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Things learned, observed during Far East D-I football championship game

This post has been updated, 11/20/12

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer wrings the last of the rain out of his socks, muttering many an oath about the weather Saturday at Yokota High’s Bonk Field:

The weatherman deserves a gold star, 15 “attaboys” and a tip of the cap for the picture-postcard perfect weather for the Far East Division II football championship Nov. 10 at Zama, weather so clear you could see the engine vapor trails of about 15 commercial airliners headed west over the Japan Alps in the distance.

As for Saturday’s Division I football title game’s weather? How about a punch in the jaw and a kick in the posterior, for starters?

Wow. Talk about nasty. All kinds of rain, from the drizzly to the blowing in sideways and bouncing high off the track at Yokota High’s Bonk Field.

And the timing. It had been spitting on and off for much of the day, but as people were arriving for the game, it kicked in. Big time. And kept up from opening kickoff to final whistle. I’m sure it was enough to keep many people at home, curled up by the heater and with a radio tuned to AFN Eagle 810-AM’s coverage of the game.

And probably didn’t do the Shima Shack concession any favors, which wasn’t a good note for Glenn Shimabukuro, the place’s caretaker and Yokota football everyman for the last nine years until he PCSed to Hawaii in summer. He flew back on his own dime to be at the championship and craft his always-tasty chicken bowls and Shima cakes one last time. A bit soggy, but I’m sure he was happy to be back. And scores of tummies filled with his fare were ever grateful, I’m sure.

Made it challenging also for the AFN crew which braved the elements and put together the game simulcast on the Eagle and also to the good folk on Okinawa listening on AFN Surf 648 AM. D’Artanyan Ratley (DJ Scuttlebutt) produced the show, yours truly and Michael Lahrman (DJ Scazm) mikeside, and the real heroes of the evening, Miranda DeShon (DJ Goldirox) and Terace Garnier (DJ Fructis), truly braving the rain as sideline reporters.

What we all saw was pure domination and as much a signature exit as the Yokota Panthers could have hoped for, what with a team that had largely been playing together for three seasons, some of whom had been with the team since they were freshmen.

Max Lester, Jake Jackson, Victor Madaris, Dylan Kessler and Jesse Hogan, the linemen, anchors of a team that played 10 of its 11 games with a running clock at some point in the game, went a perfect 11-0 and outscored opponents 470-105.

The Killer B’s, Morgan Breazell (1,086 yards, 16 touchdowns, 111 carries), Raymond “Ice Man” Butler (1,212, 14, 95) and Donovan Ball (728, 10, 43), with quarterback-sometime tailback Stanley Speed (614, 13, 57; 10-for-15, 346 yards, 4 touchdowns in the air).

I remember visiting Yokota principal Darrell Mood at the school on Aug. 22, 2011, prior to the start of the first of two Far East Division I championship seasons for the Panthers. He sported a huge smile on his face and said something to the effect of, “This year, the football team is gonna break out a can of ‘Whoop-@$$.’” With the exception of one game, a 13-9 loss at American School In Japan, he was absolutely prophetic.

Enjoy it, Yokota. For it all goes away next fall. Entire offense and most of the defense graduates. It might not be as much a rebuilding job as it will be reloading for coach Tim Pujol, however. This is, after all, Yokota. Home of five Rising Sun Bowl and two D-I titles and 12 each DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools titles on Pujol’s watch and scads more Kanto championships prior to his arrival in 1999. They’re the gold standard. More league titles than anybody in the Pacific Rim, except George Washington of Guam, has ever won.
***
That’s not to say Kubasaki was or is chopped liver. Far from it. It was a fine season in Dragonland, despite stumbling to three losses at the end.

Coach Fred Bales, speedster Jarrett Mitchell (1,392 yards, 139 carries), center-turned-gunslinger Tyler Smith and the Dragons accomplished their first regular season series sweep of Kadena since before the Far East playoffs began in 2005, and their first Okinawa Activities Council championship won by games played, not by points aggregate. And they beat every other Division I foe besides Yokota.

Mitchell scored the only two touchdowns Yokota surrendered to Kubasaki in the two games they played, and each was a thing of beauty. That deft 80-yard zig-zag scamper in last month’s 31-6 loss at home to Yokota, simply marvelous. Wherever Yokota defenders showed to slow Mitchell down, he would simply zag out of the way and keep going.

And that 62-yard scoring pass off a quick hitch left from Smith on Saturday. It looked hopeless at first for Mitchell, bottled up along the Kubasaki sideline with 11 Panthers in pursuit.

Very much like that touchdown scene in the original Longest Yard movie, with Burt Reynolds’ Paul Crewe quarterback character looking for somewhere, anywhere to go, Mitchell reversed his field, saw a few linemen waiting to play escort for him and he took off down the Yokota sideline, cutting back left inside the 20 and into the end zone. Amazing play by an amazing athlete.

That said, the Dragons did themselves no favors by committing three turnovers, each of which led to Yokota touchdowns. Worse was a second-quarter segment of consecutive personal-foul penalties against Kubasaki which kept Yokota's third touchdown drive, of 96 yards on 11 plays in 4:52, alive. Had the first personal foul not been committed, Yokota would have faced third down and 18 at its 24. Instead, first down at the 39.

As for the future, Mitchell will return, as will Smith and most of the Dragons’ line, boding well for the future in Dragonland. This sort of thing does move in cycles, after all.

In the mid-2000s when the playoffs began, Korea was the “it” program, with Seoul American winning the D-I title in 2006 and ’08 and Osan American the D-II crown in 2005. Kadena dominated the latter part of the decade, winning the D-I crown in 2007, ’09 and ’10, the latter two with a line and backs so dominant they were placed among the greatest teams of all time out here.

Now, it’s Yokota’s turn to bask in that limelight, owner of two D-I titles to tie Seoul American for second-most all-time. They were simply at another level this year. We’ll see whose turn it is next year.

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Ornauer on AFN

 

Stars and Stripes reporter Dave Ornauer talks about the Pacific sports scene on AFN Radio. (Click on right arrow to play file.)

 

Nov. 7: Dave Ornauer talks about Far East championship week, stepping off with cross country.

Oct. 24: Dave Ornauer talks about cross country, football and other Pacific sporting events occurring this weekend.

Oct. 17: The Nile C. Kinnick football team can ensure its fans have good seats for the Far East Division I final with a win over Kadena on Saturday.