Allen East head coach Wes Schroeder remembers the precise moment when he knew his team was going to win the Northwest Conference.
The Mustangs were locked in a close, hard fought battle with Crestview in week 9 and Allen East was leading 14-7.
Facing a third and long on a late drive, Schroeder went to something his receiver, Cole Fletcher, had mentioned two days prior to the game. Fletcher told his coach that he never gets a chance at the jump ball and he would make the play if called on. Trusting his senior, Schroeder went with the suggestion and Fletcher responded with the the clutch reception and it helped propel the Mustangs to the 20-14 win.
From there, the Mustangs won their final game against Ada the following week and secured the conference crown.
“In my mind I thought (when he caught it) we just won the league championship because they weren’t going to stop us from that point on,” Schroeder said. “We had so much momentum going into the last game that we weren’t going to get derailed and when Cole caught that ball I thought ‘I think we just won a league title.’”
The NWC title was the first since 1995 for Allen East which went 9-1 this year and 6-1 in the conference. The Mustangs would also qualify for the postseason for the first time since since 2006. This is the third team in the school’s 54-year football history to win the league and go to the playoffs in the same year. The previous two times was in 1989 and 1990.
Trusting Fletcher, the other players and his coaching staff is one of the primary reasons Schroeder said helped turn the program around in two short years. Last season, the Mustangs posted their first winning season in the NWC in 2018 and then really took major strides for the program this year.
“The bond is everything and how close we were,” Schroeder said. “When we did our senior speeches kids were crying because of how much we meant to each other and that is so much bigger than the championship but you also know it was a driving force in getting the league championship and making the playoffs because you have to be willing to sacrifice things that are best for the team.”
Schroeder added another major factor in the turnaround began with him finding a quality coaching staff.
“I was fortunate to have a staff that bought in to what we were doing in Justin Hahn, Mason Acheson, Joel Billings, David Pryor and Jimmy Bright. I had a vision of where I wanted to be offensively, defensively and special team wise and they helped me carry that out. The kids bought into it and we just kept pushing the same message over and over again. They bought in what I wanted to do and they enhanced it and that was a big piece in finding those guys that I trusted.”
When he first took over at Allen East, Schroeder knew he was getting into a competitive league where all the teams in the NWC have had success and he felt he could do the same with the Mustangs.
“I was like this would be special if we get our chance and I figured it would happen soon but not this soon,” Schroeder said. “It was just because our kids were special and the coaches what they did was special so it was a special year and a lot of fun. We were NWC champs and you can never take that away.”
Schoreder added that he thought this was going to be a special season in the first game when Allen East defeated rival Bath on a late field goal.
“We beat them in back-to-back years and then Bath goes around and beats Shawnee and then beats Elida so they beat the two other Lima WBL teams so we are the best Lima team in the WBL,” Schroeder joked. “Look Allen East is supposed to be the bad team in Allen County and we beat Bath and Bath beat the other two WBL teams and LCC was really good and we felt we could play with them … so it wasn’t far fetched that we were the best team in Allen County and that is pretty special to say about Allen East who is not used to hearing those things.”
Even though the Mustangs reached a number of major milestones, Schroeder, like all good coaches, wonders what could have been if some key injuries did not set them back.
“I personally think, I wonder what could have been,” Schroeder said. “We are what could have been if we didn’t lose Tyler Clum and Hunter Paxton with season ending injuries. We ended up being resilient like these kids always are and fought through it and went 9-1 and won a league championship so reflecting its pretty special.”
Schroeder said people are going to remember this team because it doesn’t happen that often. Although the Allen East coach hopes to continue to build on this season with more league titles and playoffs.
“I think this school, at Allen East is one of the best schools to coach at in northwest Ohio,” Schroeder said. “We have great facilities. We have great parent support. We have great community support. There is talent and there is interest in football and it is trending in the right direction. Allen East is looking up. I feel their best days are ahead of them.”