FORT LORAMIE — It wasn’t a tale of two halves. It was a tale of before and after a two-hour lightning delay.
Sidney dominated before the delay. Fort Loramie dominated after.
The Redskins scored three touchdowns to rally from an early deficit and break a four-game losing streak with a 24-14 victory over the Yellow Jackets in an unprecedented matchup between Shelby County programs on Friday at Redskin Stadium.
It was the first home game since Sept. 3 for Fort Loramie (3-5), which traveled at least two hours for each of its last four games.
The Redskins, which are independent of league affiliation this season after the breakup of the Cross County Conference, had to scramble for the second time in four weeks to find an opponent after Dayton Thurgood Marshall canceled on Monday due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
They found an opponent soon after in the Yellow Jackets (3-5), which had an originally scheduled Miami Valley League game canceled on Monday evening by Fairborn due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Though it was set to be Sidney’s homecoming game, the Yellow Jackets agreed to travel to Fort Loramie, which allowed the Redskins to conduct originally planned senior night activities.
A part of the senior night activities included the public address announcer reading players’ biographies, which included their favorite memories from the last four years.
Based on Fort Loramie’s celebration after the game, if players had to re-pick favorite memories, there may have been a new popular selection: beating a Division II program from the county seat on senior night to break a four-game losing streak.
“I’m just beyond proud of our players,” Fort Loramie coach Spencer Wells said. “They’ve shown so much heart throughout the season. We just haven’t quite got the break that we needed, and we didn’t make the breaks either. But for whatever reason, we just weren’t quite getting there.
“For them to overcome adversity tonight against a good team shows a lot of heart. I’ve been telling them all year the sky’s the limit for this team, and I still believe that. It’s because of their heart.”
The Yellow Jackets were hoping to keep up momentum after a 36-6 win over West Carrollton last week. Instead, they couldn’t get going and managed 16 points or less for the fourth time in five weeks and sixth time this season.
Sidney drove into the red zone late in the fourth quarter and could have closed the gap to three points with a touchdown. But starting QB Donavin Johnson left the game after taking a hard hit from a Fort Loramie defender, and the Yellow Jackets turned it over on downs shortly after.
“That didn’t make it easy,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “But the kids continued to battle. At the end of the day, we got to play a game, and I’d rather have done that than sat home doing nothing.”
It ends what was difficult week for the program, school and community.
Classes and extracurricular activities were canceled Thursday after a Sidney police officer was shot in a neighborhood near the high school late Wednesday and the shooter escaped.
Among activities canceled on Thursday included the football squad’s practice and the school’s homecoming parade. The police officer that was shot, Sgt. Tim Kennedy, is the father of Sidney standout and four-year starting linemen Evan Kennedy.
“It was definitely an interesting week,” Doenges said. “I’m just glad we had an opportunity to play. You’re conditioned as a football coach, especially after 17 years of doing this, that everything falls in the same place each week leading up to the game Friday. That obviously didn’t happen this week.
“The kids did a nice job of being able to bounce back even though we only had two practices this week. …I’m proud of how they practiced this week on short notice. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t enough. Kudos to Fort Loramie; they do a nice job.”
The teams traded punts early, but Sidney got going after Myles Vordemark intercepted a pass at Fort Loramie’s 45-yard line.
The Yellow Jackets drove down and scored less than two minutes later when Johnson ran in from 2 yards out with 4:02 left to give Sidney a 7-0 lead.
The Yellow Jackets were preparing to kick off when lightning was spotted by the officiating crew. The game was delayed from about 7:20 p.m. to 9:30.
After play resumed, Fort Loramie’s offense got going through the air.
Sidney attempted an onside kick after play resumed, which the Redskins recovered. They quickly moved the ball and scored on the first play of the second quarter when Caleb Maurer threw an 8-yard TD pass to Gabe Meyer.
Maurer faked a handoff and scored on a two-point conversion try to give Fort Loramie an 8-7 lead.
“We talked in the locker room (during the delay) that we, everybody, had to lay it on the line,” Wells said. “That’s us coaches, those guys as players. We told them to, ‘Just put it out there, you won’t regret it.’ They did. They laid it all on the line.
