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STUTTGART, Germany -- The Stuttgart Panthers knew their title defense wouldn’t be easy. On Friday, they got further evidence of that fact.

The Panthers fell behind by three touchdowns through five minutes of Friday’s DODEA-Europe Division I football season opener, overwhelmed by an upset-minded Vilseck Falcons squad. But Stuttgart responded with an irresistible effort of its own to earn a 40-26 victory.

While the game, along with the weekend’s other two Division I games, did not count towards playoff qualification, Panthers coach Billy Ratcliff spent the preseason emphasizing the importance of a strong start, both to the season and the individual games that comprise it.

While Stuttgart didn’t start Saturday’s game strong, the outcome gave the Panthers some momentum entering next weekend’s game against Ramstein, a key matchup that is both a rematch of last year’s 26-21 Panther victory in the Division I final and the first game of the 2018 season to count towards playoff qualification.

Gavin Abney paced a prolific and diverse Panther offense with seven receptions for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns, along with a two-point conversion reception and a third touchdown on an 85-yard kick return.

Tito Mercado carried 16 times for 117 yards and quarterback Alec Kenfield completed 10 of 18 pass attempts for 188 yards and three touchdowns for the Panthers.

Will Suddeth made nine tackles and recovered a fumble for a Stuttgart defensive touchdown.

Xavier Bynes led Vilseck with 209 rushing yards on 15 carries, while Nicholas Rojas scored on a 43-yard interception return.


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