Sentinel quarterback Casey Supinger throws a pass during a game on Sept. 29, 2023, at Spangdahlem High School in Spangdahlem, Germany.

Sentinel quarterback Casey Supinger throws a pass during a game on Sept. 29, 2023, at Spangdahlem High School in Spangdahlem, Germany. (Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes)

AFNORTH’s season-opening loss to Spangdahlem was the epitome of Murphy’s law: Anything that could have gone wrong, did.

The Lions (6-1) committed penalty after penalty, be them blocking infractions or false starts, and they constantly were behind the chains. They likely had negative yards of total offense, according to coach James Argyle, as the Sentinels (7-0) smothered them on defense.

The mercy rule was enacted during the third quarter, as Arygle described how miscues such as turnovers and near turnovers piled up.

Not all was doom and gloom following that 42-0 decision, though. And the AFNORTH coach made sure to let the Lions know that.

“After that game, I told the players even though we got the wheels beat off (us) that game, that fundamentally didn’t change our goals for the season – we could still make it to the championship game,” Argyle said. “We’ve done what we had to do since then, winning six in a row.”

That winning streak has the Lions meeting up with the Sentinels once again, this time for all the marbles. The top two teams during the regular season are meeting Saturday evening at Spangdahlem High School in the DODEA-Europe Division III football title game.

Despite the win on Sept. 8, the Sentinels don’t anticipate this time to be easy.

“AFNORTH’s not going to roll over for us,” Spangdahlem coach Terrence Hoffman said. “They do have some athletes, so we’re going to have to stay honest on the line of scrimmage and just make sure that we can control their running game.”

The Lions’ rushing attack has grown throughout the season, thanks in large part to the addition of James Bennett. The right guard/receiver PCS’ed into the school after the opening game, and Argyle praised his impact on the team, combined with the efforts of center Nathan Frederickson.

Those two have helped clear the way for running backs Connor Luminarias and Nathan Goldsmith. Luminarias missed a few games midseason due to an injury but has produced multiple five-touchdown games, including in a 38-12 win over Alconbury on Sept. 16 and a 47-46 overtime victory at Sigonella that put the Lions in the driver’s seat for a title-game berth on Oct. 14.

Argyle called Goldsmith the steady Eddy of the backfield.

“We talked about how well Connor and Nathan have been running, it really comes down to the blocking,” Argyle said. “We’ve really improved that over the course of the season.”

Still, Saturday will show how much that offensive line has really improved.

Spangdahlem’s defense allowed just 28 points through the first six games. The unit’s speed has proven to be suffocating, led by shutdown corner Markario Drummond. Corderick Sago, the youngest player on the field for the Sentinels, is the defensive leader, according to Hoffman.

The coach said the team must maintain gap discipline and keep the Lions from reaching the corners to stifle the running game and force them into going to the air, which suits the Sentinels better.

“We’ve tried to utilize our speed all season any way that we can,” Hoffman said. “It’s one of the things I’ve learned coaching six-man football over the course of these last four years: Speed is something you definitely want on the field.”

That speed is evident on offense, too, especially in the deadly connection between quarterback Casey Supinger and Robert Leggett. The Sentinels averaged nearly 50 points per game through the first six weeks.

Argyle said the Lions understand how difficult it will be to defeat Spangdahlem, especially on the road and without getting a full week of practice. AFNORTH is currently on fall break.

The Sentinels have mercy-ruled everybody except for Ansbach. They still beat the Cougars by 22 points on Sept. 22.

If the Lions can clean up the mistakes they made in the first matchup, chances are they can make a game of it, Argyle said.

“If we don’t beat ourselves, then we still have to go and beat Spangdahlem,” he said. “If we’re able to do all those things, then we got to go and make plays.

“It’s going to be a tall task. Spangdahlem is the best team in the league this season – that’s an undisputed fact. So, we’re really going to have to play our best game.”

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Matt is a sports reporter for Stars and Stripes based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. A son of two career Air Force aircraft maintenance technicians, he previously worked at newspapers in northeast Ohio for 10 years and is a graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

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