News file photo East Knox’s Gage Steinmetz (24) gets ready to tackle a Highland runner during a game earlier this season. Steinmetz and the Bulldog defense will have its work cut out for them this Friday when they travel to Northmor.

News file photo

East Knox’s Gage Steinmetz (24) gets ready to tackle a Highland runner during a game earlier this season. Steinmetz and the Bulldog defense will have its work cut out for them this Friday when they travel to Northmor.


GALION — A playoff atmosphere, along with somewhat more autumn-like weather, will be part of a mid-season clash of the top two contenders for the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference football crown. The East Knox Bulldogs travel to Galion this Friday to face the Northmor Golden Knights in a battle of undefeated teams that could go a long way in determining the eventual winner of the KMAC in 2019.

The Knights, easy 47-13 winners over rival Mount Gilead last week, were tested at home against the Centerburg Trojans (the third contender for the KMAC title) two weeks ago. Northmor defeated the Trojans, 27-21, gaining 410 total yards on offense. Northmor’s 6-foot-2, 185 pound quarterback Hunter Mariotti (46-of-81, 790 yards, nine TDs, 2 INTs, this season) struck twice, in the second half, for touchdown passes of 50 and 60 yards to 5-foot-9, 145 pound senior teammate Wyatt Reeder (578 yards rushing, 182 receiving, in 2019). Not only did Reeder lead the Knights in receiving against Centerburg, but he was also their leading rusher against the Trojans with 110 yards. The Bulldogs will need to look out for him and receiver Gavin Ramos, who has 20 receptions for 233 yards, this year. Expect Mariotti to spread the ball around. Northmor’s Blake Miller has eight catches for 219 yards and Bryce Downard has four catches for 38 yards, this season.

“It’s our greatest challenge, this year,” said East Knox head football coach Cody Reese. “We just have to get down to work and improve. We’ll just go Friday night and see what happens. Northmor has been more run-heavy in years past. This year, they’re a dual threat. That presents problems within itself. We just have to do the best we can to cover the run and the pass. They have pretty good receivers and a good (offensive) line, too.”

The Knights’ performance on defense against the Trojans might provide a telltale sign of how they might do against the Bulldogs this Friday. They held the Trojans scoreless from the opening seconds of the second quarter until Centerburg running back Donnell Marshall ran for a touchdown with a little over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Knights also got a pick-6 from defender Mike Delaney in that game. Northmor has a total of nine interceptions this year.

Reeder leads the Knights in tackles with 55 through the first half of the season. Along with him are: Max Lower (34 tackles), Miller (26), Austin Hammond (41), Ramos (33), Hunter Brookover (25) and Brandon Planey (25). Miller also has three sacks.

“Each week, we have to see what each team is going to give us,” Reese said, “We’ve been able to have some success, running the ball. We just have to make sure we continue getting better and that starts up front.”

The Bulldogs have devoured their first five opponents this season. In five games, they have scored a total of 251 points, while only giving up only 38. Northmor promises to be their first big test of the season.

The Bulldogs are led by running back Ryan Gallwitz (1,229 rushing yards) and a very disciplined offense. The Bulldogs block at the line of scrimmage and downfield. Last week, they rolled over a young Fredericktown squad, 69-0. The week before, the Bulldogs and Gallwitz put up a big second half to beat Highland, 40-9. The closest thing the Bulldogs have had to a test, this season, would be three weeks ago at River View. Again, East Knox came on strong in the second half with a pair of touchdowns to win, 33-14.

Gallwitz has carried the ball 101 times this season. Amazingly, 22 of those carries have ended with a Bulldogs’ touchdown. So far, Gallwitz has not run for less than 204 yards in a game. The Bulldogs can also hurt teams through the air. With receivers like Gage Steinmetz (20 receptions, 266 yards), Cade Leach (7-for-156), Braden Kannaday (5-for-117) and Weston Melick (8-for-100), it does opponents little good to key on Gallwitz. That should give the Northmor defense plenty to think about on Friday.

“(Gallwitz) is so good and the offensive line does such a good job creating a seam,” said Northmor head coach Scott Armrose. “He can find a seam anywhere. It looks like he can pick and choose where he’s going to run the ball. Our strength is our line and our linebackers. We’re going to have to control the line of scrimmage on Friday night.”

The Bulldogs have won their last two games by a combined 109-9 total, with their defense only allowing a single touchdown in their last nine quarters. East Knox tackle Dawson David is a defensive stud, who leads the Bulldogs with 47 tackles and four sacks, David had 10 solo tackles last Friday. Along with him defensively are: Melick (31.5 tackles) Kannaday (20) and Gage Steinmetz (25).

“East Knox has a very physical defense,” said Armrose. “They’ve done a lot of blitzing this year, which is going to be a challenge for us. We’re going to stick with our balanced offensive attack. We use the ‘take what you give us’ approach. So, if they keep eight guys in the box, we’ll throw the ball and, if they back off, we’ll run the ball.”

These two teams have built up a rivalry in the past few seasons. It was about a year ago that they met at Chet Looney Stadium in Week 7. Just like this year, both teams were undefeated. The Knights won in 2018 by a score of 15-14. In 2017, the 7-0 Bulldogs won in Northmor, 32-24, handing the Knights one of their only two defeats in the regular season. It would turn out to be the highlight of a hardluck 2017.

The intangible here is that the Bulldogs need this victory, because they host Centerburg next week. The Bulldogs remember getting off to great starts in 2017 and 2018, only to watch their post-season playoff hopes get dashed in the final half of both seasons. If the Bulldogs lose to Northmor this week, that would put them in a must-win situation in next week’s game against the Trojans. Losing both games greatly shrinks their post-season prospects. Even winning both of these games is no guarantee the Bulldogs will play in the post season. They still have to win out in the second half of the season, where improved teams like Mount Gilead and Cardington await, along with archrival Danville.

“We take it one week at a time,” Reese said. “Nothing else matters. We’re playing a good Northmor team, but we are focused on improving from last week. We are working on our game plan, trying to execute at the highest level possible.”

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Geoff Cowles: 740-397-5333 or and on Twitter, @