The Van Wert County Courthouse

Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022

Preview: 6-4 Knights vs. 8-2 LCC T-birds

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent editor

CONVOY — Crestview head coach James Lautzenheiser vividly remembers Week No. 4 of the regular season. The Knights had just suffered their first loss (42-14) and the first year head coach wondered how things would unfold over the course of the next six weeks.

“We had just lost a tough game where everything that seemingly could go wrong, did go wrong for us that night, including some significant injuries that would affect our roster and depth chart in the short and long term,” Lautzenheiser explained. “We challenged the team to respond and grow in those tough moments and I think that we really began to see the character of our team play out after that.”

Crestview’s defense will try to slow Lima Central Catholic’s potent offense during Saturday’s playoff game. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

Despite the myriad of injuries, the Knights won three of their next six games to finish 6-4 (3-4 NWC).

“We obviously stumbled at Columbus Grove (38-0) and at home against Spencerville (29-28), but I think our fans got to see a really good Crestview football team play for one another against Leipsic,” Lautzenheiser said. “The emotions that were evident after that Senior Night game were less connected to losing to Leipsic (35-21) and more directly related to the love that our players had for one another. I told the team that the ‘football gods’ surely had to reward them for the commitment they displayed to one another and we turned the page to making plans for Week No. 11 and hopefully beyond.”

“I’m proud of our team for adapting to new challenges and working to overcome challenges,” the coach added. “Our record doesn’t accurately reflect the growth we’ve seen out of our players.”

Now, the No. 14 seed Knights are preparing to face No. 3 seed Lima Central Catholic (8-2), a team ranked No. 9 in the final Division VII Associated Press poll. The Division VII, Region 26 opening round game will be played at 7 p.m. Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

As an independent, the Thunderbirds played a wide variety of opponents, ranging from Division III Shawnee to Fort Frye, a team that was ranked No. 2 in Division VI at the time and a game that Lima Central Catholic won 30-23.

“Our schedule is very similar to participating in the playoffs,” Lima Central Catholic head coach Scott Palte said. “Unlike most local teams who participate in leagues, we play new opponents each year that we are not familiar with or their opponents they are facing on film. In a league you get a pretty good idea of the type of kids each team has and the schemes they run. Getting a good gauge on the physicality and speed of our opponents can be difficult, which is similar to the playoffs.”

LCC is an athletic, experienced, and prepared football team,” Lautzenheiser said. “They’ve had to weather their own storms this season with long road trips, rescheduled games, and tough injuries. They have gone out of their way to play a tough schedule and they have put themselves in a position to be a force to be reckoned with in the OHSAA playoffs.”

“This was the team that ended our postseason run last year (41-14) and we knew that we would eventually have to face them this postseason,” he added. “I told our players that we might as well face them right away and not delay the inevitable.”

Big play receiver Rontae Jackson has nearly 500 receiving yards this season. Bob Barnes photo

Entering the playoffs, the Thunderbirds are averaging 403 yards and 37.5 points per game. The offense is balanced, averaging 234 yards rushing and 169 yards passing per game. Two quarterbacks have led the team – Evan Unruh (65-of-95, 1,031 yards, 16 touchdowns, two interceptions) and versatile Carson Parker (37-of-70, 662 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions). Quintel Peoples has been the leading receiver (26-418, seven touchdowns), followed by Travis Hoyle (23-502, eight touchdowns) and Parker (23-287, four touchdowns).

Keiron Bailey leads a balanced ground game (113-644, five touchdowns), followed by Unruh (73-625, seven touchdowns), Parker (86-458, eight touchdowns) and Peoples (58-356, three touchdowns).

Defensively, Lima Central Catholic allows just 261 yards and 16.5 points per game.

“LCC has explosive players on offense that must be contained before they can catch deep passes or break free of the first level of defenders,” Lautzenheiser said. “They have an aggressive defense that wants to disrupt game plans and cause turnovers. They have a commitment to explosive plays on special teams, and they can quickly flip the field or score if you are not careful with the football. Our players have to be able to recognize changes in their defensive scheme and be ready to adjust on the fly to unanticipated blitzes or stunts.”

“We also have to be able to recognize formations, tendencies and personnel when we are on defense. Ultimately, we will have to ask ourselves if we can make big plays in big moments during the game. This game quickly got out of hand for us last year, and we cannot afford to dig ourselves out of an early hole this year.”

Like the Thunderbirds, Crestview has used two quarterbacks this season. Carson Hunter has completed 46-of-94 passes for 831 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions while JJ Ward has completed 50-of-74 passes for 870 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Knights also feature a balanced rushing attack with Nick Helt (88-446, eight touchdowns), Isaac Kline (104-434, one touchdown) and Hunter (59-368, four touchdowns).

Kellin Putman (17-171, two touchdowns) leads the team in receptions while Rontae Jackson is the team leader in yards (15-487, seven touchdowns). Hunter Rothgeb also has 15 receptions for 320 yards and four touchdowns.

As a team, the Knights average 25 points per game and allow 24 points per outing.

“Crestview poses several challenges,” Palte said. “They are a physical, tough, well-coached football team who are a couple plays away from being 8-2. We are going to have to slow their running game down and figure out a way to create big plays on offense. They are very stout between the tackles on defense.”

Saturday’s Crestview vs. Lima Central Catholic game will air live on WERT 1220AM/104.3FM.

POSTED: 10/27/21 at 3:51 am. FILED UNDER: Sports