Defense lifts Ramstein to D-I championship
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Still trying to absorb the enormity of Ramstein’s 7-6 victory over Wiesbaden in the European Division I high school football championship game Saturday night, Brian Greeley offered a one-sentence analysis.
“The defense played a helluva game,” said the Ramstein junior linebacker and most valuable defensive player of the game.
Greeley was speaking of his defensive unit, but he might just as well have spoken in the plural.
Both defenses played a helluva game.
Except for first-half touchdown passes by each team, here’s how hellacious those defenses were:
Wiesbaden, whose backfield features near 200-yard-per-game rusher Edmond Woods, muscular fullback Daniel Villarreal and super-sized wingback Paul Fry, threatened on every second-half possession, but could not score.
The Royals forced a punt on the first Wiesbaden possession of the half, ended a 43-yard Warriors drive by recovering a fumble on the Royals’ goal line, intercepted a pass on the Ramstein 25 and stopped the Warriors on downs inside the Ramstein 30 twice in the fourth quarter.
Wiesbaden’s ferocious defense was even better. The Warriors held Ramstein’s pro-style attack to 58 net yards by subjecting quarterback Matt Irwin to relentless pressure.
Ramstein scored first one play after recovering a muffed punt. Irwin tossed a 24-yard TD pass to Keyshawn Carr, open on a flag route, and Austin Izzo kicked the extra point.
Wiesbaden scored on a 44-yard drive capped by a four-yard Steve Jewell TD pass to Paul Fry with 4:35 left in the half. But the extra-point kick sailed wide left, and the Royals spent the rest of the game making the miss stand up.
The Royals defense held Wiesbaden’s rushers to 202 yards — a total Woods often reaches on his own. Saturday, he carried 31 times for 107 yards.
More importantly, Ramstein had three key takeaways. The first was the first-quarter recovery of the muffed punt that led to Ramstein’s only score.
The second was the goal-line fumble by Jewell on second-and-goal from the 3.
“That was our first fumbled snap of the season,” Wiesbaden coach Darryl Schwartz said.
The third came when Irwin picked off a Jewell pass in the flat on the Ramstein 25 to stop another Wiesbaden drive.
The Warriors also hurt themselves when a personal-foul penalty away from the ball erased an apparent third-quarter TD run by Woods.
Meanwhile, Wiesbaden’s defenders were stuffing Ramstein.
“We knew they’d be coming hard,” said Royals head coach Glenn Porter. “We worked all week on throwing quickly — taking three steps and letting the ball go.”
Even so, the Warriors sacked Irwin eight times, five by Stephen Barber.
Wiesbaden limited the Royals to seven third-quarter snaps, but one proved crucial. Irwin, who was 5-for-13 for 24 yards, lofted a wobbly floater from his own 6.
“The ball slipped out of my hand,” said Irwin, who saw Wiesbaden defensive back Jerry Kelly closing in for the pick 15 yards down the field on the left sideline.
The ball, however, slipped between Kelly’s arms, and Carr was there to gather it in for a 26-yard gain that allowed the Royals to avoid having to punt out of their end zone.
The Royals weren’t as lucky in the final period, when on third down Irwin was sacked inches shy of a safety. Izzo punted from just inside the end line and barely got the kick off. The punt rolled out to the Ramstein 38.
“It was definitely scary,” said Izzo, voted the game’s offensive MVP.
The victory allowed the fourth-seeded Royals to win their seventh European football title since the school opened in 1982, and their first since 1996.
It was an improbable end to a season that saw Ramstein go 2-3 in league play, including a 31-7 embarrassment at Wiesbaden on Sept. 20. Even so, the Royals didn’t doubt they could win it all, Greeley said.
“Never,” he said flatly. “Our coach sent our rosters to this place the first week of the season. He knew we’d be here.”