It’s basically The Daily Star’s Super Bowl.
Sidney and Unatego have established themselves as by far the best high school football teams in this area and they’ll go it at 7 p.m. Friday.
Granted, the outcome won’t mean much to either side, outside of seeding points Unatego could use for the upcoming Section Four Class D playoffs. Sidney’s motivation is strictly tied to beating a neighboring rival the week before a game at Newark Valley that it likely will need to win to qualify for the Class C playoffs.
“They’ve been playing football against Unatego since they were 8 years old,” Sidney coach Jeff Matthews said, “since they were in the Pee Wee program and in every summer league baseball program, so they know each other well. Both sides want to have bragging rights for the rest of the year.”
Story lines abound in this one from the teams’ polar-opposite looks on offense to Sidney’s beat up field to injuries to Jon Wingate.
Let’s go in order.
When Sidney is in its base double-wing offense, it’s about as bunched a look as you’ll see anywhere in Section Four. Its linemen’s splits are incredibly close.
“I’m concerned in all phases against them,” said Unatego coach Frank Microni, whose team has won five straight since a season-opening, 35-6 loss to Chenango Forks. “We have to play our keys well. They also spread it out and throw it well. They run similar formations to us. Their passing game is good and they run some wildcat and trap stuff.
“We may have a hard time with them up front,” he continued.
Then there’s Unatego’s four-wide receiver spread option look that forces defenses to play from sideline-to-sideline.
“I don’t even recognize what we’re doing defensively this week,” said Sidney coach Jeff Matthews, whose 4-2 team is coming off a 31-30 loss to Chenango Forks on Friday. “They put a lot of pressure on you. (Running back David) VanAlstine is so slippery and fast and (quarterback Tyler) Butler is doing a fantastic job orchestrating the offense.”
As for Sidney’s field, the past two weeks it’s been a sloppy, muddy mess, which should favor the Warriors’ slug-it-out approach.
“Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what shoes you have on,” said Microni, coach of the fastest team in the area. “Last season, we had a JV player lose his clete in the mud. I don’t think their field will benefit our team and it won’t matter if it rains or not. We’ll have a hard time cutting.”
On the injury front, Sidney lost two-way starter Damian Zimmer to a fractured left femur (thigh bone) in Friday’s loss to Chenango Forks.
Zimmer retreated before making a leaping interception about 20 yards downfield. On the return, the Blue Devils’ Cody DeOrdio came from the side and put a low hit on Zimmer, who didn’t appear to see DeOrdio until the last second.
Matthews said the good news is it was a clean break, meaning Zimmer could join Sidney’s basketball team at some point after Christmas.
Zimmer’s loss will be especially big this week as he’s perhaps the Warriors’ best cover guy.
“A lot of the passing games we’ve seen this season, most teams are sending out two receivers,” Matthews said. “Now, we’re facing a team that’s sending four to five guys out and we’re down one of our best kids. It’s huge. We’ll have to find some people who can cover.”
Linebacker/fullback Brandon Walters suffered a less severe injury against Forks that limited his playing time. He hurt his left ankle on the first play from scrimmage. He continued play, primarily on defense, but was clearly hobbled.
“There’s good deal of swelling in the ankle,” Matthews said. “We’re taking small steps to get him ready.”
For Unatego, two-way starting lineman Ethan Barber sustained a knee injury in Unatego’s 37-16 win over Unadilla Valley last week. Microni said he doesn’t anticipate Barber will play versus Sidney.
Wingate adds some intrigue to this one. He played varsity football the past two seasons for Sidney before transferring to Unatego. Last season, Wingate earned Daily Star First Team honors as a defensive back.
He caught a two-point conversion pass in Sidney’s 20-0 win over Unatego last season.
Microni and Matthews said they didn’t knew much in the way of details as to why Wingate transferred.
He has six catches for 140 yards this season.
Though Unatego received a surprise when Wingate joined the roster, it also lost a talented athlete when Phil Youngs switched from football to soccer.
Microni described Youngs as a VanAlstine-type back with the ability to change direction quickly and then outrun defenders with his speed.
