CHAMPIONS: Royals recapture high ground

by Thomas Warner
contributing writer

Title game captains Solomon Udoaka, Jordan Hodson, Jakob Steinbeck, and Bailey Holland carry the jersey of injured receiver/defensive back Jason Jones at the pregame coinflip. — Photo by Evan Willingham

Ramstein senior standout Miquel Smith locks in on one of his nine tackles while helping anchor the Ramstein defensive secondary. — Photo by Evan Willingham

Ramstein completed the high school football season undefeated with a 30-12 win over Lakenheath, securing the 2018 Division I title after the Royals lost in the title game last year and making it clear to all that they are the gold standard among all DODEA football schools.

Dominique Arizpe might have cemented this latest large school title, the fourth of this decade and the seventh title game appearance in the past nine seasons for the Royals’ program, with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter. Also a track and field standout, Arizpe ran well all season and had 77 yards on 18 carries to finalize a high-volume junior campaign.

“Our overall running game was beneficial to us all year,” said third-year head coach Carter Hollenbeck. “We were fortunate to have several running options and we threw the ball with consistency, too, so all of that made us hard to defend. This championship was earned by many and not just a few.”

Austin Grimes had a 32-yard field goal plus three extra-point kicks in the win and Ramstein (8-0) had many in uniform who got little recognition throughout the undefeated title campaign. An offensive line that ranked as best in all of Europe and several defensive pursuit players who kept opponents on the run made for many double-digit wins for the dominant Royals.

David Faust posted a solid senior season defensively, ending things with nine tackles and an interception. Miquel Smith also had 11 stops while Bailey Holland had nine, then Cole Strom, Nick Scherzer, Jalon Le

Ramstein team members took occasional pauses to soak in some of the excitement that comes with an undefeated championship season. — Photo by Rudy Ridenbaugh

wis, and Kyle Lloyd combined for nearly 30 more to halt Lakenheath’s upset bid. Ramstein outscored opponents 286-98 enroute to the championship and had beaten LHS 40-0 earlier this season but this final game had several twists and turns before an outcome was determined.

“We blocked a punt right before halftime or it would have been scoreless,” said Hollenbeck. “On the night, we had four defensive stands inside Lakenheath’s red zone that were huge. Our defense really stepped up, but they’ve played at a high level all year.”

Logan Ridenbaugh blocked the Lakenheath punt and Ramstein got on the scoreboard first with a quarterback sneak touchdown by Jakob Steinbeck. Early in the third quarter, J.J. Little ran the ball and Naser Eaves caught a Steinbeck aerial to set up the Royals’ second TD, on a 12-yard carry by Little. Lakenheath (6-2) only saw eight pass attempts by Steinbeck because the running attack of Arizpe, Little, and Holland piled up nearly 200 yards and served to keep the clock moving.

After Lakenheath got a touchdown run to cut their deficit to 14-6, Arizpe peeled of his long kick return and added another short scoring carry to start the fourth quarter to built an insurmountable lead. One area that Lakenheath was able to penetrate with the passing game, piling up 216 air yards including one long scoring play for 80 yards that would be their last big push.

Head coach Carter Hollenbeck now has two championships. — Photo by Thomas Warner

“The first time we played them obviously wasn’t who we were,” said Lakenheath coach Gabe Feletar. “We had some big moments and we played really hard … leaving it all out there.”

Eaves picked off two of the Lancers’ throws and showed himself to be among DODEA’s elite footballers. Next up is basketball, where he already won last year’s hardwood season MVP award. There will be other sports for other players, too, and this football season will be long remembered for the deep cast of producers that made the title possible.

Nick Scherzer transferred from Spangdahlem and was an immediate force on both the offensive and defensive lines. Soloman Udoaka was another big body senior on the offensive line with Jordan Hodson and there were far too many defensive stalwarts to fully note.

The 2018 season was notable for the competitive climate of the other five Division I schools, as Lakenheath battled toward its eventual second-seed status, Stuttgart improved gradually during the season in hopes of defending its 2017 crown, and Kaiserslautern got guidance from a new coach to make a return to the postseason. Finally, though, it was Ramstein that had the most consistent plan and set a model for other schools to try and duplicate next fall.