Stuttgart overcomes jitters, Kaiserslautern
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 9, 2017
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Both teams on the field Saturday caught a case of first-game jitters and the barrage of yellow flags and miscues they inevitably produce. Only one managed to survive the affliction.
The Stuttgart Panthers seized control of a sloppy season opener, earning a 30-9 victory over the host Raiders on the first day of the DODEA-Europe football season.
High preseason expectations gave way to a shaky start as the visitors struggled to find their footing early. Stuttgart head coach Billy Ratcliff said he needed to “calm their nerves” to point the Panthers on their projected path.
“What we’re not doing right has to do with mental focus, rather than them being that much better than us,” Ratcliff recalled telling his team. “We just sharpened that up, we relaxed a little bit more and started to execute some plays.”
Those key second-half plays included a touchdown run by Devon Burton and a pair of touchdown tosses from new quarterback Chris Magalona to Sabriel Ashley and Gabe Simpson. Kaiserslautern’s Cedric Ellis interrupted the onslaught with a thrilling 91-yard kickoff return before the Panthers put the game out of reach for good.
After building a slight 9-3 lead at halftime, the Panthers knew their squad was capable of much more prolific production.
“I knew my team could do better,” said Burton, who finished with 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. “I knew we could get through this if we all work together and put all the mistakes behind us and just keep going.”
Furthermore, the Panthers expect to attain an even higher level of play in the coming weeks.
“We’re not firing on all cylinders, and I kept it very vanilla today,” Ratcliff said.
The Stuttgart defense was solid throughout, limiting the Raider offense to just a Matthew Jackson field goal and adding to its own team’s tally with a gang-tackle safety. Will Suddeth led the way with 14 tackles, while Alex Ploechinger added 12.
The game represented the start of the 2017 DODEA-Europe Division I regular season, but it was considered a non-divisional game and the outcome therefore won’t count towards playoff qualification. That effort begins next week, when the five-game divisional season gets under way. Stuttgart hosts defending champion Ramstein on Friday and Kaiserslautern welcomes Vilseck on Saturday; Wiesbaden visits Lakenheath on Saturday in the other divisional opener.
The Panthers and Raiders are both targeting a return to the postseason after sitting out the 2016 playoffs. The top four teams in the six-team division will advance to semifinals on Oct. 28, ahead of the championship game scheduled for Nov. 4 at Kaiserslautern High School.