The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Sep. 29, 2023

Preview: 2-0 Knights at 0-2 Raiders

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

HAVILAND — It’s one of the better non-conference small school rivalries in northwest Ohio and this year’s edition has even more intrigue.

Wayne Trace will host Crestview on Friday night and both teams have new but familiar head coaches on their respective sidelines – former assistant James Lautzenheiser at Crestview and former Crestview assistant Matt Holden, now at Wayne Trace.

Crestview fullback Donovan Wreath has rushed for 135 yards on just nine carries. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

Both coaches weighed in on the rivalry and this year’s unique circumstances.

“I would hope that our players and fans would be excited about this matchup no matter who the particular head coaches were at the time,” Lautzenheiser said. “For me, personally, getting a win at Wayne Trace is particularly special because I never beat them as a player in high school. My first taste of varsity football action resulted in a 34-14 loss in Haviland. That’s enough fire for my own belly each time we have the chance to play Wayne Trace, but what this really comes down to is a quality match-up between two similar types of communities that raise their kids to work hard and to appreciate what it takes to win tough games.”

“I would expect extreme attention to detail from coach Holden this week, but he’s going to do that because of his commitment to the game of football and to his team, and not necessarily because he’s facing the Crestview Knights,” Lautzenheiser continued. “I know that a win in Haviland means we are one step closer to being ready for our conference competition, and that’s my goal this week for our players and coaches.”

“It’s certainly not just another game, but not in the sense that it’s a win-at-all-costs type of thing,” Holden said. “I think it’s a special game for a couple different reasons. One, the Wayne Trace/Crestview rivalry is one of the better rivalries in the area, across all sports. I’m sure that some people within both communities think of it as the premiere rivalry for their school.”

“Two, in my time with Crestview, I was able to develop close relationships with both the players and the coaches, so it will be special to be able to be on the opposite sideline as them on Friday.”

“I was able to grow close to James through coaching with him and I’m very close with a few other members of their coaching staff, so it’s certainly going to be fun to get to go head-to-head against them on Friday night. Watching film and scouting Crestview has been a fun experience, as I’ve been able to see the growth in some of my former players and I’ve been able to see a few of them who always had been on the cusp of getting some playing time now being utilized in important roles on the team.”

With victories over Parkway and Hicksville, Crestview enters the game 2-0 and the Knights are averaging 383.5 yards of total offense, including 225.5 rushing and 158 passing.

Quarterback JJ Ward has been more than efficient, completing 17-of-24 passes for 316 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Rontae Jackson leads the team with five receptions for 161 yards and three scores, while Hunter Rothgeb has four catches for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“JJ Ward’s leadership has been very positive and consistent,” Lautzenheiser said. “I think he has matured significantly over the past two seasons. He has an understanding of the types of in-game situations that we are trying to identify or set up, and he’s doing a great job taking advantage of what the defense is presenting.”

“I’m sure that he’s excited that he’s throwing the ball well and we are scoring touchdowns, but he’ll be the first to tell you that maintaining possession and converting more first downs is the top priority each week,” Lautzenheiser added.”

Running back Nick Helt has logged the bulk of the carries, 25 for 132 yards and three touchdowns. Fullback Donovan Wreath has nine carries for 135 yards.

Hunter Rothgeb (7) has shown big play ability with four receptions for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Bob Barnes photo

On the defensive side, the Knights are allowing 338.5 yards per game, including 216.5 through the air.

Wayne Trace (0-2) has played a challenging schedule, with losses to Fort Recovery and Patrick Henry. The Raiders are averaging 226 yards per game, 113 on the ground and 113 via the pass.

Quarterback Cooper Wenzlick has completed 21-of-46 passes for 226 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, with Tucker Antoine (8-42) and Dylan Hildebrand (7-115, one touchdown) proving to be his favorite targets.

Kyle Slade has rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries, while Jared Pierce has 28 carries for 83 yards.

“I think the thing we’ve done the best so far is to play hard and to never count ourselves out in any game,” Holden stated. “The effort and intensity has been there for both weeks of the season so far. I think that offensively in Week No. 1 we did a really good job of moving the ball but some fumbles and dropped passes limited the amount of points we could put on the scoreboard.”

“Last Friday against Patrick Henry our defense really came out and did a good job of bending but not breaking. We allowed some yards to a good football team but were able to get some key stops to keep us in the thick of things until the very end. We’ve placed a large point of emphasis on our special teams play this year and, aside from some shanked kicks, I think we’ve been solid on those units.”

“When we start to put good offensive and defensive performances together, we’ll start to see more marks in the win column this season.”

When asked for a scouting report, both coaches were complimentary of the other team.

“Wayne Trace is the best team we’ve faced so far this year and we cannot afford to take them lightly,” Lautzenheiser said. “They have very talented athletes that can make plays in space and some challenging pieces on the offensive and defensive lines for us to handle.”

“Squaring off against a familiar opponent with a new coaching staff always feels ‘new’ and we have to make sure that we are diligent to schemes and tendencies on film so we don’t miss an opportunity to prepare our kids before Friday. They will be hungry for a win on Friday, and we have to work hard to make sure that take care of the little things that prevent that from happening.”
“Crestview is a very solid team that has a ton of experience coming back on both offense and defense after making it to a regional appearance last season,” Holden said. “One of their biggest strengths has to be their offensive and defensive lines. It’s not common for a Division VII or even a Division VI school to have the amount of size and strength that Crestview is able to present upfront. Their coaching staff does a good job of utilizing that size and strength with their offensive and defensive schemes.”

“They also have a lot of depth this year and they do a good job of utilizing it to keep players fresh throughout the game. The fact that this team has experienced success in the past and knows what it takes to win has helped them to adapt to Coach Lautzenheiser’s system and hit the ground running with it.”

“Crestview is a very well-coached team. Coach Lautzenheiser and his staff do a great job of making adjustments during the game and will certainly have their players ready to play with a solid game plan for Friday night.”

Due to COVID-19, the two teams didn’t square of in 2020 but the Knights have won six straight in the series, with Wayne Trace’s last win coming in 2013 (54-41).

Friday’s Crestview at Wayne Trace game will air live on 99.7FM WKSD.

POSTED: 09/01/21 at 3:59 am. FILED UNDER: Sports