Things learned, observed in USFJ-AFL Week 8.0
Published: August 15, 2011
NOTE: The Torii Bowl, the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League championship game, will kick off at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Robert D. Edgren High School’s Eagles Field.
If defense wins championships, you won’t find a better pair to square off in Saturday’s U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League title Torii Bowl game than South Division champion Foster and North champion Misawa.
For Kevin Lambert of the Torii Bowl host Jets and Jovon Richards of the visiting Bulldogs stood as poster-child examples of how defenses tend to throw monkey wrenches into the best well-oiled offensive machines that any team can bring to the table.
Lambert recorded three quarterback sacks for a Jets defense that also racked up a safety. And for the first time in three meetings this season, Misawa didn’t have to rally to beat now-dethroned league champion Yokota, topping the Warriors 21-14 in Saturday’s North title game at Misawa’s Hillside Stadium.
“He played out of his mind today, played the best game I’ve ever seen a defensive player play,” coach Ben Mathe said of Lambert.
The Jets also got their fair share of offense, particularly from quarterback Douglas Brown, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for another.
But it was the defense that clamped down on Yokota and quarterback Ryan Jones, who was held to one touchdown pass; Frederick Guild’s 55-yard interception return accounted for Yokota’s other points.
And as addressed earlier this season in this space, Misawa is back in the Torii Bowl as it’s been every three years since winning the 2005 title game 30-21 over Yokota as the Misawa Marauders. The Jets also beat Yokosuka 12-6 in the 2008 Torii Bowl, also at Misawa.
So, one pattern continues to be followed. Just a question now of whether something that’s been as regular as tax deadlines in mid-April will also hold true – the host team has never failed to win the Torii Bowl, every year since the USFJ-AFL took on its current form in 2000.
Yokosuka won the 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 Torii Bowls, each at home. Misawa did it in 2005 and 2008, Foster in 2009 – the only time the league’s traveling trophy ever went to a South Division team – and Yokota a season ago. The Torii Bowl was not played in 2001 due to 9/11 and in 2003, when duty commitments and scheduling conflicts precluded Kadena and Yokosuka from meeting for the title – a disagreement that very nearly led to the destruction of the league.
The closest any visiting team came to winning? Joint Task Force last year, which got huge touchdown returns from defensive back/kick returner Kent Onuoha, who almost singlehandedly kept the Wolfpack in the contest before the Warriors prevailed 26-23 at Yokota High School’s Bonk Field.
If Foster is to disrupt that pattern, it might come down to its defense, which held JTF to 114 yards and recorded five takeaways in Saturday’s 26-6 victory over the Wolfpack in the South Division title game at Kubasaki High School’s Mike Petty Stadium.
Among those five takeaways? Yep, three interceptions, giving the Bulldogs a league-high 16 in five games this season. Richards had two and Wylie Flowers had the other, giving Flowers a league-high five for the season.
Flowers’ pickoff sealed the deal on the contest. Earlier, Richards returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown, then set up another score with his second pickoff plus a 25-yard return.
There is perhaps not a bigger momentum swinger than such plays. It puts new spark in the team that takes the ball away … and reduces the body language of the team giving the ball away into mulch.
“Don’t throw it to the Bulldogs,” Richards said, repeating a mantra that many on Foster have uttered all season long, and with good reason.
As Brown provided the fireworks and lit the match for the Jets offensively, so, too, has quarterback James Sanford been the guy setting the offensive tone for the Bulldogs. He went 11-for-22 for 158 yards through the air, and rushed nine times for 30 yards.
Among Sanford’s completions were touchdown strikes of 10 yards to Ian Williams and 7 yards to … that guy wearing No. 86, whom I correctly predicted in this space a couple of months ago would return to the Bulldogs’ receiver corps. He had four catches for 47 yards.
And Moore’s return to the lineup couldn’t have been timed better – the Bulldogs’ primary receiver threat, second year-man Roger Veal, went down with a pulled hamstring on the game’s first series; hard to say if he’ll be able to suit up for the Bulldogs on Saturday at Misawa.
Sidebar to this: A huge shout-out to Robert D. Edgren High School administration and athletics director Jim Burgeson for allowing the Torii Bowl to be played under the lights on Eagles Field. Thanks. J
Sidebar to this: To the commands for which the Bulldogs players work, please see your way clear to letting as many red-and-gold bearers head north to Misawa as possible. It's only for two days. The more they have there, the better their chances of making Saturday’s Torii Bowl the competitive spectacle it should be. And who knows? If they defy the odds and overturn 11 years of home advantage, they could make you proud.