By Molly Hayden, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public Affairs November 21, 2011
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- An hour before kick-off the harvest moon positioned itself low in the sky as if to get a prime seat for the much-anticipated DoDDS-Europe All-Star football game, here, Nov. 12. The smell of grilled hamburgers permeated from the north end zone where Kori Pollock, a physical education teacher at Vilseck High School, and fellow members of the booster club waited for the hungry crowd to arrive.
Side judge Lorinza Williams paced the sidelines, checking the placement of yard markers, which had already begun to gather frost.
"In the meantime, I'm just trying to stay warm," he said before heading over to stretch with the other six referees.
As if on cue, John Cougar Mellencamp's "Authority Song" blasted from speakers as the crowd began to filter in.
"I just came to watch," said Shandra Gonzales as she walked toward the stands with her 3-year-old son, Thomas, who was bundled up in a stroller. "The last time I saw a game was when I was in high school."
While more than 10 years had passed since Gonzales witnessed a football game, it was twice as long since DoDDS-Europe hosted an all-star game, well before many players in this evening's game were born.
"Anytime you a have a sporting event like this it's another piece of home," said Mike Thomas, Bavaria District superintendent. "We've wanted to bring this back for while and it finally came together through the support of the community. It's a good start."
The inception of this comeback game was the impetus of the game itself.
While the South dominated the first half with an interception, a recovered fumble, strong running and two touchdowns which made the score 14-6, the North demonstrated its resolve with a well-executed comeback in the second half.
"We were all secret weapons on our own team, now we are a team," said Lakenheath linebacker Chance Knoblauch. "It's all about the friendly rivalry, but we all want to win."
This rivalry began four days prior when the 61 players from across Europe met to practice together for the first time.
"We know the North team is bigger than us," said Aviano senior and running back Darien Cornett. "But we're faster, we're stronger."
"Plus, we have home field advantage," added defensive back Daniel Arroya, a senior at Vilseck High School.
Upon hearing this assessment, however, the North was not convinced.
"No way," said Brussels senior Mathias Bifani, a wide receiver for the team. "We have the Bitburger line, nothing's getting through."
The Bitburger line consisted of Bitburg linemen Darian Billups, Colton Engelmeier, Austin Schmidt and Shaquille Williams, weighing in, collectively, at nearly 1,200 pounds. This offensive line, mixed with Bitburg running back Kyle Edgar, made the North a formidable force in the second half.
With four minutes left in the third quarter, Edgar exploded up the left side for a 59-yard rushing touchdown, bringing the North within one, 14-13.
The South still had its head in the game when Arroyo took the punt off a bounce and sliced through the special teams with a 30-yard return. The South was stopped short, however, when quarterback Corey Webb, a senior from Aviano, fumbled the hand-off.
The North's offensive line didn't waste any time. The sequence of plays alternated the ball between power backs Edgar and Brussels senior Vinny Culotta, who put the ball on the two yard line with 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
South linebacker Mezzin El Sayed, a senior from Heidelberg, collected his teammates and pumped them up for a goal-line stance. "This is why we play this game," he shouted.
However, the Bitburger line rang true and Billups punched it in for another North touchdown, making the score 20-14 with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
The North continued to dominate the fourth quarter, wearing down the South's defense while running out precious minutes on the clock. Wiesbaden quarterback Gary Miskovsky kept the ball on the ground, distributing it mostly between running backs Jon Groteleuschen from Ramstein and Schmidt.
After several penalties forced the North to regain lost ground, Lakenheath kicker Adam Garcia eeked a 41-yarder through the uprights, essentially sealing the game at 23-14.
The South attempted to go deep a few times up the left side to Ansbach's Derrick Flake but could not connect. They turned over on downs and the North ran out the remaining minute on the clock.
"We came up a little short tonight, but I hope this was a good experience for you. I hope you learned something from it," Markus George, the South's head coach from Ansbach, told his team as they huddled after the game. "They outplayed us the second half; hats off to them."
Across the field, the North celebrated its victory.
"You didn't quit, you didn't give up on yourself, you played the game and you played it well," said defensive coach Matt Martinez.
"Most teams have three to five star players," added head coach Steve Jewell from Wiesbaden. "Here, we have them all."
Editor's Note: Jeremy S. Buddemeier contributed reporting.