“Huge stops by our defense when we needed it, offense made key plays when we needed it, special teams was big when we needed it. That’s just got to be what we do from here on out. Just put it on the line and have no regrets.”
The Yellow Jackets went three-and-out after the TD, and it took the Redskins two plays to score again.
After a flea flicker that resulted in Logan Eilerman hauling in an about 50-yard pass at the 1-yard line, Jacob Sherman scored on a 1-yard TD run. Maurer then threw a two-point conversion pass to Eilerman to push the lead to 16-7 with 10:33 left.
Both squads came away with interceptions, but neither did much offensively the rest of the quarter. Sidney turned the ball over on downs in Loramie territory with two seconds left.
“We had a couple close calls,” Doenges said. “We tried an onside that didn’t work and had a couple of penalties on third and fourth down that didn’t help us. Momentum swung back their way, and we weren’t able to get it back towards us.”
Fort Loramie scored on the opening drive of the second half. Eilerman caught a 5-yard TD pass from Maurer with 7:19 left in the third. Maurer then threw a two-point conversion pass to Sherman to boost the lead to 17 points.
“They do some really nice stuff on offense,” Doenges said. “They’ve shown some five-wide stuff later in the season. They didn’t show it earlier in the year and now have a nice balance of what they’re doing offensively.”
Sidney scored later in the quarter. Johnson threw a long pass to Sam Reynolds to move the ball into the red zone, then ran in from 5 yards out with 1:16 left in the third to cut the gap to 24-14.
But Sidney couldn’t pull closer. The squad turned it over on downs at midfield early in the fourth, and Fort Loramie ate off about three minutes before punting.
The Yellow Jackets drove to the 14 with 3:28 left when Johnson left after being injured. EJ Davis took over at quarterback on fourth down and had a potential touchdown pass bounce off Julius Spradling’s fingers under pressure from Fort Loramie’s Thomas Hoying.
The Yellow Jackets used three timeouts and forced the Redskins to punt from the end zone. Sidney blocked the punt and got the ball at about the 10 after a Fort Loramie player recovered and ran it out.
But Sidney couldn’t move much in a hurry-up offense and turned the ball over on downs with 11 seconds left.
“I think we started to tackle better (as the game progressed),” Wells said. “They have some very good athletes and a very athletic quarterback. I think our tackling was good at times, and we played very disciplined at times.
“Nate Boerger really stepped up at linebacker. Isaac Raterman, a defensive end, really fought his butt off. Calvin Hoying, a middle linebacker, just really fought. Owen Pleiman (defensive back) fought his tail off. They showed a lot of heart on that side of the ball. Coach (Brad) Frilling prepared them well.”
Wells said he’s optimistic for the rest of the season and hopes the squad can make a postseason run. Fort Loramie’s losses the last four weeks had come by 10 points or less, and two were by one point.
He’s also proud the D-VII team knocked off a larger school after coming close three weeks ago in a 28-18 loss to Greenfield-Central, an Indiana team that has an enrollment equivalent to Ohio D-II schools.
“We just didn’t quite finish what we needed to in that one,” Wells said. “Credit to Sidney. Coach Doenges does a nice job. They were prepared. It was a slugfest, and fortunately, we came out on top.”
The contest was Sidney’s first against a Shelby County opponent in the program’s 125-year history.
The Yellow Jackets had 316 yards of offense while Fort Loramie had 257.
Johnson ran for 168 yards and two TDs on 28 carries and completed 7-of-19 passes for 101 yards with one interception. Reynolds caught four passes for 71 yards. Devin Taborn led the team with 10 tackles. Vordemark intercepted two passes.
Maurer completed 25-of-36 passes for 214 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. Eilerman caught 10 passes for 64 yards and one TD and Pleiman caught seven passes for 73 yards. Hoying led the team with nine tackles.
Sidney is scheduled to resume Miami Valley League play next Friday by hosting Stebbins.
Fort Loramie is scheduled to travel to Lucas next Friday.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.