Things learned, observed in USFJ-AFL Week 12.0
Published: July 8, 2012
Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer gazes at the new U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League South Division landscape and muses about how a last-place team could win the division if it keeps this up:
Allen Iverson, then of the Philadelphia 76ers, made no mistaking his disdain for the concept of practice in an infamous video gone viral on YouTube many moons ago.
He’s proof positive of what lack of practice won’t do for you, which is not get you a championship ring, of which Iverson has none and never will (how’s THAT for a quadruple negative?).
Camp Hansen’s football team could very well be proof positive of what good things can come out of a good, lengthy, in-depth practice at which all players are available and work, with the relentlessness of a man hungering for his last meal, running formations and plays again and again until they’re done pretty well right.
On July 4, the Wolfpack engaged in such a workout. Clearly, they’d learned their lessons from everything gone wrong in their 36-6 loss to Kadena on May 12 and their come-from-behind 24-8 win on June 30 in which they trailed the Dragons 8-2 with eight minutes left.
The Wolfpack broke down every aspect of every offensive play and defensive formation, brushed up on the most minute of details, precision of pass routes and pass rushes, trap blocks and defensive line splits.
Sure, the Wolfpack got quite a bit of help in the form of two lost fumbles and a shanked punt which gave Hansen excellent field position. But unlike June 30 when they missed out on opportunity after opportunity, the Wolfpack scored four times in the first 16 minutes, 13 seconds, leaving nothing to chance in a 30-0 romp over the Dragons.
That July 4th practice “made all the difference,” outgoing Wolfpack assistant coach Michael Harris said.
Made all the difference between having to grind out a victory and cruising to one. Hansen outgained Kadena 305-83 in offensive yards, recorded four second-quarter sacks, two each by Kyle Haupt and Nicholas Placke, forced four fumbles and intercepted a Dragons pass.
Kadena’s defense was far from chopped liver, recording two sacks and intercepting three Daren Monk passes. The difference: What Hansen did with its opportunities, as opposed to what Kadena did not do with its.
It didn’t hurt Monk that he finally had his trusty receiver James Fultz back in uniform. One of the heroes of the Wolfpack’s 2010 South Division title team, Fultz had not played for two months, staying at home to take care of family and even at one point had turned in his gear. Somehow, Monk talked Fultz back into his familiar No. 11 jersey and the results were impressive – Fultz caught four passes for 116 yards, including three touchdown grabs.
To their credit, the Dragons adjusted nicely on offense in the second half, taking advantage of Haupt and Placke pinning their ears back and charging from their defensive-end spots, with Emanuel Griffin running for 92 second-half yards. But by then, the damage was done and the Dragons could penetrate no further than Hansen’s 5-yard line early in the third quarter.
For the Dragons, expect wholesale changes in offensive concepts next season, coach Bob Friend said.
As for the Wolfpack … it could be argued that they’re playing the best football in the league right now, or at the very least are the most dangerous team in the league because they possess the most momentum. Quite a step up from a team that lost its first three games in division and is now riding a two-game winning streak.
But to achieve the dream of hosting the USFJ-AFL’s Torii Bowl for the first time, the Wolfpack must now get through defending champion Camp Foster, which has had nearly a month off since beating the Wolfpack on the last play of their June 16 clash 13-8. The Bulldogs will be rested and fresh, at least in theory. Or will the Wolfpack’s momentum turn the Bulldogs into rusty and frazzled?
We’ll see come 6 p.m. Saturday at Kubasaki’s Mike Petty Stadium.
They spend 99 percent of their time in the trenches, 10 to 12 big, beefy guys, all sinew and gristle, grinding and grunting to gain some sort of foothold and create a hole for a running back on offense or closing one up on defense, creating or preventing scoring opportunities.
Thus, it’s pretty rare for linemen to be the ones to score touchdowns. And makes moments like the one John Devine enjoyed on Saturday extra special.
He just so happened to be in the right place at the right time, flying toward the Misawa Air Base end zone, when Devine’s Yokota Warriors teammate Chris Ekstrom stripped the ball out of a Jets player’s hands. Devine did what most anybody else would – fall on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, which helped fuel Yokota’s 21-13 victory over Misawa.
“All I can say is, damn, a lineman who scored!” Devine said in a Facebook status on Sunday. “That’s what’s up! LOL, the fattest fatty you’ll ever see! Long live JD!”
While Devine relished a lineman’s dream, Ekstrom made his presence known on both sides of the football. In addition to his forced fumble, he intercepted a Misawa pass and also ran 3 yards for Yokota’s final touchdown plus a two-point conversion.
“He was pretty instrumental,” Yokota coach Selwyn Jones said of Ekstrom. “He made key plays at the right time.”
And behind the clutch play of Devine and Ekstrom, Yokota captured the North Division’s regular-season title and its accompanying first-round playoff bye, the third time Yokota has hosted the North title game in five seasons. The Warriors won the Torii Bowl in 2010, but did so at home, and the South Division champion is scheduled to host the Torii Bowl this season.