The Milano Seamen returned to the winner’s podium in Italy Saturday after upending the favorite and defending champion Milano Rhinos 37-29 in the 2017 Italian Bowl.
The Rhinos were the odds on favorites to win the title again under head coach Chris Ault after another undefeated regular season.
However, the Seamen came well prepared.
After losing to the Rhinos earlier in the season, 26-10, the Seamen had improved, especially on offense.
Quarterback Luke Zahradka was outstanding in completing 12 of 16 passes for 295 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding two more himself on the ground and was named Italian Bowl MVP. Receiver Reece Horn had a huge game catching five passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. while running back Danilo Bonaparte rushed for 66 yards and another touchdown.
Quarterback TJ Pryor paced the Rhinos throwing for 172 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 80 yards. Pietro Elmi caught five passes for 90 yards and Gabriele Arioli caught two touchdown passes. Nicholas Ricciardulli rushed for 133 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns.
The difference in the game was ball possession. The Seamen controlled the ball, maintaining possession for almost 70% of the game. They scored on four of seven possessions and on the last one, kept the Rhinos offense off the field for the last five minutes of the game, running out the clock.
The Seamen took a fast 9-0 lead after forcing the Rhinos to give up a safety and then scoring a touchdown when Zahradka connected with Horn for a 43 yard touchdown, three and a half minutes into the game. Pryor responded with an 11 play, 95 yard drive eating up five minutes, giving the ball to Ricciardulli to narrow the gap to 9-7.
Zahradka engineered two more touchdowns as Horn scored his first on a 34 yard touchdown pass and then Bonaparte took the ball in from nine yards out and the Seamen went up 23-7. Pryor came right back finishing off a drive with 23 yard touchdown pass to Arioli and the Seamen led 23-14 at the half.
The Seamen added to their lead when Zahradka took the ball in himself late in the third quarter to extend the lead to 30-14. Again, the Rhinos replied with Ricciardulli scoring his second early in the fourth and the lead was reduced to 30-21.
But Zahradka called his own number again midway through the final quarter to add to the lead 37-21. Pryor and the Rhinos were not done. A nine play, 80 yard drive ended with another touchdown pass from Pryor to Arioli and the score was 37-29 with plenty of time left on the clock.
However, Zahradka and the Seamen executed a beautiful and methodical 12 play, 56 yard drive that ate up more than five minutes, never allowing the Rhinos offense close to the ball again. The nine rushing plays consumed the clock and the Seamen took a knee at the Rhinos 24 yard line to end the game.
With it, the Seamen regained the trophy they had won two years ago, giving them their third Italian championship in the last five years.