The third-ranked Sidney Eagles have breezed through their first four games of the season, but the resurgent Rising Star Wildcats will attempt to pull the upset Friday night in the Bulletin’s Six-Man Game of the Week.
Division II Sidney (4-0) has outscored its first four foes 249-56, highlighted by a 53-6 win over No. 9 Panther Creek. Division I Rising Star (2-1), meanwhile, has opened its first season under head coach Clint Lowry with victories of 92-52 over Brookesmith and 53-6 over Veribest, but was derailed by Division II No. 4 Woodson, 60-14, last week.
“Any time we play Rising Star our kids get up for it. It’s kind of a rivalry game for us,” said Sidney head coach Shannon Williams. “Right now we’re on a high. The kids feel good, they’re working hard and we’ve had a good week of practice. But we expect Rising Star to be real good, a lot better than a lot of people are giving them credit for.”
The Wildcats, who are looking for their first playoff berth since 2004, anticipate Sidney to be the stiffest competition they have faced thus far. Lowry hopes playing teams the caliber of the Eagles will help Rising Star in the District 10 battle, which includes reigning state champion Strawn.
“Sidney is another very good football team, similar to Woodson,” Lowry said. “Woodson and Sidney are both probably in the top 15 overall in the state. They’re good, quality football teams and I don’t think we can find much better competition. Hopefully this good competition in the long haul will help us out when we try and get into the playoffs. Sidney’s got great players and coaching, and it’s going to be another tough one this week.”
Williams has stated the key to the Eagles’ early dominance has been their play on defense. Prior to allowing 28 points in last week’s 46-point victory at previously unbeaten Novice, Sidney had not allowed more than 16 points in a game.
But the Eagles will have their hands full against Rising Star, as evidenced by the 92 points the Wildcats racked up in the season opener. Alec Apple has been the spark plug for the Rising Star offense with 762 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns over the first three games.
“I figure they’re going to try and spread us out and hit us in our weak spots, and they’re probably going to let Apple do it because he has a lot of speed,” Williams said. “But they also have two other kids that can fly over there.”
Rising Star is still adjusting to a new offensive system that was implemented by Lowry, who has been pleased with the progress shown by the Wildcats.
“We’re still learning a new system, but we’re getting stuff down and playing hard,” Lowry said. “We did some good things against Woodson last week, but we also made some mistakes and as good as they are they took advantage of it. We can’t have those mental breakdowns against Sidney, or turn the ball over either. They’re too good.”
While the Wildcat offense has put up impressive numbers, Rising Star has experienced some struggles on the defensive side of the ball. Aside from holding Veribest to six points, Rising Star is allowing an average of 56 points in its other contests.
That could pose problems against a Sidney offense that is churning out 62.3 points per game. In their win at Novice last week, the Eagles rolled up a season-high 74 points and 498 yards of total offense as Stephan Ortiz rushed for 263 yards and four touchdowns while Andrew Santibanez chipped in 56 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“The guys at Sidney are big and physical and have been together for a while now,” Lowry said. “They know what they’re doing and how to execute the things they do well. We have to try and slow them down a little bit and improve on our performance from last week.”
Williams anticipates Rising Star using its speed to attack the Sidney offense.
“I expect them to stunt us and bring pressure on every single play,” Williams said. “Up front we’re big and physical and should be stronger, but they’re a lot faster and have a lot more team speed than us. I think they will stunt us to match it up evenly.”
Sidney edged Rising Star, 56-44, in the Wildcats’ homecoming game last season. Friday’s rematch will serve as the Eagles’ homecoming contest.
“It’s their homecoming and they’re going to be fired up and ready to go,” Lowry said. “We’re going to have to show up and play right there with them.”