D-line dominant for Columbus Grove

COLUMBUS GROVE — With a quick glance down the Columbus Grove defensive line, it might be easy to dismiss the smallest guy on the line for the state semifinal-bound Bulldogs.

When it comes to 5-foot-9, 180-pound Kyle Lathrop, that would be a big mistake. He’s proof that big things can come in small packages.

“I want to be high motor, being physical, every chance I get,” said Lathrop, a senior defensive end. “I want to hit someone, to show them that you’re there.”

Next up on the docket for Lathrop and Co. is Versailles (12-2) in the Division VI state semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Wapakoneta’s Mercy Health Wapak Ford Field.

Lathrop leads the team with 16 tackles for a loss, including a team-high 13 sacks. He delivered a key fourth-quarter sack in last week’s 17-10 win against Bluffton, who the Bulldogs also defeated in the regular season finale to clinch the Northwest Conference championship. He also has 10 hurries for the Bulldogs. Lathrop is tied for third on the team with 87 tackles.

“He just moves his body so well,” Columbus Grove coach Andy Schafer said. “He’s got great balance, and certainly he goes as hard as he can.”

The efforts of Lathrop and fellow defensive linemen Connor Douglas (6-5, 275 pounds, senior), Kylan Mayes (6-1, 240, junior) and Layton Blankemeyer (6-2, 170, junior) put Columbus Grove (12-2) where it is now. The Bulldogs are riding an 11-game winning streak since losing to Patrick Henry way back on Sept. 1. They’re only allowing 98.6 rushing yards per game. Against Bluffton, Trenton Worcester, a first-team all-NWC pick, only tallied 31 yards of rushing. Overall, the Bulldogs outscore their opponents by an average of 33.9 to 13.4.

Mayes and Lathrop were both all-conference first-team defensive players, along with linebacker Loudon Auchmuty and defensive back Zach Reynolds.

They’re no slouches against the pass, either, allowing just 119.3 passing yards per game.

“Every Wednesday, we do these pass rush drills and take it very seriously,” said Lathrop, who is also an accomplished wrestler. “You have to have a motor and start feeling it. You start feeling like making tackles and getting back there.”

Reynolds leads the Bulldogs with six interceptions this year, including one that stopped Bluffton’s momentum in last week’s game to clinch a second-straight visit to the state semifinals.

“We talked about how every regional championship we went to, that we won, and we weren’t going to be the group to end that streak,” Reynolds said.

Now the Bulldogs face a Versailles team that finished third in the powerhouse Midwest Athletic Conference. Schafer said Versailles runs a similar offense to Columbus Grove’s.

Versailles led the MAC in rushing offense at 197.3 yards per game, led by quarterback Michael Osborne (74.5 yards per game) and running back Joel Gehret (63.0 yards per game). Osborne has also averaged 124 yards per game through the air, with Jace Watren as his favorite target, for 48.8 yards per game receiving.

“We need to play Bulldog football and go into the week very, very focused,” Lathrop said. “We know it’s a MAC team, and last year our season was ended by a MAC team (Marion Local). We don’t want our season to get ended by a MAC team again this year.”

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.