Underdog Parma Panthers upend Firenze Guelfi in Italian Bowl played in Toledo, Ohio

For the second time in three years, the Parma Panthers of the Italian Football League (IFL) have been named Italian Bowl champions following a 29-13 win over the Guelfi Firenze in the Glass Bowl, Toledo.

Sports betting has been legal in the state of Ohio since the beginning of the year and while there was no book made on the game, everyone and their uncle outside the Panthers had made them the underdogs for the 42nd Italian Bowl.  The game was held for the first time in history outside Italy in the friendly confines of the Glass Bowl on the campus of the University of Toledo in the Northwest corner of the Buckeye State.

The Parma Panthers may have been the only ones who had not forgotten that they defeated the reigning champs in April by a score of 25-7.  Offensive genius Art Briles was back in action, coaching on the Firenze sideline after being forced to look after his own health in the US during the duration of the IFL regular season.

Parma DB Ryan Edward Minniti #1

Guelfi won the toss and elected to receive.  The first drive was led by Andrea Fimiani who nearly connected with Gerbino on a long toss over the visitor’s sideline that was broken up by Marcello Leone. A quick kick on fourth down by Gerbino was the end of the first drive for the Guelfi.

Parma took possession on the own 28 and with Anthony Paoletta at the helm of the Parma offense, they set out to prove the doubters wrong.  With passes to Davide Volpi and Tomasso Finadri supplying contrast to the run-happy Parma offense, they navigated the Glass Bowl astroturf to the Guelfi 30-yard line. While a post pattern pass over the left side was broken up by Tommaso Greci, on the following down, Paoletta found Volpi wide open on a similar route initiated from the right side of the formation. A PAT from Francesco Diaferia barely cleared the crossbar but the seven points that went up on the stadium scoreboard were clear as Toledo Glass.

Parma RB Titi Mpoko Paul Wilfried #25 finding running room

So much for the experts. Parma had stopped the high-octane Firenze offense and then marched down the field for a 73-yard drive to open the scoring 7-0

The second Guelfi drive featured a substitution at quarterback with Gerbino taking some of the snaps but it was a Fimiani pass that was picked off by Marcello Leone that once again stymied the storied Florence offense.  Subsequent drives by the Panthers and Guelfi were unable to impact the scoreline with penalties, broken-up passes and turnovers keeping both offenses in check. Finally, with nine minutes left in the second quarter, Parma’s 23-year old quarterback, Anthony Paoletti connected with 40-year old Tommaso Finadri for a 14-yard passing touchdown capping a 10-play, 50-yard drive to make the score 14-0.

The Panther’s offense was not finished and Minniti polished off an eight-play, 74-yard drive later in the quarter by weaving his way through the Florence defense en route to the third Parma touchdown of the half with 1:48 left before the intermission. The commentary team for Buckeye Cable Sports Network who produced the Italian Bowl broadcast admitted they could not have imagined that the Panthers would go into the locker rooms with a 21-0 lead.

As the halftime statistics were passed out in the press box, the most noticeable zero was noted for Guelfi.  Art Briles’ vaunted offense had not notched a single Primo Down.

Following an operatic halftime performance, Parma took the kickoff and looked poised to continue where they left off in the first half. They drove the ball effectively once again until faced with a fourth and four on the Guelfi 41.  Paoletti threw up an errant ball that landed in the hands of Guelfi defender Andrew McElroy giving Firenze the first big break of the game. The interception return was negated by a sideline interference call.  The Guelfi, however, would not squander the opportunity driving 60 yards in seven plays capped off by runs by both quarterbacks with Gerbino taking the final 14 yards for his account. It would be the lone tally in the third quarter and gave the Guelfi some perspective with a scoreline of 21-7.

Parma QB Anthony Albert Paoletti #2

In the fourth quarter, the Florentine defense looked as though they had finally figured out how to contain the Panther’s offense. Unfortunately for the Guelfi, the Panthers had learned the same trick back in the first quarter.  Panther head coach Brian Michitti continued his ball control offense that kept the game clock running and kept Art Briles and his offensive unit off the field.  Another Minniti rushing touchdown coming off an interception and a six-play, 42-yard run proved to be the Tiramisu at the end of the Parma feast (27-7).

Jared Gerbino would close out his season with a one-yard touchdown run but the ensuing PAT would prove to be a comical ending to the day’s festivities with an errant scrimmage kick snap being fumbled halfway down the field until Denis Bilcari scooped up the ball and completed the two-point conversion safety.

With the Glass Bowl scoreboard reading 29-13 in favor of the Parma Panthers. FIDAF President Leoluca Orlando presented the Gionni Columbo trophy to the Parma Panthers and their head coach, Brian Michitti, who just happened to be born in Fairfield, Ohio.

Parma head coach Brian Michitti:

‘We talked about limiting their big plays and limiting our mistakes, and we did a great job today. We made mistakes, but we came back and finished plays, [forced] turnovers, and made key stops when we had to. We kept our emotions in check, and that was probably the most important thing.’

Guelfi coach Art Briles:

‘I didn’t do a very good job. I made some mistakes schematically early in the game that kind of put us behind the eight ball, and we had a hard time catching up.’

Alexs Ramos was named MVP and received his award from Italy Bowl celebrity and Pro Football Hall of Fame Wide Receiver, Calvin Johnson.

Photos: Giulio Busi & Manuela Pellegrini

Text: John Mahnen

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