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In 2020, March Madness can get a rebrand as Fall Frenzy in the Northwest Conference as the league will begin its three-week path to crown a conference champion with the first round of NWC Tournament play on Friday.

For Paulding, this means a trip to Allen East after the Panthers finished 1-2 in their first three contests, third in the West Division.

The Panthers have plenty of confidence on their side, however, after a competitive 26-20 effort in a week three loss to 3-0 Spencerville, the two-time defending conference champion. Paulding rallied from a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter on a Deyton Price kick return touchdown and had the ball on the game’s final play.

“I’m really proud of the effort by the team last Friday,” said head coach Tyler Arend. “We knew it was going to be a battle. In order to beat Spencerville, you have to have toughness and discipline and the kids showed those traits.”

The Panthers will need another dose of that Friday in a trip to Harrod. The 2-1 Mustangs nearly won the East Division last week with a 30-21 loss against Columbus Grove and have the NWC’s top passing attack.

“We know what Allen East brings to the table, they’re hard-nosed,” said Arend. “It’s a different type of game plan than Spencerville, they want to spread it out a little bit and get in their athletes’ hands. They turned a corner as a program, made the playoffs last year, so it’s going to be a challenge but our guys are up for it.”

Tyler Clum leads the Mustang passing attack with 721 yards (58-of-86) and eight touchdowns while rushing for 92 yards and five TDs this season.

Receiver Bradden Crumrine leads the conference with 309 receiving yards and three TDs on 16 catches while Carter Young has 15 receptions for 158 yards and two TDs and Garrett Newland has 12 catches for 123 yards and two scores.

“We’re going to have to make tackles in space, they want to get the ball out quick to the edge,” explained Arend. “There’s going to be a lot of work on open-field tackling in practice this week.”

Though the Panthers made their bones with a smashmouth rushing attack in an improved 4-6 season in 2019, the Panthers have used the passing game in 2020 as senior QB Payton Beckman is second in the NWC with 570 yards (32-of-61) and five TDs.

Caleb Manz, who suffered a broken hand during the Panthers’ opener against Delphos Jefferson where he caught seven passes for 237 yards and two TDs, will not play against Allen East but will return this season.

With the No. 2 receiver in the NWC by yardage out, cousin Adrian Manz (Sr., 6-3) will be targeted in the pass game with 12 catches for 210 yards and two TDs this season. Price caught three passes for 85 yards and a TD against Spencerville and has six catches for 111 yards on the year.

A win against Allen East would place the Panthers in the NWC semifinals against the Spencerville-Ada winner while a loss would drop Paulding into the loser’s bracket against the Spencerville-Ada loser.

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