Panthers emerge from mistake-filled game as contenders again
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 13, 2019
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Stuttgart Panthers seized control of a scruffy DODEA-Europe Division I football game Friday, scoring a pair of third-quarter touchdowns to distance themselves from the host Raiders and point the way to a 30-6 victory.
The first half in particular was marred by incessant penalty flags that prevented either team from establishing sustainable rhythm. Both teams saw promising drives derailed by delays of game, holding calls and other momentum-wrecking infractions. Only the Panthers were able to briefly transcend the grimy proceedings, scoring on a short-yardage straight-ahead run by fullback Josh Olive.
Stuttgart, which edged defending champion Ramstein in a non-conference clash to open the season a week prior, asserted itself after halftime.
Jordan McCullough and Trent Jackson produced a rushing touchdown each and Olive added a second score to put the game away.
“We just refocused. We just talked about what we could do better and we just got after it,” Olive said of Stuttgart’s second-half surge. “We stopped making mistakes, we got our heads in the game.”
Olive relished his role picking up yardage behind what he called the Panthers’ “amazing” offensive line, an overwhelmingly physical group that gave the fullback the running start he needed to “just crush people.”
After a sloppy start and a narrow 8-0 halftime lead, that hard-nosed approach eventually outlasted the Raiders.
“I think they just got tired. I think we just wore them down,” Panthers coach Bill Ratcliff said. “We were able to impose our will on them.”
The Panthers resisted one last Raider push in a lengthy home-team drive across the third and fourth quarters, ending with a goal-line stand on fourth down to keep the Raiders stuck on zero.
Shaun Edwards avoided a Kaiserslautern shutout with a 90-yard kickoff return for touchdown with four minutes to play in the game.
Kaiserslautern head coach Robert Allen said the Panthers’ “defensive pressure” knocked the Raiders off their stride but added that he saw some encouraging signs. He said his team will work on “eliminating our mistakes” ahead of next weekend’s game at Vilseck and was pleased with his team’s continued efforts even as the score spiraled out of control.
“Some of the younger players stepped up at the end,” Allen said. “We kept fighting the whole time.”
The game was the first of the season to count towards Division I playoff contention after a non-conference opening weekend. The top four teams in the six-team division will advance to the semifinal round. Stuttgart is chasing its third title in five seasons, while Kaiserslautern is looking for a return postseason ticket after breaking a long playoff drought last fall.