A football season in Europe winds up – almost

With the 13th game of the season a week ago, the Ravensburg Razorbacks clinched the German Football League2 championship with a convincing victory against the Saarland Hurricanes. We celebrated on our home field in front of several thousand fans, raising the trophy and enjoying the moment. This would have been a storybook finish to an incredible season…except for one thing. Our season is 14 games long. We had one more game to go.

Our championship had secured the opportunity to move to Germany’s top league, the German Football League, by winning a playoff series against the Stuttgart Scorpions. But we had one more game to go. We’d have to travel to Straubing for a rematch against the 9-4 Straubing Spiders in a game that meant nothing, at least on paper.

Fourteen games is an insanely long season. The demands football makes on 20 & 30 something-year-old amateurs are serious. Players routinely sacrifice family time and health to be a part of the Razorbacks.

This season has seen plenty of turnover. On the offensive side, we lost three players during the first three weeks to ugly season-ending knee injuries. Various other head, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle injuries spread themselves over the long season. We also dealt with business trips, family vacations and school commitments. On the defensive side, the attrition was even more severe. Exactly TWO offensive players started every game this season. That we overcame so many challenges to win a championship and compile a 11-1-1 record through thirteen games is a remarkable story of our season.

However this resilience would be put to the test in Straubing. We’d gone all in to be as deep and healthy as possible for the Saarland game. Some played hurt, others postponed trips and everything came together beautifully. But after a big party, expect a hangover.

We would travel to Straubing missing four offensive starters including two playmakers. Of the eleven who lined up for our offense, only four had been starters when the season started. Two of our starting linemen had begun the season on our developmental team. Two others had played full seasons in other countries, before joining the Razorbacks. Two defensive players would be pressed into service at running back. The unit we cobbled together included citizens from the US, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

As an offensive coordinator, I love the challenge of overcoming problems. This is probably my favorite part of the job. Game planning and strategizing about how to overcome setbacks and exploit weaknesses is interesting. Every week presents a new set of issues. But while I enjoy this detached part of my job, I don’t always like the result. On game day, the planning is only rewarding if it pays off. It isn’t fun to lose.

The game in Straubing wouldn’t matter in the standings, but I was apprehensive. I felt like I had a good plan, but would we be able to overcome our inexperience at certain position? Would we execute well enough? Could our makeshift offensive line protect our quarterback? Would we stay healthy enough to give us a chance in the upcoming playoffs? Would our players come to play for nothing but pride?

Things happen in Europe that I’ve never seen in 30 years of coaching. Through some mix up, both teams showed up in white jerseys. The officials’ solution?…We would be forced into wearing STRAUBING’S dark jerseys for the game. So, five minutes before kickoff, we had to strip out of our tops and put on our opponents colors…Only in Europe.

Photo: Shakral Photography

I needn’t have worried if our guys would come to play, once the whistle blew, everybody forgot that the game didn’t matter. Straubing fought for their 10th win and we fought to show that we were a true champion, who would give everything we had until the finish.

My game plan relied on letting my quarterback take advantage of the Spiders’ soft coverage by hitting many short, high percentage passes.

Yes, we were limited, but Garrett DellaChiaie is the best quarterback in the league with over 4000 passing yards and a 67% passing rate. I was thrilled with the first half, the plan was working perfectly. In five possessions we scored four touchdowns and led 28-21.

Two touchdown were thrown to deep threat, Christian Steffani , a late addition and former Razorback who returned after a season in Austria. The other two were caught by Javonte Alexander. He’s our American DB, but early on we learned how explosive he was with the ball, regularly turning short gains into huge plays. The top receiver in our league, Michi Mayer hadn’t even factored in yet, but I was confident he would come open over the middle as we continued to pound the flats.

The Spiders tied the game at 28 during the first possession of the second half, but I wasn’t concerned. The plan was working…and then it wasn’t.

It’s probably not a good idea to say too much about injuries…you never know who is reading this, but our three weapons quickly became two. We had been marching down the field, ready to retake the lead when a key player had to leave the game.

Straubing is a good team. They didn’t have an answer for our three pronged attack, but they were effective against the two we had remaining.

Garrett, the o-line, the defensive fill-in running backs and the remaining receivers, fought to the finish. I flailed around for a new gimmick that would overcome our new limitation, but in the end, I never found the answer. We didn’t score a point during the 2nd half and lost 31-28.

As disappointing as it was, I’m proud of our guys. They never quit, they didn’t lose focus, make excuses or start freelancing… all things less disciplined teams might have done. It’s been an amazing season for the Razorbacks and even this loss is a story I’m proud to be a part of.

Photo: Shakral Photography

Now comes the breakdown of what went wrong, how to fix it and what should be done going forward. Our season is not over, we still have two playoff games against Stuttgart and a loss is only a LOSS if you don’t learn anything from it.

Photos:Shakral Photography

Read the original story in Big & Bright/Texas and EURO Football Roadtrip

Football coach and retired teacher. I wrote Big and Bright: Deep in the Heart of Texas High School Football. HC for the Freiburg Sacristans