Things learned, observed in Pacific high school football Week 7.0
Published: October 2, 2011
Warriors on the ground path: They’d been outscored 50-14 in their first three games, and hurt themselves with penalties, turnovers and inefficiency in the passing game. Injuries to key players didn’t help, either.
In years past, Daegu American’s football team might have turned to Jarel “Tank” Connie to get them out of trouble. As big as he was, just give to him four times and he’d lean for three yards at a time.
Well, the Warriors don’t have anybody quite that big. So, they turned to Lee Wright, same height as Connie but about 60 pounds lighter, and asked him to contribute the same things Connie did.
The results were similar. Wright had 163 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries as the Warriors righted the ship, blanking Osan American 26-0 and taking their first step back toward their third straight Far East Division II title-game berth and fourth in five years.
“We traded some size for some speed and it paid off,” Warriors coach Ken Walter said. Wright and Darius Wyche are the Warriors’ speed backs, and should one of them get even a blink of a hole to run through, “look out.”
Another tactic that worked well for Daegu was pooch-kicking on the opening kickoff and twice after scoring touchdowns. The short kicks were each recovered by the Warriors, one each by Xavian Washburn, Monnie Mitchell and Romar Banzon, and Daegu converted each into points and “denied them (Osan) three possessions,” Walter said.
Then, there’s sophomore placekicker Haley Claiborne. The second girl kicker (Joanne Youngblood was the first) to suit up for the Warriors in six seasons, Claiborne made good on two extra-point kicks.
I’m sure girls soccer coach Ed Thompson would just as soon Claiborne not put herself in harm’s way like that, but Walter’s gotta be happy about it.
Sidebar to this: Daegu’s not the only team to have had girls on its varsity in recent years. Zama American’s Monica Holman placekicked and even rushed for a touchdown during the 2003 season, and eight years before that, Liz Dolan went a perfect 7-for-7 on extra-point tries and just missed a 29-yard field goal in the Trojans’ season finale, a 7-0 win over Kanto Plain champion Nile C. Kinnick.
All Daegu needs to seal host rights to the D-II title game Nov. 5 is a win over Osan or a loss by 25 points or less on Oct. 14.
Ole ASIJ: Can there be any doubt now that American School In Japan football is now a program, not just an activity, something for young men to do after school?
Aside from having beaten Yokota at Mustang Valley three years running, including their 13-9 win Friday, ASIJ has put together the best four-year run in school history, 19-8, including 3-1 this season, a Kanto Plain title in 2009 and a 4-2 mark vs. Yokota, after going 0-6 in 2007.
That’s called consistency. ASIJ has historically not had that, maybe putting a good season or two together followed by some mediocre or just plain bad ones.
Give coaches Craig Karnitz and John Seevers a second chance against anybody and they’ll make life miserable for you. And ASIJ is tough to beat at Mustang Valley.
The big quarterback, Hayden Jardine, provided the points. The defense did the rest, at times stacking 11 men in the box and daring Yokota to throw the ball.
But it’s not just Jardine doing the damage. Over the years, ASIJ has had some beef in the line, along with plenty of complementary skills-positions players such as Hayden’s brother Tom, Chris Kleindl, Charlie Seno, Haru Kent, Ken Yajima, Nathan Kwon, Andrew Stern and others.
That said, Hayden is very much Division I college quarterback timber. He’ll be one of 20 seniors to graduate this year. That usually signals a down year next year, but I get the feeling ASIJ won’t be down for very long.
Blog post interruption: That 19-8 could just as easily be 21-6, given the two games ASIJ lost to cancellation due to a flu that rampaged through the school two seasons ago.
Woe Yokota: It’s one thing when Yokota, featuring the biggest line the Panthers have had in 10 years, are running the ball so efficiently that they don’t have to throw it. It’s another when a team is so efficient at keeping the Panthers out of the end zone, that they have to throw the ball … and it doesn’t work.
Honest truth, I watched a Yokota practice earlier this season in which they put in some pass plays for the Panthers’ first game vs. ASIJ, a 41-20 win at Bonk Field last month.
