St. Marys and Sidney kick off season on Friday night

A Sidney program that made the leap from winless to  four victories last fall opens the season against a St. Marys football team looking to make a similar advance forward in 2013.

For St. Marys head coach Greg Phillips, the key to the Riders’ success is finding some consistency, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

“We’re playing a little too sporadically for me right now,” Phillips said. “We’re playing three or four sophomores in there right now. We’ve just got to be patient and we’re going to keep coaching them up and getting better. We’ll look really good on one series or four or five straight plays and then screw a play up. We’re going to be a type of team that needs to put a drive together, go eight, nine or 10-play drives. We’ve proven we can do that. Now we need to prove we can do that on a consistent basis.”

St. Marys boasts a big and powerful offensive backfield. Junior Isaac Fitzgerald is getting the snaps at quarterback as a six-foot 215-pounder who played fullback a season ago.

“He’s smart,” Phillips said. “We show him a play in practice once and he’s got it. He calls the plays with authority and the ins and outs of what we’re trying to do. He’s a calming presence in the huddle. There’s a couple throws he’d like back. He took a hard shot at Stebbins where he should have thrown the ball away so we have a third and five instead of a third and 13. But he’s a smart kid and he’ll learn, just like this whole team.”

Fullback Trent Wale (220 pounds) and Patrick Obringer (190 pounds), the Roughriders will grind out drives with a power game.

“We’re leaning primarily on the Wing-T right now, so teams will have to practice against that when they’ve been used to defending against the spread so much, so we think we have an advantage that teams have to work on what we do instead of the other three or four weeks,” Phillips said.

St. Marys’ defense is getting teams into third and fourth and long situations, but the Roughriders gave up some big plays that undid that work against Urbana in the Chicken Bowl scrimmage.

“We made a lot of plays last week on first and second downs, but what is unacceptable and what we can’t do is get a fourth down and 10 twice and give up a 43-yard pass or a touchdown pass on a fourth and 11,” Phillips said. “We have to be able to make those big plays. But the nice thing is right now we’re putting teams into those situations. Last season, we struggled to even get teams into those situations. If we can make those plays and make the big plays, we like that position we’d be in.”

“This is a regular St. Marys team,” Sidney head coach Adam Doenges said. “There’s not a whole lot of flashy guys, but we’ve had a chance to watch them a couple times and it’s what you expect out of St. Marys. For them to go 0-10, I know that’s got to burn them. I don’t expect that to happen again. You can tell they definitely  improved from their first scrimmage to their second and I expect they’ll be even better when we face them.”

Doenges knows what it’s like to build a team back up from a winless season. A St. Marys grad and former Roughrider player, Doenges is looking for his Sidney program to take another big step forward after an improvement of four wins in 2012 with a 4-6 record.

“We have quite a few three-year starters who were playing as sophomores and freshmen when I took the job,” Doenges said. “So we’ve got some guys with experience. We’re a little hurt on the offensive and defensive lines, but just being in the program and the familiarity means we don’t have to repeat a lot of things. We’ve put a lot of new things in that can hopefully make us a little more diversified.”

Senior quarterback Jordan Fox threw for 735 yards and five TDs to with 14 interceptions a season ago and ran for 275 more yards and five touchdowns. Fox will become an even bigger part of Sidney’s quick-paced spread offense that still only put up 16 points per game in 2012.

“In the past years I always joked he was a fullback playing quarterback, but now he looks like a quarterback,” Doenges said. “He had a good offseason. He wrestled and I think that did a lot for him with attention to detail and his toughness.”

Darryl McNeal, a 5-10, 165-pound sophomore, started all 10 games at cornerback last season. Now Sidney will use him at wideout and find different ways of getting the ball into his hands on offense. “He’s got some good skills and we’re excited about him,” Doenges said.

Sidney 5-9, 213-pound senior Noah Straman anchors the offensive and defensive lines as a three-year starter on both sides. “He’s kind of the heart and soul of our team,” Doenges said. “Our one true team captain.”

Linebacker Zach Scott, a 6-foot, 194-pound senior, returns at linebacker and offensive line.

Phillips said his Roughriders are raring to get back on the field for a game that matters, especially after the pain of an 0-10 season and a 10-7 overtime loss to the Yellow Jackets a season ago.

“We went through a disappointing — and disappointing is the kindest word you can use about last season,” Phillips said. “You take a couple weeks off from football and the last thing you want to think about is football. Then college bowl season comes around and you start watching more. Then you start watching some tapes from last season and then weight lifting comes and you’re revved up. It builds. It’s Ohio. It’s one of the top football states in the country and it always will be. It’s going to be a fun weekend.”

Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. on Friday, St. Marys’ lone 7 p.m. kick-off of the season.