A huge cloud hung over my head during the past two weeks. If I’d been told when I arrived in early March that I’d leave Germany undefeated or with only one loss, I would’ve been satisfied with either scenario.
At 8-0, a single loss shouldn’t be worth crying about, but a perfect season… In 25 years of coaching I’d never accomplished this. Making it even more urgent, to me, is that I’m leaving before the season finale against last place Trier. The Razorbacks season will almost assuredly end with a victory, but a loss would destroy the perfect season, give Giessen the championship and send me home with an awful taste in my mouth.
I had reason to worry. The Giessen Golden Dragons were 7-0-1; only a tie away from perfection. They had the top defense in the league, allowing less than 14 points per game. They lack our talent or strength, but are well-coached and play fundamentally sound football. The Golden Dragons were a dangerous and confident group. After watching their film, I believed that we should beat them, but knew we’d have to play well.
We scored first, but had to work for it, ten plays culminating in a 33-yard TD pass to Micki Mayer. Giessens ‘ offense came out strong as well, scoring a field goal on their first possession and a touchdown on their second, to take a 10-7 lead early in the second period.
Our defense stiffened, and a bubble screen to Mayer for a 50-yard touchdown gave us a 14-10 lead at halftime.
The Dragons were giving us a game. I was frustrated by our execution on offense. We’d made mistakes on each of our three non-scoring drives and against a good defense, this cost us. I was encouraged though, that our defense seemed to have solved the Giessen offense.
After the break, our defense continued to play well, quickly forcing a punt. A score now would give us a huge momentum edge… and a two-score lead. Unfortunately, two poor plays set up a 3rd and 5.
I doubt anyone casually watching the game would recognize how pivotal this situation was. Even coaches watching the film would likely overlook this as a turning point. But at this moment I was very nervous. A three-and-out would give the Dragons confidence and frustrate both our offense and defense, so quickly having to return to the field to hold a 4-point lead. We desperately needed a first down.
Football is full of subtle, overlooked actions separating victors from the defeated. The third-and-five conversion early in the second half won’t make any highlight films, but to me, this play set the tone for rest of the game.
Split receiver, Andi Lo Meo streaked off the line, representing a deep route. The Dragon corner took the bait, giving too much cushion, when Lo Meo abruptly cut off his route and hitched at five-yards. Quarterback, Garret Coleo was throwing before the cut and hit Lo Meo perfectly, who caught the ball, turned outside and was tackled falling forward; Six yards and a first down. A modest play, but perfectly executed by Lo Meo and Coleo, accomplishing exactly what we needed.
Two plays later, a quarterback counter put the knife in the Golden Dragons. Well-blocked at the point of attack, Garret had a big gain already when he reversed his field at the ten, crossing from sideline to sideline to score. 21-10 Razorbacks.
The Golden Dragons would never stop the Razorbacks again. On four second half possessions, the offense scored four touchdowns, pulling away for a 41-18 victory.
What a gratifying way for me to leave Germany, after arguably our best offensive half of the season. This was truly a great team effort. Every unit owns a piece of the championship win. Our receivers ran great routes and caught the ball, the backs ran well, Coleo ran and threw well and made the correct reads, the O-line played outstanding, dominating the line, opening holes and allowing no sacks or hurries. Our defense shut down the Dragons for most of the game, stuffing the run and blanketing the pass routes.
A great feature of European football is that coaches can celebrate with the team in ways that wouldn’t be appropriate in the US. Most enjoyed a few beers directly following the game, and many more during the six-hour bus ride back to Ravensburg.
I’ll leave Germany on Saturday with a championship and a perfect season, following our best offensive game of the season. There’d be something wrong with an offensive coordinator who couldn’t celebrate this.
The celebration is bitter-sweet though. I’ve loved the time I spent here. I’ve gained friends and experiences far greater than the sacrifices made by leaving home. The Razorback players, coaches and management have been a pleasure to work with. The family I live with has become like a second family. Southern Germany is beautiful. It’s been a wonderful time and as excited as I am to get home I’m very sad to leave. I am so thankful though, to have had this opportunity and look forward to many return trips in the future.