The Northwest Conference opens play this week and after the first three weeks of the season it appears the race for the conference crown is wide open.
Only Crestview comes in with an unblemished mark at 3-0. Two other teams, Ada and Delphos Jefferson, have identical 2-1 marks and the next four teams come in at 1-2. Columbus Grove has yet to record a win.
Bluffton head coach Jeff Richards said he feels the league is more balanced this year and despite opening the season with a 1-2 mark he is confident the Pirates can compete for the league crown.
“It has been kind of shaky early,” Richards said. “The teams you expect to be on top are not winning. I think the league is much more balanced. In the past it was top heavy but I think this year it is very balanced. You can’t take a week off in this conference.”
Ada head coach Bob Olwin, who’s club sports a 2-1 mark going into league play, adds that the front-runners are still there but it is too early to determine who can win the league title.
“I think Jefferson, Spencerville and Crestview have been the upper echelon the last two years,” Olwin said. “But other teams are working their way in there.”
Olwin’s Bulldogs, picked by many to win the NWC, stumbled last week when they lost to Lima Central Catholic, 35-21.
“We need to be more consistent,” Olwin said. “We are still trying to find another wide receiver.”
The Bulldogs opened the season with impressive wins against Upper Scioto Valley and Arlington, outscoring their first two opponents 74-27.
Olwin added that “they got what they deserve” against the Thunderbirds last Friday and his team needs to prove it on the field.
Ada opens its league play with Jefferson. The four-time defending NWC champions opened the season with a loss but have posted back-to-back wins and appear to be hitting their stride going into conference play.
Crestview appears to be the early front-runner for the league title but the Knights’ victories have been a roller coaster ride.
After opening the season with a 38-26 win against Parkway, the Knights erased a 20-point deficit to clip Hicksville 41-40 and then came back to handle Wayne Trace 39-13.
Crestview head coach Jared Owens said the 3-0 mark his team has posted is attributed to several inexperienced players stepping up.
“Our message is we want to contribute to improve,” Owens said. “In order to compete at the varsity level they have to give 100 percent both physically and mentally.”
Owens adds that they continue to work on both sides of the ball and reiterate the fundamentals.
On offense, the Knights have outscored their opponents 118-79
One major reason for Crestview’s success is the play of Knight junior signal-caller Drew Kline. The dual threat quarterback has passed for 484 yards and three touchdowns and run for 236 yards and three touchdowns.
Kline has a pair of top notch receivers to throw to in Wade Sheets who has caught 17 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns and Derick Dealey who has eight catches for 125 yards and one touchdown.
As a team, Crestview is ranked second in total yards (1,083) in the NWC and second in rushing yards (599) for the season.
The Knights’ defense is sixth in total yards allowed (955) but third in total rushing yards allowed (380) for the year.
Like Richards, Owens said he believes that any NWC team can win on any given Friday and that is why he is not taking Bluffton lightly despite its slow start out of the gate.
Bluffton has outscored its opponents 80-68.
Bluffton’s main weapon is running back Kaleb Jefferson who is ranked third in the league in rushing with 329 yards and six touchdowns.
As a team Bluffton ranks fifth in total yards (805) for the season in the NWC and third in rushing with 530 total yards.
Richards said the Pirates’ primary focus on defense is stopping Kline. For the year the Pirates’ defense is ranked first in total yards allowed (678) but fifth in total rushing yards allowed (512).
In our last two losses we cost ourselves and put the ball on the ground,” Richards said. “Fortunately for us we an fix that by eliminating our mistakes. It is more mental than physical. Defensively I don’t want to say we are great but we are doing good things and flying to the ball. Their quarterback is a dynamic athlete and they have a lot of talent. Watching film you can see why they are 3-0. They did a lot of things right.
In other NWC action, Columbus Grove (0-3) takes on Paulding (1-2), Spencerville (1-2) travels to Allen East (1-2).
Western Buckeye League
Things are starting to settle down a little in the WBL.
Wapakoneta (1-2, 1-1 WBL) collected its first wins of the season against Shawnee (2-1, 1-1 WBL) last week and the Redskins will look to continue their winning ways when they face Kenton (1-2, 1-1 WBL).
Shawnee (2-1, 1-1 WBL) will look to return to the win column but will face a tough test when it travels to St. Marys (2-1, 2-0 WBL). St. Marys is coming off a big 50-34 win over Van Wert (2-1, 1-1 WBL).
The Wildcats won their first WBL game last week as well after bumping off Defiance (0-2, 0-3 WBL)
Bath (1-2, 0-2 WBL), which is seeking its first league victory, takes on Celina (1-1, 1-2 WBL).
Elida (3-0, 2-0 WBL) looks to stay unbeaten when it faces Celina.
Northwest Central Conference
The good news for Waynesfield-Goshen (1-2) is it snapped a 24-game losing streak with a win over Ridgedale, 46-14. Now the Tigers enter conference play against Upper Scioto Valley (1-2). The Rams fell to Benjamin Logan 42-19.
Hardin Northern (1-2) suffered a 63-32 defeat at the hands of Danbury. The Polar Bears will try to get back to winning when they face Perry.
Perry (0-3) is still looking to break into the win column. Despite scoring 41 points, the Commodores fell to Spencerville 56-41.
Lima Central Catholic (2-1) is starting to come together as a team after the Thunderbirds bumped off a good Ada team.
The Thunderbirds will travel north to tackle Wynford (2-1). After opening the season with a 49-0 loss to Liberty-Benton, the Royals have roared back to pitching back-to-back shutouts against Bucyrus, 48-0, and Allen East, 33-0.
Delphos St. John’s (2-1, 0-1 MAC) struggled against Minster and lost 41-14. This week gets no easier when the Blue Jays have to face unbeaten and state ranked Anna 3-0, 1-0 MAC). The Rockets are coming off a 52-20 win against Versailles.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on Twitter @JoseNogueras1