It took more than a weak grip on his jersey to keep Rota quarterback Wes Penta from scoring on this play Saturday in the Admirals' 26-21 victory over Aviano.

It took more than a weak grip on his jersey to keep Rota quarterback Wes Penta from scoring on this play Saturday in the Admirals' 26-21 victory over Aviano. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

The Spangdahlem Sentinels and Rota Admirals don’t have much in common other than the fact that they’re the two participants in the 2017 DODEA-Europe Division II football championship game, set to kick off Saturday at 1 p.m. CET at Kaiserslautern High School.

Spangdahlem is undefeated and essentially unchallenged in Division II play this season, cruising to the North region’s No. 1 seed. Rota lost three times in the regular season and scraped into the playoffs via a three-way tiebreaker for the North region’s second seed.

Spangdahlem coasted through its 42-0 semifinal defeat of Naples as it had each of its regular-season wins. Rota needed a burst of late-game heroics to escape Aviano with a 26-21 semifinal victory.

Spangdahlem boasts a deep roster constructed around experienced upperclassmen at key positions. Rota is a young and inexperienced squad that has been further limited by costly injuries.

To put it in starker terms, the teams were separated by a large margin when they faced off on Sept. 23, a 48-6 Sentinel victory at Spangdahlem.

To those unfamiliar with recent DODEA-Europe gridiron history, the dichotomy would seem clear: Spangdahlem the incumbent power, Rota the plucky upstart. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth.

The Sentinels, known until this school year as the Bitburg Barons, were once a Division II dynasty. But this Saturday will mark their first appearance in the European title since 2012.

The Admirals were a Division III team at the height of the Sentinels’ former reign. But they’re a big reason why Spangdahlem has been squeezed out of title contention since. Rota’s steady rise to the ranks of the Division II elite, coupled with the proud final years of an Ansbach program that shuttered after its title-game loss to Rota last fall, left no room for the former beast of Division II.

That beast is reborn now. The Sentinels have devastated Division II this fall, beating every opponent by at least six touchdowns, including the Admirals. Five years later, they’re on the verge of reclaiming their throne, and finally stalling the momentum Rota has been gathering for years.

What Spangdahlem and Rota do have in common, in spite of their respective statures as the division’s unbeaten juggernaut and defending champion, is humility. Both teams appear even-keeled on the eve of their title game, tending more towards resolve than rhetoric.

“We prepare every week to be better than we were the week before,” Spangdahlem coach Mike Laue said. “The main goal is to win. That is what we prepare for each time, no matter the opponent.”

Rota counterpart Ken Walter is thrilled that his team, after facing elimination each of the last two weekends, is “somehow” back at DODEA-Europe’s main event. He called Spangdahlem the “team to beat” and accentuated the value of his young players acquiring big-game experience.

“We will show up and give them the best game we can,” Walter said. “At the end of the game we will shake hands with the other team and will have had a great season.”

That’s one more thing these two finalists have in common.

Twitter: @broomestripes

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