The Van Wert County Courthouse

Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022

Preview: Knights (5-1) at Bulldogs (6-0)

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

CONVOY — A tough challenge – the toughest of the season – awaits Crestview on Friday as the Knights will travel to Columbus Grove to face the three-time defending Northwest Conference champions. 

The Bulldogs, ranked No. 8 in Division VI, are the only undefeated NWC team (6-0, 3-0) while Crestview enters the game 5-1 (2-1 NWC). 

Columbus Grove suffered seemingly staggering graduation losses after the 2020 season, including quarterback Blake Reynolds and receiver Gabe Clement but head coach Andy Schafer said his team returned more talent than many people realized.

Isaac Kline has come on strong and is Crestview’s leading ground gainer so far this season with 70 carries for 332 yards. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

“Our kicker Rece Verhoff always gives us a chance with field position, Jacksen Schroeder has been a blocking receiver the last couple years and was just overshadowed by some of our graduates, but clearly he was just as solid – difference is he can block and catch,” Schafer explained. “(Running back) Colin Metzger again was often overlooked due to our vertical passing game last year but came in strong in the playoffs and Mitch Douglas is a four-year starter on the offensive line.  AJ Schafer is the best blocking tight end in Division VI and AJ Schafer and Tadd Koch are two of the best linebackers in the state.”

“People overlooked us because we lost our deep threat but there are much more areas of the game then just chucking it deep every play,” the coach added. 

“Grove may have graduated some productive names from their roster last season but they have returned in a strong fashion to put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the league again this year,” Crestview head coach James Lautzenheiser said. “The Bulldogs want to run the ball effectively and keep their opponents from doing the same. They are a fast and physical team with a lot of returning players with a high football IQ.” 

While the offense may not be as explosive as last year (262 total yards per game), Columbus Grove’s defense is the stingiest among NWC teams, allowing 228 total yards per game, including just 62 per game rushing and Verhoff is a reliable weapon who has three field goals in the last two games, including a 50-yarder during last week’s 25-21 win over Leipsic. 

“Our defense has only given up 373 rushing yards through six games,” Schafer said. “While our special teams can flip the field making teams go 80 yards, our defense has made our offensive average starting position the 40 or even 50 yard line. With a Kicker that can hit 60 yard field goals, we really don’t have far to go which allows our offense to play conservative.”  

“We had a 22 point unanswered come back to win last week against Leipsic,” Schafer continued. “We can’t have that happen each week. Honestly, we don’t have that big play offense to come back when we are down. We beat Leipsic with a 17-lay, 97-yard drive to get us back in the game.” 

Metzger has led the offense with 736 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns on 135 carries, while quarterback Brenton Renner has completed 41-of-75 passes for 561 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. His favorite target has been Schroeder, who had 15 receptions for 238 yards and a touchdown. 

Meanwhile, the Knights have battled injuries at various positions and are getting close to returning to full strength. In the meantime, Crestview has enjoyed offensive success with a pair of quarterbacks. Before suffering an injury, JJ Ward completed 35-of-54 passes for 585 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Since then, Carson Hunter has stepped in and completed 23-of-52 tosses for 368 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, while logging 31 carries for 211 yards and three scores. 

“Carson has filled in well in JJ Ward’s absence because he has a good understanding of what we are trying to do on offense and he wants to do what he can to help the team,” Lautzenheiser said. “He takes responsibility for his actions on the field and tries not to make the same mistakes more than once. Last week against Bluffton he exploited some creases in their defense and was able to pick up some big yards in the second half.  He made smart decisions when he was throwing the ball and picked up some tough yards to get into the end zone or convert first downs.”

Isaac Kline has become Crestview’s leading rusher with 332 yards on 70 carries while Nick Helt has 57 carries for 273 yards and five touchdowns. Rontae Jackson remains the NWC leader in receiving yards, 374 on 12 catches, plus five touchdowns. 

As a team, the Knights are second in the NWC in total offense, averaging 354.5 yards per game, including a conference-high 158.8 passing yards per game. 

“Crestview has always played us extremely well since I’ve been at Grove,” Schafer said. “To be honest there were many games we should have lost and came back and won. A seven point game last year, a four point game in 2019. This week we need to play with the lead so we can play our game.  Crestview has the ability to hit you deep so we need to limit the big plays.”

A win by Crestview would create a logjam atop the conference standings, a fact that isn’t lost on Lautzenheiser.

“They’ve played a tough schedule so far this season and we are hoping to do our best to give them their first loss of the season,” the coach said. “We know that this is a tremendous opportunity in front of us and we hope to be prepared enough to take advantage of that opportunity on Friday evening. We will have to be disciplined and rise to the challenge that awaits us in Columbus Grove.”

“In many ways, this week’s matchup has the feel of a playoff opponent because of the energy that surrounds the contest.” 

POSTED: 09/29/21 at 3:57 am. FILED UNDER: Sports