France gets by Italy in opening round of IFAF U19 European Championships

A stunning 99-yard kickoff return by Timothé Labarriere paved the way for a 32-21 France victory over Italy in the opening game of Group A of the IFAF U19 European Championships.

Over in Group B, Germany’s campaign began with a dominant 48-6 road win that condemned Denmark to a second successive loss.

Italy snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at the Beltrametti Stadium in Piacenza after a rushing touchdown from quarterback Emanuele Daino and a 27-yard Andrea Mauro Girardi-yard field goal had opened a 21-16 lead for the hosts with 5:27 remaining.

Rather than squib kick or direct the ball away from the dangerous Labarriere, Italy kicked to the returner who did well to make a catch at his own one-yard mark and then raced untouched down the left sideline to the end zone. Quarterback Adrien Ruzic executed a successful two-point conversion and France led a thrilling game 24-21.

With plenty of time on the clock, all three timeouts remaining and the trusty leg of Girardi to potentially tie the contest, Italy went backwards due to a string of penalties and France came up with a critical sack on third down.

A tipped punt and another flag for a late hit handed the ball over to France at Italy’s ten-yard line and from there Ruzic scampered into the end zone for another touchdown. The visitors even managed to tag on a further two points when Aidan Spilmont’s extra point was blocked, but the kicker then gathered the loose ball to score and open an unassailable nine-point lead.

An action-packed entertaining game had seen Italy open the scoring with an inside hand off to Lorenzo Mancini who bounced outside for a touchdown and Girardi added the point after. His 42-yard field goal late in the first quarter opened a 10-0 lead.

Italy’s defense thwarted a promising French drive before a turnover brough the visitors back into the game. Guillaume Nello read the play perfectly to make an interception and after his return into the red zone Kelian Nah Goueu ran to the outside for a 15-yard touchdown. Spilmont’s extra point pulled France to within three points.

Italy might have increased their advantage before the interval, but with 12 secs remaining on fourth and eleven Roman Foubert-Miyakawa came up with an interception in the end zone.

France and then Italy added two points to their totals through a safety each before France took the lead for the first time, edging ahead 16-12. Labarriere gave a hint of what was to come later with a long kickoff return that was extended by a penalty and with the first play of the fourth quarter Ruzic scored a touchdown on a quarterback keeper.

In reply, Daino hit Riccardo Zanotti behind the French secondary then after Mancini had churned up yards on the ground, Daino capped an impressive Italian drive with a touchdown run and an 18-16 lead after the extra point was blocked.

Paolo Lazzaretto came up with interceptions on successive possessions to halt France and once Girardi split the uprights again from 27 yards out Italy looked to have done enough for the win at 21-16. Labarriere had other ideas as his monster kickoff return turned the tide in France’s favor.

Michael Preston (@PRMikePreston) is currently working with IFAF in a PR capacity. He recently covered Super Bowl LVII as a member of the NFL PR team as he has done for 20+ years. He has held communications positions with NFL Europe, the North