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Bulldog football hopes to spoil AE outright title hopes, make playoffs

Heated rivalry features storied past

By Cort Reynolds

On October 21, the annual Ada/Allen East backyard rivalry will be renewed at Harrod's Goodwin Field as the finale to the 2022 regular season–with a lot riding on the contest.

League-leading AE (8-1, 6-0 NWC) is cresting on a six-game win streak after defeating Leipsic 17-8 in Harrod last Friday to clinch at least a share of the Northwest Conference crown. 

The Mustangs are hoping for another deep playoff run, while Ada is hoping to make it to the expanded postseason for the first time since 2017.

But first and foremost, AE is seeking its first outright conference title in 27 seasons, while improving Ada (3-6, 2-4 NWC) would like to play spoiler. 

The Bulldogs have won two of their last three games while scoring 26.3 ppg. Shifty sophomore quarterback Levi Green has become an offensive force with his running and solid passing.

"Allen East is the top of our league," said Ada head coach Toby Smith. "We are going to have to be very disciplined if we are going to be able to compete with them."

The lone Mustang loss came to Elmwood in week three, 53-21. AE is rated second in Div. VI, Region 24 heading into week nine, while Ada is 16th in Div. II, Region 26.

"They run the spread on offense and a 3-3 stack on defense that rotates based upon formation," said Smith of AE. 

Elusive senior quarterback Jacob Hershberger leads the Mustang offense, which averages 35.1 points per game. The stingy AE defense allows 13.4 ppg. In six NWC games, they have given up just 54 points (9 ppg) while scoring 33.8 ppg.

Ada scores 22 ppg and allows 36 ppg. In NWC play, the Bulldogs average 20.2 ppg and permit 36.3 ppg.

Ada is 0-3 on the road, while AE is 3-1 at home.

Hershberger is a dangerous dual threat to pass and run, and receives quality help in the rushing game from Jack and Joe Hoel. Carson Clum leads a solid receiving corps.

AE was 10-4 last year (5-2 NWC) and advanced to the regional finals before losing to eventual Div. VI state runner-up Coldwater. It was the furthest playoff foray in Mustang program history.


Rich series history

The Mustangs have won the last four meetings between the rivals. AE beat Ada 49-6 last year, and won 41-14 at Harrod in 2020. In 2019 and 2018, they beat the Bulldogs 50-8 and 51-0.

Ada last defeated the Mustangs in 2017 by a 41-0 count. The most recent competitive game between the local foes was in 2016, when the purple and gold captured a 49-34 shootout.

With upset-minded Ada on the rise and AE looking to clinch a crown on its home field, this year's game could be the closest contest in the rivalry's recent history.

The Bulldogs dominated the rivalry from 2005-17, winning 13 in a row over AE. The run started in 2005 with a game-ending field goal by Zac Dysert that gave Ada a 23-20 season-ending win in the snow.

The rivalry may have been at its peak in the early 1970s when both teams routinely battled for the conference title. Ada won the NWC championship in 1971 (9-0) and 1973 (8-0), with AE second in 1971 (7-2) and third in 1973 (6-2).

The rivals tied for the 1972 league crown with Spencerville at 7-1, capped by arguably the most storied game in series history. The Mustangs held off Ada at the goal line in Lafayette to preserve a thrilling 21-18 late-October win to deny the Bulldogs, led by star running back Steve Decker, a second straight perfect season. 

Ada led 18-13 in the fourth period after Dennis Boutwell hauled in a clutch 20-yard touchdown pass on fourth down that was tipped.

But AE rallied late behind a TD screen pass from Jim Hensley to Al LaVallee with two minutes left. A crucial two-point conversion by Charlie Hensley gave the hosts a 21-18 lead. 

But a proud Ada team desperately drove 73 yards with the aid of some good catches and a pass interference penalty, trying to keep its unbeaten season alive, while their most heated foes sought to spoil their perfect record and win a share of the league crown. 

Known for his spin-move, Decker caught a pass from QB Vaughn Williams, but was stopped at the Mustang two-yard line with just seconds remaining and no timeouts left.

Ada hurriedly tried to get off a final play as time expired with fullback Sterling Brown attempting to find the end zone on a run play into the line. 

But the play was waved off as he disappeared amid a pile of players near the goal line, and some of the standing room only crowd rushed the field to celebrate the Mustang win.

Two weeks later, the Bulldogs salvaged a piece of the league title by beating previously-unbeaten Spencerville 22-14 on the road in the season finale to force a three-way tie with AE and the Bearcats.

Ada avenged the bitter defeat to AE with a win the next season to regain the league crown outright. But the controversial finish kept the Bulldogs from what could have been three straight outright league titles. 

During that span under the tutelage of head coach Gary Ricker, Ada fashioned a dominating 24-1 record. Meanwhile, AE also compiled a very good 20-5 mark.

The Bulldogs then won just one outright NWC title between 1974 and 2007, that coming in 1979 (9-0). Ada captured consecutive undefeated outright league crowns in 2008 and 2009 under Mike Fell.

Both teams have won eight NWC football titles, with Ada capturing six outright and two shared banners. AE has won five outright crowns and three shared championships. 

The Mustangs shared the 2019 title with Spencerville and Columbus Grove, but have not won an outright crown since 1995. AE was a powerhouse for years under Ada native head coach Bill Goodwin, who led the program for its first 34 seasons after the school consolidated in the mid-1960s.

In 76 seasons of play in the NWC since 1947, AE has compiled a 317-263-8 overall record for a .535 win percentage. In 59 years as a member of the NWC since 1964, the Bulldogs are 243-213-13 (.522).