SIDNEY _ Using a defense that forced four turnovers and a running game that compiled 272 yards on 57 physical attempts, Sidney proved too strong for Unatego on Friday night.
Nate McDonald rushed for 109 yards on 22 carries, scored two touchdowns and had an interception as the Warriors earned a 26-13 Section Four Football Conference non-division victory on a cool autumn evening.
“Our whole team was there,” McDonald said. “Our line, that’s the most aggressive I’ve seen them all season. We played hard and we played the way we needed to play.”
That line McDonald mentioned _ Austin Dean, Bryant Gray, Collin Brandl, Trey Crawford and Zach Nages _ didn’t dominate, but they provided enough of a push to give McDonald, and backfield mates Billy Kozak, Aaron McCarroll and Brandon Walters the creases they needed. And Sidney’s backs excelled at finishing runs.
“We pick on (our running backs), because our offensive line works so hard,” said Sidney coach Jeff Matthews, whose team bounced back from a 31-30 loss to unbeaten Chenango Forks last week, “but they’ve worked hard this year at being better blockers for their teammates and learning how to run in traffic and getting those extra yards.”
Sidney (5-2) was equally adept on the defensive side, closing lanes on Unatego quarterback Tyler Butler and speedy running back David VanAlstine.
But what really hurt the Spartans were turnovers.
The Warriors’ first touchdown, a 2-yard plunge by McDonald in the first quarter _ came after a fumble by Butler.
Then Unatego had back-to-back possessions end in turnovers _ an interception at the end of the first half and a fumble to start the second half _ that really turned things in Sidney’s favor.
Trailing, 14-6, late in the second quarter, Unatego drove from its 27 to Sidney’s 14. Butler hit former Sidney standout Jon Wingate for 26 yards and then found Quinn Barnhart for 23 yards _ the latter bringing the ball to Sidney’s 31.
After a pass interference penalty gave Unatego a first down at Sidney’s 17, Sidney linebacker Mike Chase stopped VanAlstine for no gain on first down, and Butler missed VanAlstine in the right flat on second down.
VanAlstine’s 3-yard run moved it to the 14 and set up a fourth-and-7. Butler rolled to his right, but McDonald cut in front of a Unatego receiver and intercepted the pass with 40 seconds left in the half.
The Spartans (5-2), who had their five-game winning streak snapped, had the ball to start the second half.
On their second play from scrimmage, VanAlstine fumbled and Walters recovered for Sidney on Unatego’s 40.
Three plays later, Sidney had a 20-6 lead.
Kozak took three pitches from quarterback Patrick Vibbard heading right and covered all 40 yards. The first play went for 10 yards, on the second, he received a lead block from Robert Ojeda to get the edge and then cut it back for a 17-yard gain.
On the last, the 130-pound Kozak cut it up early, used a spin move at the 5 to free himself from a tackler and then plowed over a defender into the end zone on a 13-yard run.
“You’re not going to get away with that against a team of Sidney’s caliber,” Unatego coach Frank Microni said of team’s turnovers. “We’ve been pretty good to this point. The turnover ratio has been in our favor. We had some fumbles and some miscommunications. That led to our defense was on the field way too long.”
A 15-play drive that covered 67 yards in the fourth quarter all but sealed things for Sidney. Fourteen plays were runs, with McDonald carrying eight times for 39 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run with three minutes left that made it 26-6.
“I could sense it,” left tackle Dean _ a 6-foot-5, 280-pounder _ said when asked if he felt Sidney was wearing down the Spartans. “A couple of guys were slowing down, but they were coming back at us. We turned out to be tougher, but they’re a tough team.”
The Spartans answered with a 65-yard drive capped by Tanner Winchester’s 7-yard run around the right end with 1:23 left. Josh Feyerabend’s PAT capped the scoring.
After McDonald’s 2-yard scoring run in the first quarter with 5:27 left in the second quarter, Sidney’s defense forced a three-and-out before Sam Bryden blocked a Feyerabend punt that gave Sidney possession at Unatego’s 31.
Five plays later, fullback Aaron McCarroll followed a big surge in the middle of the defense on a 9-yard scoring run that made it 14-0.
VanAlstine then showed his speed on Unatego’s next possession. He took a handoff on a trap up the middle, got in the secondary and outran the pursuit on a 52-yard scoring run that made it 14-6.
Sidney travels to Newark Valley next weekend for a game it likely will need to win to qualify for the Section Four Class C playoffs.
Unatego will play an undetermined opponent in a Section Four Class D quarterfinal next weekend.