AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – The Aviano Saints should see if the third time really is the charm next weekend as they likely travel to play Napoli for the DODEA-Europe Division II Soccer Championship.
Aviano, which has already lost twice to the Wildcats this season in fairly convincing fashion, also beat the Vicenza Cougars three times in games that were possibly even more lopsided.
The most recent was a 40-0 win on Saturday in the semifinals, which was actually a little closer than the score indicated.
Vicenza turned the ball over five times and had only one drive that lasted more than a few plays Saturday, but had two successful stands near its end zone and forced the Saints to turn the ball over on downs three times.
Coach Jesse Woods was upbeat afterward.
“This is actually a win,” he said. “It might not look like it, but I’ve seen this team – many of whom have never played football before – improve so much since the start of the season…”
Aviano will likely need to make an even bigger improvement in a week if they hope to beat the Wildcats, who are set to host Rota in the other division semifinal on Monday. The Wildcats have defeated the Admirals by a combined score of 95-0 in two games this season.
“They’re by far the strongest team in the conference,” Aviano coach Rick Dahlstrom said of the Wildcats, who outscored the Saints 75-21 in two games. “We will try to get the new 22 or many anyway [19 were suited up Saturday] Unsuitable players, come up with a plan and see what happens.”
Javan Sherrod, one of the Saints’ captains, said he believes a win is possible.
“We’ve improved so much since the start of the season,” he said. “I see a good game for both teams, but we could come out on top.”
Saturday’s game against Vicenza, which started in steady rain, was not in doubt for very long. Aviano went up 14-0 after one quarter on a pair of touchdown runs from Deon Walker. Colin North returned a fumble 15 yards for a score in the second quarter and Malakai Harkley’s conversion run made it 22-0.
Later, Harkley scored two touchdowns of his own and Walker added another.
Vicenza’s best chance of the day came when Daniel Bagoubeu — a junior built more like a guard than a running back — got behind Aviano on three straight runs to the edge of the Aviano red zone. But a pushing penalty on his final run set the Cougars back and they never recovered.
If Rota manage to upset Napoli, the Saints would host the title game. Aviano has defeated Rota twice this season by a combined score of 84-6.