Italian Bowl: Parma Panthers capture Italian Bowl 40 in overtime win against Milano Seamen

The Parma Panthers have wound up a flawless season by capturing their first Italian Bowl victory since 2013, beating the Milano Seamen 40-34 in overtime.

This was their third victory over the Seamen in as many tries this year and with it, Parma finished undefeated.

The championship game was a thriller from start to finish. Like both previous contests between these two, the Panthers had managed to edge out the Seamen with poise and execution, and this game was no different. Parma dominated most of the first three quarters before the Seamen stormed back to take the game to overtime. 

Parma received the opening kickoff of a historic 40th Italian Bowl, and in anti-climatic fashion, the ball flew out the back of the endzone for a touchback. Parma quarterback Reilly Hennessey went straight to work hitting Tommaso Finadri on a 35-yard fade to take the Panthers into Seamen territory. Two plays later,  and wide receiver Nick Diaco (#11) was in on the action ripping the Seamen defense for 15 yards before converting a crucial fourth-down from their unstoppable wildcat formation. A play later, Hennessey flew into the endzone from a designed sneak to put the final’s first score on the board with lightning speed. Although the Seamen were able to stuff almost every run Parma made, the Panthers made short work of them through the air.

 

Jarey Elder, fresh back from The Spring League, started the Seamen’s drive off from running back, showing the electricity he would carry throughout the game whenever he got the ball. But the drive stumbled as quarterback Luke Zahradka was unable to connect with any of his receivers downfield. This was no cause for concern though, as the Seamen have started slowly in almost every game this year.

The follow Panther drive looked far less threatening after Hennesey missed a wide-open Finadri on a double move, which would have resulted in their second score had it not been for the miscue. The Panthers went three-and-out. The following Seamen drive had equal success as they continued to struggle to move the ball on a ravenous Parma front seven.

The Panthers on the other hand had no issue moving the ball as the run game got going with ageless Parma legend Allessandro Malpeli Avalli (#33) and Hennessey ripping chunks of yardage. Hennessey then hit Matteo Bonzani (#80) wide open on a 45-yard corner route to set the team up for their second score by way of a Diaco wildcat power-play to put the Panthers up 14 – 0.

The Seamen’s offensive woes continued as the Parma defense began to put pressure on Zahradka and forced another three-and-out. The Panthers proceeded to roll down the field drive after drive. Hennessey had typically acted as the point guard, setting up his offensive play-makers during the season, but in the final, he was taking the main role. Putting the ball where it needed to be over and over, but more importantly using his legs to aggressively run through the Seamen defense who appeared to have no answers.

Parma RB Allessandro Malpeli Avalli #33 Photo: Giulio Busi

Although Parma had looked dangerous throughout, they were unable to capitalize on every opportunity allowing the Seamen to remain in the game. The next few drives from both sides resulted in very little, outside of increasingly better field position for the Panthers. Then, with five minutes left in the half, the Panthers began to lean heavily on their running game as both Malpeli Avalli and Modest Pooda (#4) slowly ate up the yards. The Seamen then stuck their heels in and forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal. But the snap was high and Simone Alinovi (#20), seeing his first bit of action in the half, snagged the ball out the air one-handed and ran the 20 yards himself to pick up the first down. On the next play, Hennessey hit Finadri on a back-shoulder fade from the 10-yard line to claim the Panthers‘ third score.

Just as the game felt like it was starting to get away at 21 – 0, with 1:30 to go in the half, the Seamen struck back. Elder shot up the middle on a draw leaping over a defender crashing through the midway point into Parma territory. One play later, Zahradka hit Jordan Bouha (#1) on a 60-yard seam route to put some life back into Milano’s championship hopes. After a failed extra point Parma went in at the break leading 21-6.

After the second half opened with two forgettable drives from either side, the second drive for the Seamen produced fireworks. After a few plays that looked to go nowhere, a third-and-six screen to Bouha went 50 yards for the Seamen’s second score. And just like that Milano was beginning to sneak back into the game and now only trailed by nine points, after yet another missed extra point.

Seamen WR Jordan Bouah #1 Photo: Giulio Busi

Just as quickly as the Seamen had got back into the game so too did Parma pull away once again, as Pooda and Malpeli Avalli together marched the team down the field before Diaco, once again, punched the ball over the line from the wildcat. The score would stand at 28 – 12 as the final quarter of the 40th Italian Bowl came in.

The Seamen refused to go down without a fight, however, and on the ensuing kickoff Bouha took off himself racing 90 yards for a touchdown, shrugging off tackles as he went. Milano missed their third extra point, digging themselves into an unnecessary hole. The score would remain 28 – 18.

The Panthers appeared to be stringing the Seamen along as every time Milano got back into the game Parma would instantly push them back with an all-too-easy touchdown. This time it would come off a free play due to offsides as Hennessey hit Finadri again on a 50-yard go-route to seemingly put the championship game out of reach with the Panthers now leading 34 – 18.

But again the Seamen remained resolute, driving down the field with the savvy play for Zahradka who methodically picked apart the Parma defense, playing the way the team had all year, not forcing the big plays. Zahradka capped the drive off with a goal-line slant to his receiver Stefano Di Tunisi (#84). This time, they were able to get in for two as Elder split the defense on a toss bringing the team back to within eight with four minutes to go.

Parma WR Nick Diaco #11 Photo Giulio Busi

The Parma defense was happy to run as much of the clock as possible. With 2:40 left in the game and trailing by eight points, the Seamen got the ball back on their own 30. This truly was championship football. The two Americans, Zahradka and Elder, led the drive as each took turns running the ball, to bring the Seamen down to the Parma 20. Zahradka then dropped back and threw a laser into the chest of Di Tunisi for the score to bring the Seamen to within two points. Milano lined up for the two-point conversion, Zahradka got the ball and looked to scramble but was immediately hit by a Panther. As the ball flew up, Elder snatched it out of the air and ran it in for two to tie the game up 34 – 34 with one minute to go.

The Panthers weren’t done yet though as one minute still lingered, and for Parma this was more than enough time to get in for the score. Hennessey again played almost flawlessly as he hit his wideouts time and time again to get them all the way down to the 15. A field goal was all they needed to win it all with seconds to go. But it was partially blocked by linebacker Simone Colescia (#56), sending the game to overtime.

The Seamen took the ball first in overtime starting from Parma’s 25. But after Zahradka threw an incompletion on a deep ball, Elder got stuffed in the backfield, and Zahradka threw another incompletion, the Seamen were forced to attempt a field goal. The Panthers blocked it.

Milano RB/DB Jarey Elder #18 Photo Giulio Busi

Next up, Parma. Hennessey and Malpeli Avalli combined to pick up a first down. And then, with the championship on the line, Hennessey hit the unusually quiet Alinovi from the 10-yard line on a wheel route for the Italian Bowl-winning touchdown. Finadri was named MVP.

In the 40th Italian Bowl, the best team undoubtedly won. The final score is a testament to a well-coached and talented Seamen squad, but in the end, it was Parma’s to lose after an absolutely dominant season. 

The context in which Italian football was played this year offered a monumental challenge, to say the least, and it is fair to say the Italian Federation, as well as every team in the league, conquered that challenge. In the end, it was only fitting that the Italian Bowl turned out to be one of the best games in European football this year.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who has worked in B2B journalism and comms in the third sector; with experience in both education and human rights. He has played football for the London Warriors for the last 15 years as well as the