BELLBROOK — It may have been a cold and rainy Friday night, but the turnover bug was alive and well, in a Division III postseason high school football game between Sheridan and host Bellbrook.
Four Bellbrook turnovers in the second half enabled No. 6 seeded Thornville Sheridan to rally for a 27-19 win Nov. 2 over the third-seeded and previously unbeaten Golden Eagles.
“Yeah, they got us out of our comfort zone in the second half,” Bellbrook coach Jeff Jenkins said. “We got into some third-and-long situations, and we made some bad decisions. When the game mattered, they made some big plays. We did not.”
The Golden Eagles (10-1) held a 13-6 lead at the half. Senior running back Justin Sloan scored on touchdown runs of 3 and 10 yards. One Taylor Jordan extra point was blocked, but the sophomore place kicker converted his second.
Sheridan (10-0) took its first possession of the second half and rumbled 66 yards on six plays for a 5-yard Isaiah Austin touchdown run. A Generals extra point by Cole Casto and the game was evened up at 13-all with 9:02 left to play in the third quarter.
Then things got ugly for the guys in Black, Gold and Purple.
First, a Golden Eagles kick returner fumbled the ball away on the Sheridan kickoff. The Generals bit themselves on the collective foot to nullify one touchdown on three personal foul calls on the scoring play, and had to punt.
But then Bellbrook tossed an interception that gave the ball to Sheridan on the Generals 38 late in the third quarter. Quarterback Ethan Heller led the Generals 62 yards on 10 plays, capped by a Heller scoring run from a yard out. A Casto kick and Sheridan had its first lead of the game.
“Our game plan was to methodically move the ball downfield, and I thought we did a good job of doing that at times. But like I said, we just got put in bad situations. We’re a team that excels in third-and-shorts, not third-and-longs,” Jenkins said.
Now trailing for the first time, Bellbrook tossed another interception on a third-and-11 play. Sheridan’s Alec Ogle then returned the pick all the way to the Golden Eagles’ 10. Will Hamilton then scored on the very next play to give the Generals a two-score lead, 27-13.
The Golden Eagles made things interesting with just over two minutes to play in the contest when senior quarterback Brendan Labensky connected with fellow senior Cameron Brittain for a 52-yard touchdown play, but the extra point sailed wide and Sheridan held an eight-point lead.
Sam Sherrill recovered the onside kick to give Bellbrook hope of a late-game rally, but a final interception toss — by backup QB Alex Westbrock who found himself thrust into duty when Labensky appeared to injure his hand while chasing down a fumbled snap — ended the Golden Eagles’ hopes of a comeback.
Sheridan ran out the clock to record its first playoff win since 2011.
“I think our offense made the difference tonight, because our defense never let us out of it,” Sheridan coach Paul Culver said. “Our defense is the heart of this team, but I give just as much credit to our offense.”
In eight of the team’s 10 regular season games, Sheridan’s defense had held opponents to seven points or less.
Unofficially, Labensky completed 11 of 18 passes with two interceptions for 165 yards and one touchdown.
Senior running back Sedric Ferguson finished with 91 yards gained on the ground on 20 carries with a TD score. Sloan had his two scores and rushed for 63 yards on 16 carries.
Bellbrook was the third team to score more than seven against the Generals, but that was no consolation for Jenkins. The coach was visibly shaken when asked to describe his senior class, who had just played their final games.
“The senior class will go down as one of the greatest senior classes to go through Bellbrook,” he said. “They had high character … I love those guys.”
Bellbrook’s senior class finished with a 29-12 overall record through four years, and never had a losing record.
Sheridan (10-1) will now advance to play no. 2 seed Granville, a 38-7 winner over Jackson. That game will be played at a neutral site at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9.