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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – Eye of the tiger, indeed.
Hohenfels Tigers running back David Vidovic produced one of the most remarkable performances in DODDS-Europe football history Saturday, scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns and leading Hohenfels to a comeback 38-35 victory over SHAPE in the Division II European championship game.
SHAPE, fueled by its own high-volume running back Conner Manning, built a 35-18 lead on Manning’s touchdown run with 9 minutes and 20 seconds to play.
Vidovic and the Tigers were undeterred.
The Hohenfels junior scored twice in a one-minute span, the second score set up by a Brett Wade fumble recovery at midfield. The Tiger defense clamped down, forcing a punt. Vidovic immediately cashed in this chance, too, breaking a string of failed tackles en route to a go-ahead 60-yard run with 3:44 to play.
SHAPE had one last possession to pull back ahead. The Spartans got as far as a fourth-and-8 situation at the Hohenfels 35, but Manning’s deep pass attempt was picked off by Hohenfels two-way star Tony Saintmelus to seal the Tigers win.
After pushing through a 3-2 regular season and three grueling postseason games, Hohenfels has learned not to accept even the most likely of impending losses.
“Play together, don’t give up,” said Vidovic, who finished with 382 rushing yards and five touchdowns. “Outcome, win or lose, we were in this together as a family.
“Everybody stepped up this game.”
Head coach Larry Daffin, who took over the Tigers after his Heidelberg program folded last year, reiterated that message before kickoff.
“I told the guys before the game, never give up,” Daffin said. “Keep fighting, you never know what can happen.”
Especially with Vidovic on your side.
“I love that kid to death,” said Saintmelus, who was slowed by a groin injury but scored a first-half touchdown and returned to cap the scoring with a two-point conversion after Vidovic’s last score. “His running game is something serious.”
Vidovic’s heroics overshadowed a brilliant performance by SHAPE’s Manning, the game’s apparent breakout star until the final minutes. The two elite runners traded showstopping plays, breaking tackles, dragging defenders and cutting all four directions in pursuit of valuable yardage.
Playing for his first European football championship in the final game of his esteemed prep career, Manning was gracious in defeat.
“We just got outlasted this game,” said Manning, who ran for 173 yards and three touchdowns and threw for another score. “We played hard, it was a great game. I’d rather lose like that than 40-something to zero.”
The win was the second time in as many games that the Tigers scored multiple fourth-quarter touchdowns to earn a playoff victory. They scored 18 unanswered points Oct. 26 in ending Bitburg’s four-year championship reign and 36-game winning streak in the Division II semifinal round. Oddly enough, Hohenfels scored 38 points in each of its three postseason games.
Both finalists were somewhat unlikely participants in the championship game. SHAPE earned the second seed in the North region with a 4-1 regular-season record, while Hohenfels checked in as No. 2 in the South. But each pulled off a semifinal upset on the road against a favored top seed; SHAPE eliminated South No. 1 Ansbach the same day Hohenfels bounced Bitburg.
Now the Tigers are the new class of Division II.
“It’s about time,” said Vidovic, who now adds a championship to his collection of gaudy stat lines and DODDS-Europe postseason awards. “It’s about time.”