The Van Wert County Courthouse

Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022

Knights hope to tame the AE Mustangs

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

The race for the 2021 Northwest Conference football championship should be an exciting one and it begins Friday night in Harrod with a key game between Crestview (3-0) and Allen East (2-1).

On offense, the two teams appear evenly matched. For example, the Knights are averaging 33.7 points per game while allowing 15.3 points per outing. The Mustangs are averaging more points (41.0) but allowing more (22.7). Offensively, both teams lean on the running game, with Allen East averaging 214.7 yards per game and Crestview 211.0.

Nick Helt (12) leads Crestview’s multi-pronged rushing attack. The senior running back has 40 carries for 191 yards and three touchdowns. Bob Barnes/file photo

“We believe that we have a handful of running backs that can help us establish rhythm and pace throughout the game,” Crestview head coach James Lautzenheiser said. “We used them last week in the second half to put together a long drive that helped us regain the lead and take a lot of time off the clock. Our backs understand our scheme, and benefit tremendously from an offensive line and receiving corps that want to block for them, as well as a quarterback that can command a huddle and the line of scrimmage.”

Through three games, Nick Helt leads the Knights with 40 carries for 191 yards and three touchdowns, while Donovan Wreath has 14 carries for 149 yards. JJ Ward has 18 carries for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Isaac Kline has chipped in as well, including eight carries for 43 yards against Wayne Trace.

The bulk of Allen East’s rushing yards have come from Jack Hoel (57-382, five touchdowns), but quarterback Jacob Hershberger (32-146, six touchdowns) has been steady when running with the ball.

The two teams are currently No. 1-2 among NWC teams in passing yards, with Crestview No. 1 at 130.3 yards per game and Allen East at 120.3.

Ward is first among NWC passers, having completed 26-of-40 tosses for 291 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions, both against Wayne Trace. Hershberger has completed 24-of-49 passes for 358 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Rontae Jackson leads NWC receivers in yards (5-161, three touchdowns), while Hoel is second (5-131, two touchdowns).

“Crestview has good size across the line and skill spots,” Allen East head coach Joel Billings said. “They have a really solid offensive line that creates movement upfront. They are able to utilize multiple formations and concepts which creates a lot of mental work to be prepared defensively.”

Defensively there are some differences. Allen East is fifth among NWC teams, allowing 302.3 yards per game, while Crestview is eighth, giving up 329.3 yards per game. The Mustangs are second against the run, giving up just 86.3 yards per game while Crestview is sixth, allowing only 118.3 yards per outing. In terms of passing yards, the Knights allow 211 per game while the Mustangs give up 216 per game.

The two teams didn’t play last season, something Lautzenheiser has taken into consideration, along with the fact that the Mustangs can be considered conference title contenders.

“Allen East presents a number of challenges for us on both sides of the ball,” Lautzenheiser explained. “I think the biggest initial challenge for me was getting back into the mindset to see Allen East on the schedule after nearly two years since our last matchup. When you get out of the rhythm of seeing a scheme and a roster for more than a season, it takes some focus to get back on track.”

“The last time that we played at Harrod, we lost to Allen East (2019, 20-14). We need to continue to improve on the little things each play in order to have success against a really tough-nosed Mustang football team.”

“They like to run out of multiple formations and have a quarterback that is a threat to break the pocket and run. On defense, Allen East likes to use a base 3-3 box with lots of moving parts around the edges. They have size and speed, and even in a game where they lost (Elmwood), they were able to force turnovers. We have to have good ball security and a balanced attack to keep them on their toes throughout the game. On special teams, we need to continue to improve. We had a nice long return touchdown against Wayne Trace, but we also turned the ball over on kickoff return on the first play of the game. We need to use our special teams to be the winning edge in future contests.”

While not looking past Crestview in any way, shape or form, the Mustangs are opening NWC play with three teams that are no strangers to success – the Knights, three-time defending champion Columbus Grove and Spencerville, a team considered by many to be the favorite to win the conference championship, despite a 1-2 start to the season.

“Agreed we are in a tough stretch of league play,” Billings said. “Overall the league is much better than last year there are a lot more quality opponents overall. All three of the opponents that we face in the upcoming three games are talented and well-coached. Our kids know that they will have to play well to have the opportunity to win.”

POSTED: 09/07/21 at 9:11 pm. FILED UNDER: Sports