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D-II football

Spangdahlem starts new small-school reign

Spangdahlem's Eli Canaan tries to get through the Rota defense at Vogelweh, Germany, on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.

MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 4, 2017

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- The conquest is complete.

The undefeated Spangdahlem Sentinels wrapped up their ransacking of DODEA-Europe Division II football on Saturday at Kaiserslautern High School, defeating the persistent defending champion Rota Admirals 36-19 for the program’s first title since 2012.

The title ends a four-year drought of championships, or even championship-game appearances, for the historically elite program formerly known as the Bitburg Barons.

“It feels really good being back,” longtime Spangdahlem coach Mike Laue said.

Rota made the heavily favored Sentinels earn the title, turning what might have been a walkover into the most competitive game of Spangdahlem’s dominant campaign.

After falling behind 13-0 just 10 minutes into the first quarter, Rota responded in the second quarter as Admiral back Cameron Wilson delivered a touchdown run and the defense kept the Sentinels off the board.

But Rota squandered its opportunities to press the issue further; the Admirals twice enjoyed favorable field position off of Spangdahlem turnovers, but came away empty on both occasions.

The Sentinels made their opponent rue those missed chances immediately after halftime. Spangdahlem took possession at midfield on an interception, marched into the red zone and added to its lead on a short-yardage run by quarterback Eli Canaan.

Canaan added two more rushing touchdowns in the second half, finishing with 50 yards on the day on 16 carries. He also lofted a 31-yard touchdown to Sage Kown, which paired with an early touchdown run by Javian Rouse gave the Sentinels their early edge.

Rota fought back every time the Sentinels threatened to reduce the game to another in their string of blowouts. But the young team was eventually overwhelmed by Spangdahlem’s superior talent, depth and experience. Admirals coach Ken Walter was more than satisfied with his team’s performance.

“Our kids just played amazing,” Walter said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the kids and the effort they gave.”

Spangdahlem, facing its first proper challenge of the season, had to tap into a similar well of resilience it hadn’t needed to access earlier in the fall.

“They stepped up and did what needed to be,” Laue said. “We’re pretty happy with that.”

Canaan soaked in the reality of the redemptive title after years of semifinal exits.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment. Been at the doorstep every single time the last few years,” Canaan said. “Finally made it, finally got it. I’m so excited and I’m so proud of my guys.”

Rota finally reached a plateau on its steady rise to Division II gridiron prominence. After a winless 2013, the Admirals qualified for the playoffs in 2104, reached the title game in 2015 and beat Ansbach for the European title in 2016.

But attrition gutted that championship roster, and costly injuries this fall further limited the inexperienced squad. The Admirals battled anyway, claiming a playoff berth on a three-way tiebreaker on the last day of the season and earning a gritty 26-21 semifinal win on the road against previously undefeated Aviano.

But no amount of heart and determination could deny this Spangdahlem squad.

The Sentinels are now fully restored as the behemoth of Division II football.

The former Barons won four straight European championships between 2009 and 2012, and this fall returned to their dominant ways. Until Saturday, Spangdahlem beat every opponent this fall by at least six touchdowns, including a 48-6 defeat of the Admirals on Sept. 23.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

Spangdahlem's Jimmie Montgomery III, left, breaks a tackle by Rota's Josh Holtz during the DODEA-Europe Division II championship at Vogelweh, Germany, on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.
MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

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