Jefferson still has hopes of a Northwest Conference crown and a playoff berth in Region 18 with a 5-1 mark (including 4-1 in the Northwest Conference; ranked 9th in the region).
Columbus Grove — well out of the playoff picture at 3-3 (1-3 in the NWC) — would like nothing better than to put a huge damper on that hope.
The two rivals meet up Friday night at Stadium Park.
“You look at the three losses Grove has: LCC, Ada and Spencerville and they have two losses between them. What we have seen lately is they have gone back to the things we’ve seen in the past from Grove: running the football and using three guys to mix it up,” Jefferson coach Bub Lindeman explained. “They have a very good quarterback in Collin Grothaus, who can beat you with both his feet and his arm; he is very athletic, so they run a lot of bootlegs. They tried to throw the ball more early on but that didn’t seem to work as well, so they have changed gears. They still have a good-sized line.
“Defensively, they are in the base 4-3 but since we have gone to a lot of double tight ends and want to run the ball ourselves, I expect them to put nine and even 10 in the box. We’re used to that — we saw that last week against Crestview — so it simply comes down to us executing our offense.”
Jefferson has been very much ground-oriented this fall, averaging 258.7 yards rushing (out of 394.5 per game) and 36.8 points. Junior tailback Zavier Buzard has gone over the 1,000-yard mark (1,033 on 136 carries, 15 touchdowns; 7 grabs, 97 yards, 1) and senior fullback Quinten Wessell (67 rushes, 479 yards, 8) mixes it up. The passing game is headed by Austin Jettinghoff (42-of-80 passing, 807 yards, 8 TDs, 4 picks; 20 extra points) throwing to Ross Thompson (21 catches, 403 yards, 4) and Drew Kortokrax (10 for 215, 1; 15 punts, 45.7-yard average). The left side of the line in senior tackle Geoff Ketcham (17 pancake blocks) and guard Evan Stant (14) leads the way.
The Wildcat defense yields 22.3 markers and 307.3 yards. Wessell (53 solos, 18 assists) is the top ’Cat, along with Thompson (45 and 19), Dalton Hicks (38 and 22), Kortokrax (37 and 9), Colin McConnahea (24 and 12) and Chris Truesdale (4 picks).
“We’re healthy coming into the game. Those double-weekends were taking a toll but we’ve scaled back our practices some,” Lindeman continued. “We realized we needed to let them be kids and recover and they have. They took care of themselves and those bumps and bruises have healed up.”
The Wildcats come off a 32-27 triumph at Crestview.
“Their quarterback (Preston Zaleski) is very similar to what we will see this week; a good arm and very quick running the football,” he added. “What I was most concerned about was our slow start; we had a 3-and-out on our first series and they scored on their second play of scrimmage. They had a couple guys back from injury that we hadn’t seen on films before and they played well; we were fortunate to be tied at 14 at the half. The kids refocused at halftime and came out to play physical football on both sides.
“That is the team we have been seeking to be all the time.”
Andy Schafer has discovered some things in his first season at Grove coming off a 30-21 win over non-league foe Evergreen.
“We’ve tried to figure out what works well on both sides of the ball, how to implement my system and what they have done before here. We started out well but then hit a wall with our losses to three very good teams,” he explained. “We also re-evaluated our personnel and what fits what we have there; we decided to go back to what Grove has traditionally done; smash-mouth football. I think we now have an identity and what we know we can do well.
“Defensively, we’ve had to slow down. We’ve been overly aggressive at times. For example, we shut down the base stuff versus the teams we lost to but gave up big plays because we were too out of position and too attacking. We’ve dialed things down some and we’re playing better.”
Grothaus (111 rushes, 497 yards, 7 scores; 48-of-91 passing, 747 yards, 7 TDs. 7 picks) leads the Bulldog attack, along with Dakota Vogt (62 rushes, 438 yards, 6 scores; 9 catches, 185 yards, 1), Joey Warnecke (61 rushes, 332 yards, 2), Blake Hoffman (12 grabs, 252 yards, 2) and David Bogart (11 catches, 145 yards, 2) for an offense averaging 25,5 points and 345.2 yards (220.7 rushing) per game.
Defensively, Brandon Benroth (38 solos, 17 assists) is the top ’Dog, with plenty of help from Warnecke (32 solos, 14 assists), Vogt (29 and 6), Alec Gladwell (29 and 4), Hoffman (20 and 8) and Grothaus (3 picks).
“It’s smash-mouth versus smash-mouth. I don’t think either team will try to fool anyone,” Schafer added. “It’s their Homecoming week, so the emotions will be even higher. For me, the key matchup is their very good defensive line versus our very good offensive line.”