D-II football final

Saints shut down Rota to defend championship

Aviano Saints defenders Cayden Cottingham and Daniel Merrill sandwich tackle Rota Admirals quarterback Wes Penta as he tries to gain yardage during Saturday's DODEA-Europe Division II Championship game held at Aviano.


By NORMAN LLAMAS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 2, 2019

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – Despite a slow start and bad weather, the Aviano Saints defended their DODEA-Europe Division II football title Saturday by beating the Rota Admirals 16-7.

It was the third meeting between the two schools this season. Rota won the first and Aviano took the last two. That familiarity helped the Saints, who largely shut down Rota’s ground game for most of the day.

“After the first game we played against Rota, we knew we had to make some adjustments,” Coach Rick Dahlstrom said. “Those adjustments helped us play better.”

Starting the second half tied, strong running from Raymond Harden and Josiah Cooper led the Saints down the field on a drive started from their own 47.

On fourth-down and inches, with the ball at the Admirals’ 17-yard line, Harden broke through several would-be tacklers and marched into the end zone. The extra point was blocked, giving Aviano a 13-7 advantage.

The next three Rota possessions ended with interceptions, though, and Harden tacked on a field goal for the final score. Chase Boren had two of them and Rene Macias the other.
Rota’s final possession ended in a loss of downs and the Saints ran out the clock to end the game.

“We probably should have thrown the ball more, earlier in the game,” Rota coach Luke Spencer said. “The quarterback by committee approach hurt us, because neither of our quarterbacks were able to establish their game, and that’s on me.”

Due to moderate rain at the start of the game, both teams tried to establish their run game early on. It worked sometimes for Aviano, but not for Rota.

Donavin Robinson, Cooper, Harden and quarterback Michael Hauser combined for 13 runs and Hauser connected on two passes as the Saints drove down the field on their second possession. Robinson finished the drive off with a 2-yard score and Harden added the extra point.

The two teams exchanged possessions before Rota put together its lone-scoring drive of the day.

After converting a few first downs and getting to their 41-yard line, quarterback Campbell Lamb threw a long pass to a wide-open Wes Penta, who took it to the house for an Admirals touchdown.

That was largely the end of the offensive highlights for the first half, that ended in a 7-7 tie.

“We need to make fewer mistakes in the second half,” Dahlstrom said during halftime.

It didn’t start out well as Rota executed a successful on-side kick. But the drive ended without any points and Aviano responded with the go-ahead score.

“Somebody has to lose the game and it’s tough that today it was us,” Spencer said. “The turnovers killed us. Aviano did a good job today, they played well.”

The mood was different on the other sideline.

“I’m extremely happy with our team,” Dahlstrom said. “These boys have been fantastic all year, they have been easy to coach.”

Dahlstrom said it was far too early to think about a potential third straight title next year.

“We’ll worry about all that in August, at the beginning of next season,” he said.

Twitter: @normanllamas

Aviano Saints fullback Raymond Harden breaks away from Rota Admirals defenders on his way to scoring a touchdown during Saturday's DODEA-Europe Division II Championship game held at Aviano. The Saints defeated the Admirals 16-7 and with the win, they secured back-to-back championships.

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