But Youngs suffered an injury that forced him to miss most of last season.
“We were doing summer workouts and we spoke,” Microni said. “He just told me he was going to play soccer. He’s had some really severe injuries, including a broken collarbone last season. He’s a good athlete and a good kid and I’m glad he’s doing well for the for the soccer team.
“He decided to give it a shot as a senior and I’m glad he’s doing well,” he continued.
Youngs, also a standout baseball player for Microni in the spring, is doing off-the-charts well for the unbeaten Spartans. Heading into last weekend, Youngs led the area in scoring with 21 goals and nine assists.
In a Forks-Sidney game full of big hits, perhaps the biggest came in the third quarter and led to a Warriors touchdown.
Blue Devils quarterback JC Sweeney headed left on an option. Just as he looked to pitch, Sidney linebacker Mike Chase made a huge hit that dislodged the ball from Sweeney.
Sidney’s Jerrid Cubby scooped the fumble and ran 45 yards for a touchdown as Sidney took a 22-16 lead with 4 ½ minutes left in the third quarter.
Twice, Billy Kozak and Patrick Vibbard hooked up on scoring plays against Forks _ the first was all Kozak and the second was all Vibbard.
On a third-and-10 in the first quarter, Vibbard threw a high, wobbly pass about 35 yards down the right side of the field _ a ball that appeared to slip out of his hand.
Kozak, using baseball skills that have kept him on Sidney’s varsity since his eighth-grade year, slipped inside a defender and caught it over his shoulder before eluding the safety on a 70-yard play that opened the scoring.
“I knew it was short so I tried to get in front of the corner and just went up to get it,” Kozak said.
Though Kozak played a part in calling his 26-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, Vibbard did most of the work.
“Actually, that was the first time we ever ran the play,” Kozak said. “At halftime, I actually told the coach we have the wing and the tight end leading. They have to choose the wing or me. It was play action and I kept going and (Vibbard) he me right on the numbers. All props to him.”
It came on fourth-and-10 with about 1:30 left and Sidney trailing, 24-22. The Warriors opened things up on the drive with three- and four-wide receiver sets.
But on fourth down, they went back to a double-wing look. Vibbard rolled right as Kozak sneaked out into the left flat. Vibbard sold it well before throwing back to the left _ perfect pass that a wide-open Kozak turned into a touchdown.
“Billy being in open space is nothing new to him,” Matthews said, “but Pat is not used to turning and throwing across his body like that. It was a beautifully thrown ball and Billy caught it right in stride.”
Vibbard then hit Mike Ward on a quick slant on the two-point pass and Sidney had a 30-24 lead with 1:26 left.
Forks (6-0) answered 26 seconds later and Jack Sherwood’s PAT provided the winning point for the Blue Devils.
“We’re praying for it,” Kozak said of a potential rematch with Forks in the Section Four Class C final. “We want it bad. We feel like we outplayed them.”
Asked if he’d be surprised to see Sidney again this season, Chenango Forks coach Dave Hogan said: “Absolutely not. That’s a very good team.”
Also this weekend
Delhi’s Division VIII home game against Harpursville at 1:30 p.m. Saturday could have huge playoff implications for a number of Class D teams on both sides of Binghamton.
With the system for picking Class D playoff teams still unclear, the Bulldogs (3-3, 1-1) really could stir things up with a victory over the Hornets (5-1, 2-0) _ coming off a 20-14 win over Walton on Saturday.
Walton (2-4, 1-1) will try to keep its playoff hopes intact when it plays to Deposit/Hancock (2-4, 0-2) in a Division VIII game.
Oneonta (0-6) travels to play Johnson City (2-4) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Binghamton Alumni Stadium. At the same time, Unadilla Valley (2-4) will host Roscoe/Downsville.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, Cooperstown (1-5) plays host to state-ranked Sauquoit Valley.
Bainbridge-Guilford (5-1) travels to Class B Windsor (2-4) at 7 p.m. Friday
Rob Centorani covers high school football for The Daily Star. Email him at email@example.com.