SIDNEY — With several normal starters on the bench for various reasons, Sidney struggled to find a rhythm in a Miami Valley League game against Vandalia-Butler on Friday.
They didn’t struggle for big defensive stops, including as time expired.
The Yellow Jackets forced Vandalia-Butler into four turnovers on downs, intercepted one pass and survived a Hail Mary attempt as time expired to earn a 14-8 victory at Sidney Memorial Stadium.
“It took our new kids a little bit to get used to the lights and used to the speed and used to the physicality of Butler,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said.
“… I’m really, really proud of our kids for being able to settle into the game and just being be able to play football and not worrying about it being different and not a J.V. game and that kind of stuff. Our senior leaders did a nice job of taking them under their wing and making them calm, and the end result, we get a win.”
Sidney (5-4) will look to wrap up regular-season play next week when it hosts Troy (5-3), which hasn’t played since Oct. 9 due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the squad.
A win would secure a winning record for the Yellow Jackets. Sidney has posted winning records three times (2003, 2015, 2017) in the last 20 years.
“Finish the year on a two-game winning streak, finish the year with a winning record, that would be big,” Doenges said.
Friday’s win against the Aviators ensures Sidney will finish .500 or better for the fourth time in the last six seasons and comes a week after the team was knocked out of the playoffs by losing 24-23 to MVL rival Stebbins.
The Yellow Jackets came up with enough plays to win a close one this week, thanks in part to a bend-but-don’t-break defensive effort. Butler amassed 354 yards of offense but was 4 for 14 on third-down conversion tries and 2 for 6 of fourth-down tries.
“It was a field position game,” Doenges said. “We weren’t winning that, but we weren’t giving up points.
“These kids did a phenomenal job on the defensive side of the ball. We had a lot of new, fresh faces in there. It took them a series or two to figure out how to play varsity football, but luckily it didn’t hurt us.”
The Yellow Jackets also got a big stop late when junior defensive back Donavin Johnson intercepted a pass at Sidney’s 24-yard line with 2:39 left.
“He’s kind of a jack of all trades for us,” Doenges said of Johnson, who finished with three tackles. “He’s been our starting corner all year and is on every single special team and is a leader on every one of those special team units, and he’s the backup at about five other positions.
“We’re low on linebackers and running backs, and he played at running back tonight. He also had to play some corner in some big situations, and he did a nice job.”
Sidney couldn’t get first down after Johnson’s interception and was forced to punt after Butler burned all its timeouts. The Aviators moved to Sidney’s 33, and junior quarterback Cody Joynes launched a pass into the end zone as time expired that hit off the hands of receiver Kyle Fullam and fell to the ground.
Sidney was without its top two rushers on Friday and relied mostly on short passes to move the ball. Johnson and senior quarterback Cedric Johnson together amassed 29 rushing yards on 20 carries.
The Yellow Jackets moved it enough through the air in windy and raining conditions. Cedric Johnson completed 11-of-29 passes for 179 yards with two touchdowns.
“It didn’t take long for them to figure out we were playing without our main stay at running back,” Doenges said. “We were going to have to throw it more, and obviously the weather made that a little more tricky. They did some things to disrupt us. They loaded the box and told us to go ahead and try to throw it. We made some big plays when we had to.”
After a quick three-and-out by Sidney to start the game, Butler had a long drive and scored on an 8-yard pass from Joynes to Fullam. Fullam caught a two-point conversion pass to give Butler an 8-0 lead with 6:16 left.
Neither team threatened to score again until the final minute of the second quarter.
After being helped by several Butler penalties, the Yellow Jackets drove from their own 28 and scored on a 14-yard pass from Johnson to Izayah Clarke. Jacob Wheeler then caught a two-point conversion pass to tie it 8-8 with six seconds left.
Butler turned the ball over on downs at Sidney’s 5-yard line on the first drive on the third quarter, and neither team threatened again until the fourth.
Sidney blocked a punt attempt to start the fourth, then Johnson threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Wheeler on the next play to give Sidney a 14-8 lead with 11:06 left after the extra-point attempt was deflected.
After the teams traded punts, Butler drove to Sidney’s 14 but was backed up by a penalty, then Donavin Johnson intercepted a pass on the next play.
Wheeler led the Yellow Jackets with five receptions for 86 yards. Avante Martin caught three passes for 52 yards and Clarke caught three passes for 41 yards.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.