The key was finishing. Something they'd not done the previous two years, reaching the title game but coming up just short when the chips were down.
It finally came together this season, the continuationof a majorly great run for running backs wearing Zama American Trojans black, maroon and white since 2009. Four Far East Division II championship game appearances. Two titles. A combined 60 touchdown runs and 5,008 yards on 704 carries by their two marquee backs, Andre Encarnacion and Michael Spencer.
The final curtain on Encarnacion’s career and that of “Thunder and Lightning” backfield mate Mitchell Harrison came down on Nov. 10, a crystal-clear evening at newly minted Barry Huitema Field, where the Trojans rose three Encarnacion touchdown runs, one by Harrison and a David Coleman touchdown pass to a 35-20 title-clinching victory over Robert D. Edgren.
That capped a clean 5-0 sweep of Zama’s Division II games for the season, one victory each over Osan American and Daegu High of Korea and three over the D-II runner-up Eagles, who returned to the title game for the first time in four years, only to be outmatched in the line by the physically larger Trojans.
And it left Encarnacion as Zama’s career rushing and touchdown leader, 2,732 yards and 37 TDs on 380 carries. While many will remember Spencer for his explosive breakaway runs, the enduring image of Encarnacion will undoubtedly be his ability to carry four or five people with him, battering-ram style, on those power and dive runs through the interior.
Initially, the D-II title game looked like a Trojans runaway, as Zama used the Coleman TD pass and the first of Encarnacion’s TD runs to go ahead 14-0 late in the first quarter. But the script changed after that. A pair of Edgren fumble recoveries, by Nick Cunniff and Ben Warren, set up a Louis Murphy scoring run and a Leo Austin touchdown pass to cut it to 14-12.
That was as close as Edgren would get. Encarnacion posted two more touchdown runs, Holden Limas made an end-zone tackle for a safety and Harrison capped Zama’s scoring with a 3-yard run with 7:11 left. Khalil Williams caught a 14-yard last-ditch TD pass for Edgren as time ran out.
Such games are usually won and lost in the interior, and Zama’s front five outweighed its green-and-gold defensive counterparts by an average of 32 pounds. And they’ve been together awhile, working the same offense, the modified double-wing and wing-T that six-year Trojans coach Steven Merrell has favored since he arrived at Zama.
Zama’s cupboard is hardly bare. Much of the roster will return, jayvees will be promoted and newcomer Rafael Morales looks as if he’s feature-back timber. Still, with Osan and Daegu a year older and likely a year stronger, you can expect the D-II title-game berth chase to be a bit tighter than this season.
And assuming Blaine Miller returns to coach the Eagles (he’s of the community and not on school faculty, which gets first dibs for the coaching post), he’ll be on the second year of a rebuilding task that finds them much closer to a title than the team’s 2-7 record, with five losses to close the season, might reveal. They’re much farther along than that.
What they need is linemen. Big, beefy guys whom Miller could sell on the bennies of wearing the green-and-gold, in much the same manner as he was able to convince Williams, heretofore a basketball star, to ply his athletic and jumping skills into a multi-purpose flankerback-receiver. Edgren has a proud football tradition, five D-II title-game appearances and championships in 2006-08. Miller is the eternal optimist, a perpetual glass-is-half-full guy whose practices run as smoothly as silk, scripted down to the second, and who had his Eagles fighting to the last second on Nov. 10, even when the game’s outcome was academic; Williams’ last-second TD catch was evidence of that.
A great D-II season this was. Let’s see if 2013 can be even better.