This weekend’s slate of DODDS-Europe football semifinal games will determine the participants in the Nov. 1 final four, the pair of championship games that will crown Division I and II champions. Here, however, are the sweet 16; the players that will have a lot to say about whether their teams advance to next weekend’s championship games.

Division I

Kaiserslautern at WiesbadenThe undefeated defending champions are loaded with playmakers on either side of the ball, including a handful who qualify as both. Count CJ Pridgen among that versatile group. Among DODDS-Europe’s most gifted athletes, Pridgen deploys his speed, length and jumping ability for game-changing receptions on offense and game-saving interceptions and deflections on defense. Teammate Deshon Barrow ranks as an equally explosive presence with his breakaway speed on runs and kick returns.

The underdog Raiders will need to perform at their best in all facets to compete. Quarterback Bridger Hawkins will have to form the team’s occasional flashes of offensive excellence into a cohesive, game-long attack; senior linebacker Bradly Lemon will lead the defensive resistance.

Patch at RamsteinThe allegedly rebuilding Royals got an immediate boost from the arrival of Ben Ciero, a proven standout running back at Lakenheath who flourished even more after transferring behind Ramstein’s sizeable line. The senior is far from the only runner to find success in Ramstein’s system this year, but he’s among the team’s most consistent and will likely see plenty of handoffs this weekend. Antonio Ortiz, another senior bent on leaving school on a winning note, should also take a few carries and do damage from his linebacker spot.

The Panthers didn’t find any traction in a 45-0 September loss to the Royals, but their passing game has matured in the interim. Quarterback Holten Sparling, of course, is the key to that effort, and a big game from him is Patch’s best and possibly only path to an upset. Linebacker Jay Deal will headline the defensive unit tasked with slowing the Royals and keeping the offense in range.

Division II

Vicenza at AnsbachThe undefeated, top-seeded Cougars didn’t reach the level they’re at now standing on just a few sets of shoulder pads. But even a machine like Ansbach’s has key cogs. Roger Brownell is among DODDS-Europe’s most versatile performers, capable of shoving in a short-yardage touchdown run, corralling a deep pass, picking off an errant throw and wrenching loose a fumble from a ball carrier’s grasp. Dorian Jones, meanwhile, doubles as the team’s workhorse running back and defensive stalwart.

As with Patch’s Sparling above, Vicenza’s passing game will have to be on point to stand up to the expected Ansbach onslaught. Quarterback Mario Molina has emerged this season as one of DODDS-Europe’s most accomplished offensive players, and he’ll have an opportunity to prove it all over again against a top-flight defense. Defensive linchpin Dillon Williams, fresh off a dominant effort in last weekend’s quarterfinal defeat of Bitburg, will need to duplicate that effort against Ansbach’s corps of runners.

Naples at HohenfelsThe reigning Stars and Stripes football Athlete of the Year has only grown stronger as a senior. Tiger running back David Vidovic remains the most intimidating offensive force in DODDS-Europe football, a constant threat to run over, around and through even the stoutest defense for a highlight-reel touchdown. But Naples will likely have a plan to at least attempt to limit Vidovic’s impact on the game; if it works, skill-position peers like quarterback Clayton Pinheiro will need to step in and produce points.

The task for Naples is to contain Vidovic while conserving enough energy to launch an offensive response. Wildcat sophomore quarterback Ty’Rick Riggins initiates a Naples offense that features a half-dozen big-play threats in its rotating backfield while teaming with many of those same players on the other side of the ball. Defensive leader and skilled tackler Turon Palmer gives the Wildcats a chance to hold their own against the defending Division II champs.

Twitter: @broomestripes

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