France’s Saint-Ouen-L’Aumône Cougars aiming to return to French title game

The Saint-Ouen-L’Aumône Cougars opened the 2018 season in France last weekend in convincing fashion with a 53-21 victory over the Bron-Villeurbanne Falcons.

The win avenged a loss to the Falcons in the final regular season game of 2017 but also set the tone for what Saint-Ouen hopes is another run at the French title.

The Cougars, back-to-back champions in 2015 and 2016, struggled through a mediocre season in 2017 which saw them finish with a 5-5 record and out of the playoffs. The departure of their quarterback, DeAuntre Smiley, during the season due to personal reasons was a blow. Smiley had been leading the French league in passing at the time and was a key to the Cougars success up to that point.

Photo: Nicolas Robert

Nevertheless, head coach and general manager Xavier Mas, who is in his 18th year as head coach of the Cougars, seems to have given the team new direction in 2018. Following the win over Bron-Villeurbanne last weekend, which saw the Cougars take a 46-0 lead at halftime  and then give up three second half touchdowns, he explained what happened:

“Yes I made some changes after the half but but it doesn’t explain everything,  My guys were less focused with that gap between the teams. The Falcons had  trouble on offense as our DL was dominating their OL on the ground.  Plus they had two bad punt snaps on punt that cost them two safeties. But it was still a good win and a good start to the season.”

Saint-Ouen have lost 14 players from the 2017 squad but have filled those spots with former Cougars who have returned to the fold, including linebacker Guillaume Saint Julien, as well as 11 players from lower division teams. The two new imports are quarterback Jonathan Baker (Northwest Missouri State, NCAA, Div. II) and defensive lineman Brandon Crawford (Buffalo, NCAA FBS). Baker replaces Jordan Gehrke who had signed but suddenly left in early January.

Photo: Nicolas Robert

Baker was outstanding in his debut game with the Cougars throwing for 220 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions on 20 of 27 (74%) passing. Crawford was a dominant force on the defensive line in the game against the Falcons recording four solo tackles.

Whether the Cougars can return to the championship game is too early to tell, but Mas thinks his team can be in the mix:

“Last season before our QB quit two games before the end of the regular season we were on road to the semi-finals to try for a three peat. We have a bitter taste in our mouths because we thought we had a chance for our third straight championship. So this season our goal is to get back to the Championship Game and to try to win our 3rd title in 4 years even if we know that the Flash and Black Panthers  are the favorites for the title.”

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