Turnovers doom Bellbrook in playoff loss

Bellbrook quarterback Brendan Labensky looks to throw a pass during Friday night’s Division III, Region 11 playoff game vs. Thornville Sheridan. Nick Falzerano/CONTRIBUTED
Bellbrook quarterback Brendan Labensky looks to throw a pass during Friday night’s Division III, Region 11 playoff game vs. Thornville Sheridan. Nick Falzerano/CONTRIBUTED

Standing at the 50-yard line in a postgame mist after traveling over two hours to play the state’s second ranked team, Thornville Sheridan head coach Paul Culver unzipped his jacket and proudly unveiled a T-shirt that simply read “RAGE.”

“That’s the name of our defense,” Culver said. “We believe in it and we spend twice as much time on it. That’s what carries you in the playoffs.”

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Through 10 regular season games, Bellbrook had protected the football with the same vigor that Fort Knox guards gold.

Friday the Golden Eagles lost their Midas touch.

Sheridan’s defense was a major reason why.

Committing four second-half turnovers, Bellbrook fell for the first time this season, losing 27-19 to the visiting Generals in a Division III, Region 11 quarterfinal at Miami Valley South Stadium.

Sheridan (10-1), ranked No. 7 in the final AP state poll, advances to play Granville (10-1) in the regional semifinals next Friday at a site to be determined.

Bellbrook, ranked No. 2, finishes 10-1 after producing the program’s third undefeated regular season in 54 years of football.

“Our game plan was to methodically move the ball down the field and we did a decent job at times with that,” Bellbrook head coach Jeff Jenkins said. “We excel on third and short. Not third and long, and too many times we were put in that situation.

“They have a great defense.”

Bellbrook had a great run.

During a regular season in which it outscored the opposition 382-109, the Eagles had relied on a strong dose of senior backs Sedrick Ferguson and Justin Sloan (both over 1,000-yards) and ball security.

Sloan scored two first half touchdowns on runs of 3 and 10 yards as Bellbrook staked a 13-6 halftime lead.

The Generals, who entered having allowed 69 points, had held eight of their 10 opponents to seven points or less.

Said Culver: “Our defense is the heart of the team.”

Scoring on the first possession of the third quarter, Sheridan recovered Ferguson’s first fumble of the season on the ensuing kickoff.

On Bellbrook’s next two possessions, Sheridan picked off senior quarterback Brendan Labensky. Both resulted in touchdown drives and a 27-13 lead for the visitors with 7:53 to play. Labensky had thrown one interception prior.

Despite the deficit, Bellbrook rallied.

Labenksy hit Cameron Brittian for a 52-yard touchdown pass with 2:23 to go and Bellbrook’s Sam Sherrill recovered the ensuing onside kick.

Labensky – who Jenkins called a “soldier” for playing with a torn ACL since Week 4 – was lost on first down after aggravating his knee injury. Sophomore Alex Westbrock came in, and after a sack on second down, threw an interception on third-and-30.

“They got us out of our comfort zone in the second half,” Jenkins said. “We made some bad decisions, but they made big plays when the game mattered and we did not.”

Said Culver: “How do you get away with a two hour bus ride and playing that caliber of a team and play as well as we did? You have to shake of the jitters in the first half. Second half? You rely on your seniors. We have 18. I’ve jokingly said I’d name my kids after them. They are the best.”

Bellbrook graduates 20 seniors whose career ended with a 10-0 regular season, an SWBL title, a No. 2 state ranking and a home playoff game.

Said Jenkins: “These seniors will go down as one of the greatest classes to go through Bellbrook. Class act. I love those guys.”

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