The one-season-wonder label didn’t fit well with the returning Sidney players. This would be the encore high school football team for a program that electrified the largest city in Shelby County last fall with a 10-2 record and multiple new team and individual records. That all changed with a blowout season-opening loss.
“We had to prove that we’re a better team than that and that we could do way better than we did,” said senior defensive back Josiah Hudgins, whose 42-yard interception return for a touchdown was one of many highlights during Thursday night’s 31-28 dodging of visiting Bellefontaine at Memorial Stadium.
“This is a great team. We want to keep this program where it was at.”
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That was the message all week for the Yellow Jackets, who were reeling from a 35-7 Week 1 loss at St. Marys Memorial. Last year Sidney handed St. Marys and Bellefontaine their only regular-season setbacks. That produced an abundance of computer points and vaulted Sidney into the Division II, Region 8 playoffs.
And like Sidney, Bellefontaine also was in reboot mode after falling 28-14 to Wapakoneta in Week 1.
“Somebody was walking away from this game 0-2 and feeling really down about themselves,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “That’s tough to overcome. This was a big one.”
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Caleb Harris scored the game-winning touchdown on a 4-yard run with less than six minutes remaining and Sidney withstood a deep drive by Bellefontaine in the final 90 seconds.
Sidney junior quarterback Ryan Dunham completed 10 of 12 passes for 138 yards and had a 25-yard touchdown strike to junior Lathan Jones. Sidney freshman running back E.J. Davis had an outstanding debut. He rushed for 96 yards, including a 23-yard scoring run, figured prominently in the wildcat offense and delivered a 50-yard pass to Jones.
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Grant Smith had two short TD runs for the Chieftains. Garrett Gross’ 56-yard touchdown dash on 4th-and-4 put Bellefontaine up 28-24 early in the fourth quarter. Sidney responded with Harris’ game-winning run.
Gross had 211 yards rushing and Smith, the son of Chieftains coach Toby Smith, added 128 yards rushing.
Bellefontaine was driving for the go-ahead score in the final minutes. Sidney senior Josh Harlett ended that threat with an interception on fourth down inside Sidney’s 10.
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The teams exchanged the lead four times and each scored four touchdowns. The difference was Sidney junior Hallie Truesdale’s 20-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.
“We had a lot of close games (last season) against quality teams,” Doenges said. “Our kids have just figured out how to overcome some of that stuff. It’s neat to see.”
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Bellefontaine (0-2) is the two-time defending Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail champion. The Chieftains pushed Dresden Tri-Valley in a D-III, Region 11 semifinal last season, falling 36-30 in overtime. Tri-Valley lost to Trotwood-Madison in the D-III state championship.
That was the kind of program success Smith had in mind after building West Liberty-Salem into a similar small-school power.
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“It was energizing to move to a different place and see if we could get something going again,” said Smith, in his sixth season with the Chieftains. “I think we’re doing things right. We’re obviously not where we want to be. We’re 0-2. But we feel pretty good about what’s coming if we can play like we played.”
• Alter 51, Thurgood Marshall 6: The Knights (1-1) rebounded from a stinging 12-6 loss in the final seconds at Fairmont to post an easy Week 2 win also on Thursday night at Welcome Stadium. The Cougars fell to 0-2.
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