Ansbach runs past Vicenza for berth in finals
October 25, 2014
ANSBACH, Germany – Welcome back, Cougars.
The top-seeded Ansbach Cougars returned to the DODDS-Europe Division II championship game Saturday with a gritty 32-12 victory over visiting Vicenza. The win gives the former European dynasty its first title-game berth since 2011 and a chance for its first championship since winning two straight in 2007 and 2008.
Ansbach will take on defending champion Hohenfels in next Saturday’s Division II final at Kaiserslautern High School.
In a departure from its dominant 5-0 regular season and quarterfinal cruise over Aviano, Saturday’s outcome was very much in doubt deep into the first half.
The teams traded fruitless drives in the first quarter and did the same for much of the second until freshman running back Tyler Benton shook free for a game-breaking 38-yard touchdown run. Roger Brownell added a 3-yard run in the final half-minute before the break. Benton punched in two-point conversions on both touchdowns, and suddenly the stalemate was a 16-0 lead for the home team.
Vicenza tracked down Benton short of the end zone on a pair of earlier long runs. He finished the job on his next opportunity, weaving through the Vicenza secondary and crossing the goal line undisturbed.
“I saw a cut and I took it,” Benton said.
Vicenza found its share of first-half success, snuffing out Ansbach handoffs and moving the ball upfield on runs by quarterback Mario Molina and running back Max Monnard. But its drives into scoring territory dissolved in turnovers and tackles for loss and both of its field-goal attempts went awry.
Ansbach coach Marcus George said Vicenza’s versatile athletes and creative offensive scheming gave his team fits early on, and his team’s poor offensive play only exacerbated the situation. He said Ansbach was lucky to escape the game’s opening minutes without falling behind, crediting the Cougar defense for maintaining the scoreless tie while the offense found its way.
“We knew they were going to be real physical, we knew they were going to be sound, we knew they were a bunch of hard hitters,” George said of Vicenza. “They really presented a big problem for us.”
Vicenza coach Kurt York lamented that the wet, rainy field conditions prevented his team from unleashing its passing attack, which hindered their early drives.
“We tend to come out with a little more pass. We weren’t able to get that started,” York said.
Regardless, York was pleased with the way his underdog squad competed Saturday.
“They put heart in it. They really did,” York said of his team. “I’m very, very proud of them.
“I’m not disappointed at all. Not at all.”
Flashing the resilience their coach described, the visiting Cougars came out strong in the third, their efforts eventually paying off on a 2-yard touchdown run by Molina for the team’s first score. That cut the Ansbach lead to 16-6, and a Molina interception cancelled Ansbach’s ensuing drive and gave Vicenza possession at its own 15.
That would prove to be the visitors’ last gasp. Vicenza handed the ball over on downs, and Roger Brownell took the first Ansbach snap 15 yards for a lead-extending touchdown. A Nick Abel interception set up another home-team score, a Bailey Ward pass to KJ Watters. Benton and Ward converted two-point runs for a prohibitive 32-6 lead as the game approached the halfway point of the fourth quarter.
Despite the slow start, Ward said Ansbach stuck with the core principles that gave it six sizeable margins of victory entering Saturday.
“We go back to the things that work for us,” Ward said.
While Ansbach looks forward to next week, Vicenza is left to look back at all it accomplished this fall. The Cougars earned a playoff spot with a 3-2 regular-season record on a tough southern-Europe schedule and registered a program highlight with a quarterfinal victory last weekend on the home turf of recent four-time champion Bitburg.
“From where we started to where we ended up is a fantastic climb,” York said.