This past Sunday, June 7, the playoffs for the American football championship of France kicked off. At Stade George Carcassonne in Aix-en-Provence, the Argonautes, who had been promoted from the second division championship this year, hosted the Black Panthers of Thonon-les-Bains, twice defending national champions.
The two teams delivered true football suspense as Thonon took revenge for two losses to the Argonautes this season with a 31-28 victory. Watch the Vox Stadium highlights below.
Aix-en-Provence Argonautes (8-2) 28 v. Thonon-les-bains Black Panthers (6-4) 31
Rights: FFFA / Images: Panthers TV / Direction and Commentary: Marion Santiago
The enthusiastic crowd at George Carcassonne stadium were treated to an excellent football game as the Aix-en-Provence Argonautes hosted Thonon Black Panthers in the semifinals of the French Elite Championship.
While the Black Panthers had a full roster the Argonautes were missing Geoffrey Lewis, one of the best running backs in the league (629 yards, 14 TD) who was still out with an injury. With Lewis missing, the Panthers could plan a little differently as Lewis had been one of Aix’s most dangerous weapons in the regular season.
Thonon had their own powerful weapon in Milton Knox Jr. Thonon quarterback Billy Greene wasted no time before finding Knox who takes it all the way to the one yard line. On the next play, the Canadian quarterback took the ball in from the one yard line for the game’s first score.
Stung in front of their home crowd, Aix responded immediately. After a solid drive that took them almost to the red zone, quarterback Jimmie Russell launched a pass from 20 yards out to Kevin Chevalme for the touchdown evening the score at 7-7.
Unfortunately for Argo head coach Kenneth Suhl and his squad the Black Panthers offense is clicking on this day. Milton Knox Jr. finds the end zone for his first touchdown of the afternoon giving Thonon back the lead.
The Argos offense started to sputter as Jimmie Russell is sacked twice in a row, the second time coughing up the ball as Thonon’s Frank Galvin jumps on it.
However, Greeene turned the ball over on the following series as the Argo’s Jesse Kirkstatter picks off his eighth interception of the year and the Argonautes have the ball. However, they were not able to capitalize as Alexander Toumi missed the field goal attempt, a miss that would prove costly.
The Black Panthers then went back to work as Greene began relying on his legs. This time Kirstatter managed to stop him just short of the goal line but Knox Jr. takes the ball in on the next play from the one for his second touchdown of the day extending Thonon’s lead to 21-7.
With just seconds left before halftime, Greene, who is now on fire, finds Jacky Morallet alone in the end zone from 20 yards out giving the Black Panthers a 28-7 lead at the break.
After the break, the Argos faced a daunting task and had to find a way to get back into the game, so Russell decides to take things into his own hands or rather legs. The former Black Panther quarterback took the ball himself finding the Thonon-les-Bains end zone, reducing the Black Panther lead to 28-14.
After the Argo’s defense get a stop on the next series, Russell get back to work, this time throwing a 73 yard pass to Adrien Ortu who waltzes untouched all the way into the end zone shrinking the lead to one touchdown, 28-21.
The Black Panther offense, which had been so dominant in the first half, was now reeling and on the next series of downs they can do no better than settle for a field goal by Jules Fornage, extending their lead to 10 points, 31-21. This would prove crucial though as the Argonauts succeeded again in piercing the Thonon defense as Jimmie Russell scores Aix’s fourth touchdown. But it was too late for the Argos as Thonon held on for the 31-28 win.
Head coach Larry Legault’s Thonon team find themselves in the final of the Diamond Helmet again in 2015. This time they will face the Cougars of Saint-Ouen-l’Aumône, who defeated La Courneuve Flash in the other semifinal.
TD Argonautes : Kevin Chevalme, Jimmie Russell (2), Adrien Ortu
TD Black Panthers : Billy Greene, Milton Knox Jr. (2), Jacky Morallet / Field Goal : Jules Fornage