France: Thonon Black Panthers edge Marseille Blue Stars to advance to French championship game

In an instant classic playoff matchup, the Thonon-les-bains Black Panthers advanced to the Division 1 Elite French championship game by beating the previously undefeated Marseille Blue Stars 28-27 this past weekend in the semifinals.

The game was full of back-and-forth swings. After the host Blue Stars scored the opening touchdown with a pass from quarterback Kaleb Scott to Vincent Monteiro, Thonon scored 21
consecutive points to take a commanding 21-7 lead. Leo Sarteel, Akiva Wedge, and Pierre-Yves Dayres all caught touchdown passes from Black Panthers quarterback Brett Hunchak in this stretch. Then the momentum shifted back in favor of Marseille, who scored three straight touchdowns of their own, including a score before halftime to cut the lead to 21-14.

Thonon RB Akiva Wedge #3 evading defenders Photo: Diane Event Photography

Coming out of halftime, standout defensive lineman Fayade Said intercepted a pass deep in Thonon territory to put Marseille in great field position. However, the Blue Stars could not take advantage, as they had to settle for a field goal, which was blocked by the Black Panthers.

From that point, Marseille linebacker Eddy Abdullah put on a show, intercepting a Hunchak pass that gave Marseille good field position. This time they capitalized, thanks to a rushing
touchdown from Scott. On the next drive, Abdullah intercepted yet another pass, returning this one all the way for a touchdown. The ensuing extra point was no good, though, keeping them at 27 points instead of 28. After not throwing an interception in league play all regular season, Hunchak threw three interceptions in just over a quarter.

The Black Panthers offense finally put a good drive together, capping it off with a 10-yard strike from Hunchak to Leo Sarteel, who made an outstanding leaping catch. The extra point gave them a 28-27 lead. The Blue Stars got the ball back with only a couple of minutes left on the clock. At the end of an efficient and methodical drive, they had the ball in a goal-to-go situation with under a minute left, needing just a field goal to win the game. With little time on the clock, Scott took the snap and fired a pass over the middle, but defender Timon Debiez got a hand on the ball, deflecting it into the air, and Kristof Szakacs made the interception to seal the game for the Black Panthers and punch their ticket to the championship game. The magnitude and surprise of the play was reminiscent of when the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX thanks to a late interception on the goal line. The only explanation for Marseille not playing for the field goal could have been a lack of confidence in the field goal team after the previous missed extra point.

Marseille QB Kaleb Scott Photo Diane Event Photography

For the Blue Stars, who had such a great season, there could not have been a more disappointing ending.

The Black Panthers, in contrast, are ecstatic to advance to the championship game for another matchup with the La Courneuve Flash, their fourth meeting in the last few months. That game will take place in two weeks, on July 9th, in the Black Panthers’ home stadium

A current student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carter played football in high school and has been a lifelong avid football fan.