having had any scrimmages or 7-on-7’s in preseason, Doenges said it has taken several games for Devier and the offensive coaches to get into a rhythm and for the offensive players to learn a revamped spread system.
“I know not having scrimmages and 7-on-7’s affects everybody, but when you’ve got a new coaching staff and a system with new terminology and a different way of trying to do some things, everyone was still getting the feel of things early on,” Doenges said.
“We’re in a better spot now. Some of our guys are really starting to understand what we’re trying to accomplish on the offensive side, and that starts with Cedric Johnson. He’s got a better feel for the offense, and the same thing with our receivers, running backs and linemen. They’ve all gotten a better feel.
“… If you look at our overall stats, we’re not rushing for as much as we did last year. But when you look at our stats and consider we’re throwing screens, we’re kind of rushing for a lot. We’re not slinging it downfield a lot; we’ve got four wide receivers we can throw screens to.
“Our offense is based on timing and rhythm, and a lot of our screens are very, very delicate based on how that stuff works out. Just getting more and more snaps I think has been huge to get that rhythm.”
Sidney’s defense has held opponents to an average of 271.5 yards and 17.8 points per game — an improvement after allowing 309.4 yards and 19.4 points per game a year ago.
Sidney had several returnees at linebacker and defensive back heading into the year, and those players have made many big defensive plays. Linebacker Devin Taborn has amassed a team-high 53 tackles, while linebacker Beau Davis has both forced and recovered two fumbles. Defensive backs Curtis Spangler and Grant Fair have each had games with two interceptions; Wheeler has also amassed two interceptions this year.
The Yellow Jackets didn’t have many defensive linemen with experience heading into the season but have plenty now. The squad plays upwards of 10 defensive linemen a game. Junior Jaden Swiger leads the group stats-wise with 21.5 tackles and two forced fumbles.
New players have stepped up on the line as the season has went on, including junior Carson Roesser, who made two solo tackles last Friday.
“A lot of kids get chances on the defensive line, and at the beginning of the year, he wasn’t a varsity guy,” Doenges said. “He’s a kid that’s kept plugging away and plugging away, made some plays on scout team and made some plays on J.V., and he’s now made some plays on Friday night and is on our regular rotation.
“It’s neat when you get to see a kid move their way up the ladder and get a chance. Carson’s done a real nice job of finding a niche and finding what he’s good at. He’s definitely going to keep receiving reps.
“… A lot of our guys also play on the offensive line, and (defensive coordinator) Kyle Coleman came up with the philosophy (of rotating many players) on the line. We took some lumps the first couple times of doing it, but kids are buying in and know they’ve got to go hard for four or five plays, and they don’t have to worry in the back of their minds about having to go for a long drive.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.