The U19 European Championship kicked off at with Denmark surprising Team Finland 35-24 in a game that was not as close as the score indicates.
The Finns had beaten Team Denmark easily in the 2016 Nordic championships and they were the favorites going into this one. However, the Danes took control early and did not ease off until the fourth quarter with the game comfortably in hand.
Running back Emil Neumann-Pedersen paced Team Denmark carrying the ball 24 times for 166 yards and a touchdown while receiver Thomas Ashworth had three carries for 69 yards and another touchdown while also hauling in six passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Mads Hagen Jakobsen completed 12 of 26 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 35 yards and another touchdown. Receiver Nicholas Kaplan led all Danish receivers with four receptions for 79 yards and one touchdown.
Team Finland quarterback Viljami Rautavirta threw for 252 yards and a pair of touchdowns and teammate Risto Raukko had 109 yards passing. Finland’s leading rusher was also Rautavirta with 37 yards. Waltteri Kinnunen led all receivers with four catches for 128 yards. Running back Onni Soininen had eight carries for 36 yards but had five receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Denmark opened the scoring following a Finnish fumble on their own 35 yard line. Danish wide receiver Thomas Ashworth scored on an end around and Denmark led 7-0.
Otto Laakkonen kicked a 35 yard field goal for Finland to narrow the lead to 7-3, but Hagen Jakobsen added to the Danish lead on a 44 yard scramble. However, the Finns responded on the next drive when Rautavirta found wide receiver Markus Haapasaari with a 21 yard pass and the score was 14-10 Denmark at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Denmark scored twice. First, Neumann-Pedersen scored on an eight yard run and then Hagen Jakobsen connected with Nicholas Kaplan in the corner of the end zone and Denmark held a 28-10 halftime lead.
After a mostly uneventful third quarter, Denmark got another touchdown in the beginning of the fourth quarter when Hagen Jakobsen threw to Ashworth, who scored his second touchdown extending the Danish lead to 35-10.
Finland mounted a comeback late in the game scoring two late touchdowns as Soininen hauled in an eight yard touchdown pass from Rautavirta and then Finnish offensive lineman Tony Koskinen recovered a Rautavirta fumble in the end one to round out the scoring.
Danes: We lost focus
After the game, the Danish Head Coach, Lars Carlsen, said he was pleased with his team’s effort, especially in the first half. But the Danes will have to play through all four quarters if they are to beat the Swedes.
“We played a really good first half, dominating the Finns, but we lost focus in the second,” he said on a press conference afterwards. “We still are a young team and have not played games on this level before, and against a really good team like Finland, you can’t take the eyes of the ball.”
He was happy with the win, but more important the second half was a good learning process for his team. “On this level you’ve to play the game to the end,” he said.
Finns: A two-sided game
Denmark was the best team in the first half but the Finns came back strong in the second said Finnish Head Coach Tero Virtanen after the game:
“We started slow and dug ourselves in a hole in the first half. Down 18 point we fought back. Fighting like we should’ve done in the first.”
Game MVP for Denmark: RB Emil Neumann-Pedersen. The Danish running back showed speed, strength and agility and his 166 yards on 24 carries and one touchdown, was important for the Danish victory.
Game MVP for Finland: DB Mikko Behn had a strong performance with two interceptions.
The next game for Finland is Thursday July 13 at 3 pm when they play their archrivals from Sweden.
Denmark plays Sweden on Friday at 6 pm..