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RAF LAKENHEATH, England -- The Lakenheath Lancers knocked off the defending champion Stuttgart Panthers 31-26 on Saturday to advance to the 2018 DODEA-Europe Division I football championship game.

The Lancers will play the Ramstein Royals in pursuit of their first Division I football title Nov. 3 at Kaiserslautern High School.

Saturday’s semifinal was a rematch of Lakenheath’s 28-25 regular-season victory Sept. 22, a significant win that ultimately ensured the Lancers would host this weekend’s elimination game rather than the Panthers. It played out in similar back-and-forth fashion, and it ended with the same winner.

A Stuttgart touchdown with five minutes to play brought the reigning champions within five points, and the Panthers ramped up the pressure by forcing a quick punt and marching downfield. But Lakenheath’s Manny Cordero intercepted a ball in the red zone with seven seconds to play to preserve the victory and send Lakenheath to its first Division I title game since 2002.

Quarterback Maurice Thomas threw for 80 yards and two touchdowns and added 30 rushing yards and another score. Ion Duenas rushed 13 times for 74 yards and a touchdown and caught a 52-yard touchdown from Thomas; Chris Hayden handled Thomas’ other touchdown throw.

Joey Glenk made 18 tackles and recovered a fumble to pace the Lancers on defense, while Cordero added 12 tackles and a fumble recovery to his clutch interception. Cam Franklin and Anthony Smoot each had 10 tackles for Lakenheath.

Devon Burton starred for the Panthers, rushing 29 times for 199 yards and two touchdowns, including the above-mentioned score to give Stuttgart a chance at a game-winning drive. Tito Mercado rushed 13 times for 75 yards and a score.

Sean Smith had nine tackles to pace Stuttgart, while Will Suddeth and Josh Olive added six apiece. Suddeth also recovered a fumble.

Stuttgart again came up short in its bid to win a second straight European championship. The Panthers missed the 2016 playoffs after winning the 2015 crown.

This defending Panther team finished 4-2 overall and earned the division’s third seed before bowing out Saturday.

The game was the second time in as many years the two teams met in the semifinals. Stuttgart beat Lakenheath 41-12 in last season’s elimination game.

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