By Abigail Funk
Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Coaching Management. She can be reached at: afunk@MomentumMedia.com.
Coaching Management, 14.4, April 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1404/doublewing.htm
When Jeff Matthews became Head Football Coach at Sidney (N.Y.) High School in 1996, the cupboard was bare. Interest in football had waned to the point where there weren’t enough players to form a varsity team the year he arrived, so the school fielded only a junior varsity squad. There was little reason to think Sidney would ever appear atop the league standings, much less atop the state rankings.
But a lot can change in 10 years. Thanks to a coach who never gave up through losing seasons, a pool of hard-working players, and a community that rallied behind its team, the Sidney Warriors celebrated the end of the 2005 season on the Syracuse University Carrier Dome floor as New York State Class C champions.
“What a great feeling,” Matthews says. “A lot of these kids have been playing varsity since they were sophomores and went through a sectional championship loss two years ago and a sectional semifinal loss last year. Their number-one goal this year was to get to the Dome, and for them to be able to accomplish all they did is really gratifying.”
But simply getting to the Dome wasn’t enough. After beating Marcus Whitman High School, 28-22, in the state semifinal—the only time Sidney was held to fewer than 33 points—the Warriors shocked defending champion Dobbs Ferry High School, 48-21, in the title game. Midway through the second quarter Sidney scored twice in a 20-second span to take a 20-0 lead against a team that had not lost in its previous 24 games.
Although Sidney led by at least 20 points for most of the second half, Matthews wasn’t completely comfortable until the clock ran down to 0:00. “Dobbs Ferry is such a great program, and they’ve played in the state championship game three of the last four years,” he explains. “We knew they were explosive and could make some plays. But, when [Sidney senior] Aaron Zurn returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown [which gave Sidney a 48-15 lead] in the fourth quarter, I think we all had a collective sigh of relief.”
Zurn, a running back, won the game’s Most Valuable Player award, gaining 379 all-purpose yards. Senior quarterback Kyle Morenus completed 10 of 15 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns, while senior Pat Simonds had five catches for 113 yards.
The Warriors put up similar offensive numbers all year, averaging 44 points and 400 yards per game. Zurn rushed for 1,500 yards and backfield mate Mick Kozak added 1,040. Morenus threw for 2,132 yards and 33 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions, and Simonds finished the season with 52 receptions for 1,036 yards and 17 touchdowns.
One reason for the Warriors’ offensive numbers may be Matthews’s old-school double wing offense. Catching opponents off-guard because so few area teams use it, the double wing came to Matthews out of necessity.
Shortly after taking the Sidney job, Matthews received a flier in the mail about the offense and believed its advantages—downblocks and getting players to the point of attack—would complement his small, quick linemen. There were skeptics in the small town of 6,000 until Sidney began winning. But at least as important as the scheme itself, Matthews believes, was having a single, consistent offense to teach players year after year.
“Whatever offense you’re going to run, I think you have to stick with it and be consistent,” he says. “Over the past couple of years we’ve really come to understand what we’re doing offensively, and combined with the great athletes we had this year, it’s made us successful.”
There was a point in the season, however, when the team’s consistency hit a snag. Matthews’s father, a former high school basketball and football coach, was diagnosed with lymphoma, and his health declined rapidly. His father re-entered the hospital halfway through the season and asked to see his children again. “As a family, we decided that we needed to drop all of the other important things in our lives and get to him,” Matthews says. “Like most coaches, I preach family first, school second, and then athletics. I needed to practice what I preach.” Matthews turned the team over to his assistants the night before he left for Tennessee to see his father.
The Warriors won the next game in a shutout, and when his team reached the title game, Matthews couldn’t help but think of his father, who died on Oct. 19. “We had finished our warmups and were going back to the locker room before kickoff,” Matthews says. “I happened to look up and see my Dad’s second wife and my half-brother out of the thousands of people in there. When I saw them, I said, ‘Yup, I know he’s here. A little angel on my shoulder.’ It wasn’t a sad moment—just reassuring.”
A Sidney tradition calls for a team that wins a league or sectional title to be escorted from the town line back to campus by the fire department. The football team won its league title at home, however, and wasn’t able to have that honor. Fortunately, there were more opportunities to celebrate.
“It’s usually just the Sidney fire truck that leads the way,” Matthews explains. “But as we continued to win in the playoffs, our escort just kept growing and growing, with the next town’s fire trucks coming along. By the time we won the state championship, we had almost every fire truck in the county escorting us.”
School: Sidney (N.Y.) High School
Head Coach: Jeff Matthews
2005 Season: 12-1, New York State Class C Champions
Notes: Sidney’s first state championship title was also its first sectional title … The Warriors snapped defending champion Dobbs Ferry’s 24-game winning streak in the final game … After losing its second game of the season, the team reeled off 11 straight wins … The team’s offense totaled over 500 yards in the state championship game.