KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany | November 1, 2014
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The Hohenfels Tigers became champion and earned the right to defend it on a magical two-year run of comebacks and game-changing plays.
All that abandoned them Saturday.
The Ansbach Cougars defeated Hohenfels 30-20 to win the 2014 DODDS-Europe Division II football championship at Kaiserslautern High School, capitalizing on a string of unusual Hohenfels penalties to erase Tiger leads before and after halftime.
Ansbach head coach Marcus George praised his team for fighting through fatigue, nagging injuries and the first real scoreboard-based adversity of their season.
“They played on heart. They remembered all those August workouts and all that stuff,” George said. “It just comes back to you and you rise above the pain and above the tightness and the bruises, and they did.”
The victory caps an undefeated season for Ansbach. The Cougars won all five of their regular-season games and both of their previous playoff games by multiple touchdowns.
The title is Ansbach’s first since 2008, the last of a three-year title run that included a 2006 Division III championship followed by consecutive Division II crowns.
But it didn’t come without some controversy.
Perceiving unfair officiating, outraged Hohenfels supporters yelled out in protest as the final seconds ticked down and after the game ended.
Tigers coach Larry Daffin refused comment.
The postgame anger on the Hohenfels side was a far cry from the jubilation of the first quarter.
The Tigers constructed a 14-0 lead built largely around the prodigious running of David Vidovic. He went 20 yards in his first run from scrimmage, and on the next snap took a handoff 56 yards for the game's first score.
Minutes later, Vidovic took a short pass deep in Tiger territory, cut into open space and sprinted his way into the red zone before a Cougar finally tripped him up. Quarterback Clayton Pinheiro then found Marcus Dudley for a touchdown pass.
Ansbach's drives, meanwhile, ended in either punts or disaster. A Trey Briscoe interception canceled one drive, and the Cougars fumbled one away later in the quarter.
The teams' fortunes reversed just before halftime, thanks in part to a pair of bizarre penalties against Hohenfels.
First, Daffin was flagged for making contact with an official; the resulting 15-yard penalty was just enough to rescue a lost Ansbach drive with a fresh set of downs. The Cougars eventually made good on the opportunity with a 1-yard touchdown run by Dorian Jones.
The Ansbach running back was thrilled to finally remove the looming zero on the Ansbach side of the scoreboard.
“I know it hurt Hohenfels a lot,” Jones said. “We just came back strong.”
Hohenfels fumbled on its ensuing drive, giving Ansbach one last red-zone chance with under a minute to play. There the Tigers aided the Cougars' frenzied efforts at the end zone with a last-second pre-snap procedural penalty; Roger Brownell rushed in from 3 yards out and Bailey Ward found Brandon Piccinini for a successful two-point conversion and an unlikely 14-14 tie at halftime.
The Tigers emerged from the locker room determined to reclaim their lead, launching an immediate scoring drive featuring two successful fourth-down conversions. The second was a touchdown, as a scrambling Pinheiro saved a seemingly broken play with a downfield lob to Briscoe. The receiver did the rest, outrunning a pursuing Cougar to the end zone for a 20-14 Tiger lead that would hold up until the fourth quarter.
That's when Ansbach struck back behind a punishing run game. A prolonged drive yielded a 10-yard touchdown run by Brownell and a two-point quarterback keeper by Ward for a 22-20 Ansbach lead with 8 minutes, 21 seconds to play.
Another uncommon penalty - this time an illegal substitution - called back what might have been the Tigers' go-ahead score. Ansbach's Tyler Benton made a sideline interception to cancel the Hohenfels drive entirely.
Soon after, Ansbach running back Jaime Anderson took a handoff, bobbled the ball and picked up his own fumble on what amounted to an 80-yard insurance score that secured the win.
Though they spent the season protecting and growing leads, the Cougars said George warned of the possibility of an early Vidovic-fueled deficit and prepped them to launch their first comeback of the season.
“When stuff like that happens everybody starts to get your head down,” said Brownell, who finished with 62 rushing yards and a team-high nine tackles.
But the Cougars didn’t.
“I’m so proud of how we responded,” Ward said. “We picked it up.”
Saturday represented the final high-school football game for Vidovic, the reigning Stars and Stripes football Athlete of the Year, who’s four-year Tigers career ranks among the most prolific and accomplished in DODDS-Europe history.
Vidovic collected 260 rushing yards and 117 receiving yards Saturday.
Ansbach’s win was aided by the two-way production of standout freshman Tyler Benton. After watching his brother Austin lead the Cougars to the semifinals last year, the younger Benton brother dedicated Saturday's win to Austin and said he was thrilled to help deliver the title that eluded the program last fall.
“I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Benton said.
Ansbach 30, Hohenfels 20
Hohenfels 14 0 6 0 -- 20
Ansbach0 14 0 16 -- 30
8:35 Hoh: David Vidovic 56 run (Vidovic pass to Clayton Pinheiro)
4:35 Hoh: Pinheiro 9 pass to Marcus Dudley (conversion failed)
1:42 Ans: Dorian Jones 1 run (conversion failed)
0:12 Ans: Roger Brownell 3 run (Ward pass to Brandon Piccinini)
7:37 Hoh: Pinherio 42 pass to Trey Briscoe (conversion failed)
8:21 Ans: Brownell 10 run (Ward run)
6:14 Ans: Anderson 80 run (Benton run)