Royals get chance to try to hold onto their crowns
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 28, 2017
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE — It’s hard to beat a good football team two times in a row.
But it’s not impossible.
The Ramstein Royals proved as much Saturday with a 13-6 defeat of the visiting Wiesbaden Warriors in a DODEA-Europe Division I semifinal game. The win sends the defending champions into a matchup with the Stuttgart Panthers in the Nov. 4 European championship game at Kaiserslautern High School.
The close, hard-fought game was a worthy installment of the teams’ ongoing gridiron rivalry, a historic clash that also includes Ramstein’s 13-8 win in last year’s championship game and the Royals’ 25-14 win in their regular-season finale Oct. 21.
“It was a classic game,” Ramstein coach Carter Hollenbeck said.
Up by a point at halftime, the Royals recovered a fumble in the third quarter and promptly made good on the favorable field position to take the seven-point advantage that would ultimately hold up as the final margin. But that scoreless expanse of the game was not without drama.
Wiesbaden had numerous chances to tie the score or take the lead in the final quarter, but came away empty every time. Drives were squandered by penalties, sacks, turnovers and failed third- and fourth-down conversion attempts. Balls bounced off of receivers’ hands, were trapped in the grass underneath them and sailed out of their reach.
Meanwhile, Ramstein couldn’t quite secure the score that would stretch its lead beyond the dangerous single-score margin it stayed at throughout the second half. But the Royals picked up their final defensive stop with just more than two minutes to play and ran steadily forward until the clock finally ran out.
The Warriors opened the afternoon’s scoring early in the first quarter on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Josh Blake to Chance Arnoldussen, but were silenced thereafter. Wiesbaden coach Steve Jewell complimented Ramstein’s defense even as he lamented the costly miscues that denied his team a game-changing score in the second half.
“We just couldn’t make that one play that could turn into a touchdown,” Jewell said. “That happens when you’re throwing the ball.”
Ramstein’s strong defensive showing was no accident. Hollenbeck, a well-known defensive mastermind even before he took over head coaching duties with the Royals, said he pored over years of offensive sets by Jewell’s Warrior teams and had his team emulate those actions over the two weeks of preparing for the consecutive Wiesbaden games.
“That was our game plan,” Hollenbeck said. “Let’s scheme and scout and go back to as many years as he’s been coaching, and all the different potent, dangerous formations he has, and we practiced it.”
Of course, it was ultimately up to the Royal players to execute the well-laid plans. Hollenbeck, while acknowledging the Wiesbaden “near-misses” that might have changed the narrative if converted, said his group did “a great job” carrying out the game plan.
“We don’t have an individual player that says, this is the kid that helps us with defense,” Hollenbeck said. “It’s 11 guys, hats to the ball.”
Following a classic Ramstein script, the Royal offense did just enough to make the efforts of its defense hold up. Quarterback Trevor Miller threw touchdown passes to JJ Little and Jorden Garland as part of an 11-completion, 180-yard passing performance. But even the game’s offensive standout lauded the efforts of the Royal defense.
“They played a lights-out game,” Miller said of his teammates on the other side of the ball. “Offense wins games, and defense wins championships.”