But when push came to shove, and the Mustangs’ defense bent (331 yards on 43 carries) but didn’t break (just one touchdown allowed), especially in the red zone, Yokota was forced to throw, and not successfully.
Dollars to dimes, coach Tim Pujol will work on some pass plays rigorously this week, provided he’s able to get everybody to practice – this is, after all, Yokota’s homecoming week, and a great many players have their time divided due to class responsibilities.
But it’s not just the pass game that needs a bit of a jump start. The running game is utterly sound, if not spectacular, efficient to get the job done four out of five times so far this season.
One of the things that made the Panthers of the early 2000s so successful was a succession of dynamic leaders, players who could make their teammates walk over hot coals for 18 miles if necessary to win.
Guys like Michael Wright, “Big Mike,” who in 2002 sounded what became an anthem for the Panthers after they were forced to forfeit their first two games for using an ineligible player: “We’re still the headbusters.”
Guys like Mike Chamberlain, “Little Mike,” who that same season vowed that the Panthers “will never lose another game as long as I’m here,” after the forfeitures.
While Yokota has many good players, many of whom will return next season, that one dynamic leader or two seems to be missing. Once they step forward, things will change for the better.
Kanto race update: There is no tiebreaker provision in the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools constitution, so if Yokota (4-1 overall, 3-1 league), which has two Kanto games left, and ASIJ (3-1, 2-1), which has three, win the rest of their league games, they’ll share the Kanto title at 5-1. Apropos because ASIJ won the league in 2009 and Yokota won its 11th Kanto title in 12 years last season.
Thunder and Lightning have company: One team that is starting to feel its oats in the air is Zama American, winner of three straight after an 0-2 start, including Friday’s 41-7 Far East Division II DODDS Japan play-in game at Yokosuka Naval Base’s Berkey Field.
Yes, the Trojans have a dynamic running-back duo in juniors Andre Encarnacion (664 yards, Pacific-leading 13 touchdowns, 83 carries) and Mitchell Harrison (611, 4, 50). But don’t sleep on sophomore quarterback James Liker, who feasted on Robert D. Edgren’s secondary to the tune of 7-for-10 for 136 yards.
All seven of those completions helped keep alive three Zama touchdown drives:
-- Liker started by going 2-for-2 for 48 yards, a first-half drive capped by Encarnacion’s first of three touchdowns, a 3-yard run 2:57 into the second quarter for the game’s first points.
-- He was 3-for-3 for 36 yards on a drive capped by Encarnacion’s 1-yard TD run to put Zama ahead for good 13-7 with 1:20 left before halftime.
-- And he went 2-for-2 for 52 yards to set up Richard Castillo’s 10-yard touchdown run on the Trojans’ first second-half possession, which sparked a pullaway.
Oh, and Liker’s other three pass attempts? Dropped. Liker could have had a 10-for-10 night.
Now, this is not to say Edgren didn’t put up a fight. After Encarnacion’s first touchdown, Edgren answered right back, with Sean Gammel finding Louis Murphy from 42 yards out to knot the contest. And the Eagles did manage 240 offensive yards, something that should give Zama cause to pause as they prepare to visit Yokota on Friday.
But the Eagles simply ran out of gas in the second half. They don’t have the depth that other teams have; the school doesn’t have a jayvee program this season.
What’s to play for?: One thing DODDS Pacific must do after this football season is over is revisit the early playing dates of the Far East Division I playoff play-in games, this coming Monday, and having just one game in Japan to decide which school plays for the Division II title five weeks before the D-II title game itself.
The loser of each of those games … really don’t have anything left to play for (except Guam High, which has a full island playoff still to come). Kadena, which Guam High plays on Monday, has no games on its schedule the rest of the season other than the D-I semifinal on Oct. 29 and title game on Nov. 12 – IF Kadena wins on Monday. Kinnick and Edgren would need a minor miracle to stay in the Kanto and DODDS Japan races, and the Eagles have already lost the D-II play-in game.
What I’m saying is … what’s to prevent some players from simply hanging up the shoulder pads and not risk injury when they have a basketball or wrestling season coming up? One would hope that would not be the case, but it is a possibility. And even if they did stay, with all that time left with few meaningful games, coaches will have their hands full keeping players motivated.