The Van Wert County Courthouse

Monday, Aug. 19, 2019

Spencerville picked to win NWC title

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

The race for the 2019 Northwest Conference football championship should be an interesting one with two of last year’s tri-champions predicted to finish No. 1 and No. 2. Three or four other teams are expected to duke it out for a top half finish in the conference, while the remaining squads are looking for marked improvement and more wins this season.

Preseason rankings are based on a number of factors, but not limited to, returning starters and letter winners.

Here is the VW independent’s predicted order of finish:

1 – Spencerville (Chris Sommers, third year at Spencerville, 17-6, 45-13 overall); 8-3, 6-1 NWC in 2018; Division VI playoffs, lost to Marion Local in regional quarterfinals.

The Bearcats return six starters on offense, including running back Joel Lutz (1,044 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns) and six starters on defense, including linebacker Eli Yahl, who finished with 143 tackles and was named NWC Defensive Player of the Year.

Spencerville’s relentless old school power running game is unlike any other in the area and it gives opponents fits.

Key home games on the team’s brand new artificial turf are October 4 against Crestview and October 18 against Columbus Grove.

2 – Columbus Grove (Andy Schafer, seventh season, 35-41); 8-4, 6-1 NWC in 2018; Division VI playoffs, lost to Seneca East in regional semifinals.

One could easily argue that Columbus Grove should be considered the NWC preseason favorite.

The Bulldogs return eight starters on offense, including an experienced offensive line and quarterback Blake Reynolds, who passed for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more scores during the 2018 regular season. Points shouldn’t be a problem this season.

Columbus Grove did lose three of four starting linebackers, but a strong defensive line should help ease the transition. Overall, the Bulldogs have seven returners on defense.

3 – Crestview (Jared Owens, eight season, 61-31); 11-2, 6-1 NWC in 2018; Division VII playoffs, lost to Fort Loramie in regional finals.

Despite heavy graduation losses including quarterback/defensive back Drew Kline and wide receiver/defensive back Wade Sheets, the Knights return four offensive starters and five defensive starters, including two-way starter Brody Brecht.

Crestview may not be quite as explosive as the previous two or three seasons, but the roster does feature some nice team speed, but the team lacks overall experience under the Friday night lights. However, Owens and his staff will have the Knights ready to go.

4 – Allen East (Wesley Schroeder, second season, 5-5); 5-5, 4-3 NWC in 2018.

The Mustangs return 14 letter winners, including quarterback Tyler Clum, who led the NWC with 2,355 yards passing and 24 touchdowns, plus the conference’s leading receiver, Cole Fletcher (48 catches, 1,011 yards, 10 touchdowns).

However, Schroeder believes the team’s strength will be the defense, which returns a number of starters.

Overall, the Mustangs have very nice talent and could very well finish in the top three of the NWC and challenge for a playoff spot.

5 – Bluffton (Jeff Richards, fourth season, 10-20); 3-7, 2-5 NWC in 2018.

The Pirates return 19 letter winners and 15 total starters from last season, including four starters along the offensive line and quarterback Nate Schaadt, who started all 10 games as a freshman. Bluffton will again utilize the triple option flexbone offense, which can create headaches for any opponent.

Bluffton also returns nice size and speed up front on defense with some overall consistency, the Pirates could challenge for an upper half finish in the NWC.

6 – Ada (Shawn Christopher, second season, 2-8); 2-8, 1-6 NWC.

The Bulldogs, who hope to improve on last year’s 2-8 mark, lost the last seven games of the 2018 campaign.

The big key will be improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Ada gave up 41 points per outing, along with 368 yards, including 238 yards rushing per game in 2018.

The Bulldogs return eight starters on defense and 10 on offense. It appears Brandon Hull will take the reigns at quarterback, while Phillip Coulson will man one of the wide receiver spots, along with Zac Swaney, who was the team’s leading receiver with 25 receptions, 246 yards and four touchdowns.

If the Bulldogs can shore up the defense, they could finish higher than sixth.

7 – Paulding (Tyler Arend, fourth season, 5-35); 3-7, 3-4 NWC in 2018.

The Panthers won three of four games before finishing the 2018 season with losses to Spencerville and Crestview.

Paulding returns 14 letter winners, including quarterback Payton Beckman (844 yards passing, seven touchdowns, 13 interceptions) and running back Jacob Deisler (850 yards rushing, nine touchdowns). Overall, the team has some nice depth at the skill positions and some promising newcomers.

For the Panthers to challenge for a spot in the upper half of the NWC, they’ll need some linemen to step up to replace starters that were lost to graduation.

8 – Delphos Jefferson (Ben Rahrig, first season); 1-9, 0-7 NWC in 2018.

After spending 15 seasons as an assistant coach at the junior high and high school level for the Wildcats, Ben Rahrig enters his first season as head coach. He’s looking to provide stability to a program that’s had four different head coaches in four seasons.

Delphos Jefferson lost eight starters to graduation, but returns a total of nine other starters, including tight end Doug Long Jr., who had a team high 17 receptions for 205 yards and a touchdown and running back J.T. Taviano.

Rahring wants the Wildcats to be a physical team that establishes the line of scrimmage, but he’ll have to rely on a number of underclassman in key spots.

Tomorrow: Western Buckeye League predictions

POSTED: 08/14/19 at 3:41 am. FILED UNDER: Sports