The Van Wert County Courthouse

Monday, Dec. 5, 2022

Preview: 4-2 Col. Grove at 3-3 Crestview

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent editor

CONVOY — It’s only Week No. 7 of the high school football season but it’s the final home game for the Crestview Knights (3-3, 0-3), as four-time defending Northwest Conference champion Columbus Grove (4-2, 2-1 NWC) comes to town. After Friday’s game, the Knights will close out the regular season with three straight road games.

Injuries have been costly during a three game losing streak, including a 17-14 homecoming loss to Bluffton last week. However, head coach James Lautzenheiser has found some bright spots, including the play of Bryson Penix, who stepped in at quarterback last week. The sophomore completed 12-of-20 passes for 92 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while adding 66 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Crestview’s defense will try to tackle an improving Columbus Grove offense. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

“I was happy with the way that Bryson stepped up to lead the offense last week against Bluffton,” head coach James Lautzenheiser said. “It’s never easy to fill in for a senior for a game as a sophomore, and it’s particularly challenging for that transition to take place at the quarterback position. We were fortunate enough to have the plan in place for the entire week rather than insert Bryson as a mid-game adjustment at the quarterback position.”

“He typically plays fullback for our team and also plays inside linebacker for our defense,” he continued. “Sometimes it can be challenging to ask an underclassman to make that type of change in the middle of the season, but Bryson is a tough kid that cares about his team and was able to respond for us on short notice. Along with Levi Grace, Bryson continues to serve as a viable backup option as Carson Hunter works to return to the huddle.”

“Offensively, Crestview can be dangerous,” Columbus Grove head coach Andy Schafer said. “They have some good height at receiver and can stretch you vertically. Athletically they have some good players – if they get on the same page and play a complete game they can easily knock off someone unexpectedly.”

The Knights are averaging 320 yards per game, including 172 on the ground and will face a Columbus Grove defense that has pitched a pair of shutouts and allowed just one touchdown in two other games.

“Our defense is actually getting better,” Schafer said. “We knew we had a good defense but the biggest question mark was our defensive backs. They have stepped up and really improved since Week No. 1.”

During last week’s 23-0 win over Leipsic, the Bulldogs yielded just 33 yards rushing on 23 carries, while intercepting four passes. Through six games, Columbus Grove allows just 99 yards rushing per game and has intercepted 14 opposing passes.

“Columbus Grove is a tough-nosed, physically violent football team,” Lautzenheiser said. “They want to disrupt your game plan and force you to respond to their own. If you weren’t coaching or playing against this team, you would probably want to sit down and watch them compete against someone else. They have some athletic kids right now and have worked hard to be at the top of the league in a number of statistical categories. You can expect them to fly to the football on defense, destroy blocks, and gang-tackle.”

Columbus Grove’s offense has struggled at times this season but during the win over Leipsic, Trenton Barraza rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while Brenton Renner completed 10-of-16 passes for 87 yards, one touchdown and one interception. For the season, Renner has connected on 64-of-117 passes for 883 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions. Barraza has 100 carries for 546 yards, third among conference rushers, and four touchdowns.

“We finally made huge strides on our offense this past week,” Schafer said. “The first six games of the season were against very strong opponents. We feel while challenging, it has made us better. I really like how we are playing now. I wish we could have a couple games back – but we feel the losses have forced us to improve.”

“On offense, they want to establish the run with strong double-teams and punishing lead blocks,” Lautzenheiser said of the Bulldogs. “We will have to be disciplined and respond well to the physical challenges that Grove presents in order to compete with them on Friday night.”

As previously mentioned, Friday night marks the final home game for nine seniors and accordingly, they’ll be honored before kickoff.

“We are proud to recognize the efforts of Carson Hunter, Wesyn Ludwig, Parker Speith, Mason Speith, Connor Tussing, Tanner Short, Donovan Wreath, Holden Thornell and team manager Kate Leeth to our team,” Lautzenheiser said. “It’s strange hosting Senior Night before we begin the month of October, but we finish the season with three straight road games this year. We will use the Senior Night festivities as a way of focusing our vision and leadership throughout the week on the goal of growing and improving as a team.”

“We may be in a rut at the moment in the win-loss column, but we cannot afford to take a step back with regard to our preparation and weekly focus. Our players want to give our fans a product on the field each week that they can be proud of. That’s important to think about when we play at home on Friday night for possibly the last time this season, and in the careers of these senior leaders.”

Columbus Grove leads the all-time series 26-7-1, and the Bulldogs have won the last four matchups, including a 38-0 decision in 2021.

POSTED: 09/28/22 at 3:52 am. FILED UNDER: Sports