Aviano tops Naples to get chance to defend title
By NORMAN LLAMAS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 26, 2019
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – Quarterback Michael Hauser scored three touchdowns and an opportunistic defense stopped the Naples Wildcats when it needed to Saturday as the Aviano Saints returned to the DODEA-Europe Division II title game with a 24-10 victory.
With the win, the Saints will be playing hosts to Rota, a team they know pretty well, since the Nov. 2 contest will mark the third meeting between the two teams this season. The championship game is usually played in Kaiserslautern, Germany, but DODEA recently decided to award the top seed in the division host rights this season.
“Naples came to play football today,” Aviano coach Rick Dahlstrom said. “This game was certainly a battle.”
Aviano turned a 10-0 halftime lead into a 24-3 advantage before Naples could find the end zone late in the fourth quarter. By that time, the game was essentially over.
“The first half could have easily been 10-7 us,” Naples coach Jim Davis said. “There were plenty of chances for us but, when you don’t take advantage of those chances, that ends up being the end result.”
After both teams traded drives, Aviano opened the scoring when Hauser capped a 54-yard drive by running it end from the left side.
Naples responded with a long drive that reached just 4 yards short of the goal. But a fumble and sack moved the ball back and a field goal attempt was short.
After another stalled drive from each team – ended by a dropped pass on fourth down from Naples and a fumble by Aviano - Hauser connected with DJ Vaughns to put Aviano within striking distance and Raymond Harden’s field goal just before halftime widened the lead.
At the start of the third quarter, Naples again started to move the ball well but - facing a fourth down and two - Keith Rascoe was sacked by Aviano defenders and Aviano again took over on downs.
Another Aviano turnover gave Naples back the ball deep in its territory. But the Saints forced the Wildcats to punt.
After moving the ball to the Naples 19-yard line, Hauser kept the ball and ran right up the middle for a Saints touchdown, putting his team up 17-0.
Naples responded by driving down the field and reached the Aviano 7. But hampered by penalties and a stout Aviano defense, Naples settled for a field goal.
The teams then traded possessions again before Aviano - on the strength of runs from Josiah Cooper and Hauser – scored with under four minutes to play on Hauser’s third scoring jaunt.
With the Saints leading 24-3 and with less than four minutes left to play, Naples finally put together a drive that resulted in a touchdown.
Aided by strong runs from Tigus Hunter and fellow back JJ Krieger, the Wildcats moved down field and created the final tally on a run to the right side from Hunter.
“We were in the championship game last year versus this very same team,” Davis said. “Obviously we wanted to get back to playing in the final game, but it wasn’t to be.”
Aviano won that game a year ago for its first football title in two decades. The Saints will now have a chance to repeat if they can duplicate the results of the 24-21 triumph over Rota on Oct. 12.
“I’m proud of the boys and of the coaching staff,” Dahlstrom said. “Our kids worked hard to make it to the championship game and we’re going to give it our best shot.”
Chosen Lakombe, a running back with the Naples Wildcats runs past Aviano Saints defenders during Saturday's DODEA's Division II semifinal game held at Aviano between the Saints and Wildcats. Aviano won the game 24-10 and will play host to the Rota Admirals, Nov. 2, in the championship game.
NORMAN LLAMAS/STARS AND STRIPES