COLUMBUS GROVE – Columbus Grove football players are walking around with a little more swagger this week.
The Bulldogs are coming off one of their biggest wins in the last three years after Columbus Grove bumped off state ranked Crestview, 33-20, to cap off a three-game win streak and put them in the thick of the Northwest Conference race.
The win was also a big confidence booster for the players and while Schafer understands there is still plenty of football remaining on the schedule, the victory has brought a new attitude of winning to the football program.
In the past three years, Columbus Grove is 11-19 and posted a 2-8 mark in 2017.
Columbus Grove opened the season with back-to-back losses to state ranked Pandora-Gilboa, 25-13, and Leipsic (48-18) but in those games, Schafer saw the team’s potential and it was evident in their next game when they downed Patrick Henry (27-7) followed by a win over Paulding (49-16).
In those wins, Columbus Grove’s confidence on both sides of the ball continued to grow and it was in full force against Crestview.
“That was huge,” Columbus Grove head coach Andy Schafer said. “You can’t hide the fact that those were two good football teams (Leipsic and Pandora-Gilboa) but we competed against those teams.”
Schafer added that against Pandora-Gilboa there was a lot of extenuating circumstances off the field but takes nothing away from the Rockets even though the Columbus Grove head coach admits he wouldn’t mind a second shot at the Rockets.
More importantly, Schafer has watched a team grow in the last three games.
“Last year we had a young roster and they learned,” Schafer said. “This year you can see the confidence in their face and against Paulding we improved and I thought we had a shot against Crestview. We had a solid game and were rewarded.”
In the game against Crestview, the Bulldog defense bent but did not break and came up with two big turnovers and several key stops to record the win.
Columbus Grove’s defense gave up 374 yards against what Schafer described the Knights’ offense as a three-headed monster that can run, pass and run the option with success. However, the Bulldogs stopped the Knights, who came into the game averaging 47.25 points a game, and limited them to 20 points.
“The defense held strong,” Schafer said.
Defense has been one of the reason’s for Columbus Grove resurgence.
“We did switch to a base 3-4 defense this year from a 4-3,”said Schafer, who admits that he reverted back to the 4-3 with a smaller, speedier defense in order to combat the talented Crestview skilled players as well as to catch the Knights’ a little off-guard.
The move paid off but expect the Bulldogs to go back to their 4-3 look when they take on Ada Friday night.
While the defense has made some changes, the offense has developed from a year of hard knocks last year to a smooth running machine this year.
Led by Blake Lawrence, the Bulldog signal caller spearheads the Bulldog balanced attack. Lawrence has passed for 663 yards and six touchdowns but more importantly has only one interception this year. On the ground, Lawrence has rushed for 136 yards and six touchdowns.
Schafer said the Bulldog receiving corps is blessed with four or five players who can catch the ball and make things happen.
Senior receiver Caleb Barrientes is the top receiver with 12 catches for 162 yards and one touchdown and Gabe Clement leads the team in receiving yards with 191 on seven catches and one touchdown. Trevor Taylor, who has shown his explosive abilities as returner, has snared nine catches for 108 yards and Adam Bogart has six catches for 93 yards and one touchdown.
Highlighting the running game is Garrett Nemire who has run for 456 yards and five touchdowns and his backfield mate Colin Metzger has accumulated 163 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think we are hard for teams to prepare for with everyone that we have,” Schafer said. “I don’t think we have peaked by any means. They are still learning.”
Columbus Grove will try to keep improving and winning when the Bulldogs face a banged-up Ada team that comes in with 15 players on the roster.
Ada has beaten Columbus Grove in the last three years by a combined score of 97-21 including a 37-0 loss last year.
“To say that was a beating is an understatement,” Schafer said. “We have four seniors on the team last year and a lot of the guys are back from last year and they remember that bad taste in their mouth.”
Schafer added that this new found confidence has become contagious among the team and the community and loves to see the excitement generated in the stands, in the hallways and on the field.
“This is something new for us,” Schafer said. “It is no secret that Columbus Grove has struggled in the last several years but it is good to see Columbus Grove get back on track and hopefully it will catapult us into the future.”
In other NWC action this week, Crestview (4-1, 2-0) will look to bounce back after last week’s loss to Columbus Grove with a trip to Spencerville (4-1, 2-0) the only other remaining squad in the conference with an unblemished record. Bluffton plays host to Allen East and Paulding faces Delphos Jefferson Saturday.
NORTHWEST CENTRAL CONFERENCE
With its win over Waynesfield-Goshen last Friday, Perry remains one of two schools to have an unblemished conference mark. The Commodores (4-1, 2-0) take on Upper Scioto Valley (2-3, 1-1) this week. The Rams are coming off a 44-6 win over Ridgemont. Hardin Northern (2-3, 1-1) faces Lehman Catholic (3-2, 2-0) the other unbeaten team in the conference and Ridgemont (1-4, 0-2) travels to Elgin (1-4, 0-2).