The Van Wert County Courthouse

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021

2021 NWC title race should be exciting

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

The 2020 high school football season will kick off on Friday, August 20, for all Northwest Conference teams except Delphos Jefferson (see below) and this year’s NWC title race should prove to be very entertaining, with several teams in the mix for the title.

Below are brief capsules of each NWC team. Similar previews for Western Buckeye League teams will appear on Thursday’s Sports page, along with preseason predictions for the NWC and WBL.

Ada Bulldogs

Rontae Jackson (20) will return at wide receiver and defensive back for the Crestview Knights this fall. Bob Barnes/file photo

The Bulldogs (0-3) will try to regroup after a 2020 season that lasted just three games, then was canceled when just 16 healthy players were left on the roster.

Ada has a new head coach who has enjoyed success at two previous stops. Toby Smith was 111-40 in 14 seasons at West Liberty Salem and 46-27 at Bellefontaine.

He has 31 players on the roster, including eight returning lettermen and he’ll utilize the spread on offense and a 4-3 alignment on defense.

Smith and the Bulldogs will try to overcome a lack of experience, but Smith noted the strength of his team is work ethic.

Ada will open the season with three straight road games: Waynesfield-Goshen, Arlington and Hardin Northern, then will open NWC play at home against Leipsic in Week No. 4.

Allen East Mustangs

Second-year head coach Joel Billings has 12 lettermen and 10 returning starters at his disposal, but graduation took the NWC’s leading passer (Tyler Clum, 1456 yards, 13 touchdowns).

The Mustangs (5-4 in 2020) do return some size and experience along the offensive line, but a lot of juniors will be called on to fill other spots.

Even so, this is a team that expects to compete for the NWC championship each season and this year should be no different.

Allen East will open the season at home against Upper Scioto Valley.

Bluffton Pirates

The Pirates return 10 starters on offense, which is good for any team running an old school triple option attack.

Overall, sixth year head coach Jeff Richards (19-29) has 13 returning starters and 24 lettermen back. One of them is senior quarterback Nate Schaadt, who’s started at quarterback since his freshman year and Tyson Schutler, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season is back as well.

The defense struggled with third down conversions and red zone stops in 2020, but Richards believes added depth and adjustments to schemes should help.

Bluffton will host Cory-Rawson in the season opener.

Columbus Grove Bulldogs

Columbus Grove has won at least a share of the last three NWC championships but the Bulldogs may be hard pressed to win a fourth consecutive title.

That’s because dual-threat quarterback Blake Reynolds has graduated along with a number of other key starters from a team that went 10-1 and advanced to the Division VI state semifinals in 2020.

Head coach Andy Schafer (ninth year at Columbus Grove) does have nine returning starters, including highly regarded running back Colin Metzger, wide receiver Jackson Schroeder and punter/kicker Rece Verhoff, who has 16 career field goals and is one of the top kickers in the nation.

Defense may have to carry the team early in the season, until the offense finds its identity.

The Bulldogs will open the season at Pandora-Gilboa.

Crestview Knights

After serving as an assistant for 10 seasons, James Lautzenheiser is the new head coach of the Knights.
Two-thirds of Crestview’s backfield graduated in May. Brody Brecht bulled his way to 1,630 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2020 while Logan Gerardot ran for 999 yards and 12 scores, so Lautzenheiser is tasked with finding replacements.

The cupboard isn’t bare though, as he returns starting quarterback JJ Ward, offensive linemen Tanner Short, Landin Friemouth and Mason Penix, tight end Ayden Lichtensteiger, wide receiver Rontae Jackson and kicker Kaden Kreischer.

Eight starters are back on defense, including Jackson and Lichtensteiger and defensive lineman Trevor Barton.

The Knights, who went 6-3 in 2020, will open the season at Parkway.

Note: a more in-depth preview of the Crestview Knights will appear on next Wednesday’s Sports page.

Delphos Jefferson Wildcats

The key for Delphos Jefferson (0-6 in 2020) will be defensive improvement.

While playing a number of freshmen and sophomores last season, the Wildcats gave up an average of 48 points per game, but head coach Ben Rahrig believes a year in the weight room, along with better technique, leverage and pursuit will lead to improvement this fall.

Junior dual threat quarterback Colin Bailey is one of the more dynamic players in the NWC and Rahrig expects Jacob Simmons to take handoffs. The offensive line will be young but will have some size.

The Wildcats will open the season Saturday, August 21, against Delphos St. John’s.

Leipsic Vikings

Leipsic is making the move from the Blanchard Valley Conference to the Northwest Conference and the Vikings are primed to be NWC title contenders.

In 11 seasons at Leipsic, head coach Joe Kirkendall has a record of 92-31 (111-52 overall, 15 seasons) and he returns eight starters on offense, including four offensive linemen, two running backs, quarterback and the team’s leading receiver from last year’s 5-3 team. He also returns eight starters on defense.

The Vikings have a challenging non-conference schedule with Liberty-Benton, Fairview and Tinora before opening NWC play.

Spencerville Bearcats

Not much is expected to change at Spencerville. The Bearcats will be physical, they’ll run the ball and they’ll run it well. While most teams like to spread things out, Sommers successfully uses an old school approach.

Chris Sommers (seventh season at Spencerville, 56-20) has 15 lettermen, including 12 returning starters. Among those starters: the running back trio of Tyler Koenig, Cade Elling and Gunner Grigsby, quarterback Dale Smith and four linemen: Dylan Cook, Griffin Schwartz, Dustin Bohyer and Heath Gaskill.

After a 4-4 campaign in 2020, look for Spencerville to contend for the NWC title.

POSTED: 08/11/21 at 3:49 am. FILED UNDER: Sports