Things learned, observed in USFJ-AFL Weeks 6.0, 7.0
We’ve played seven weeks of the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League season, the league has added a commissioner for the first time since the 2009 season, we’ve had a wild assortment of results, from the biggest of blowouts to the most low-scoring defensive struggles in league memory … and if you’re trying to discern the playoff picture, well, it’s about as clear as mud.
Fact is, both the North and South Divisions are about as tight race-wise as we’ve seen since we’ve gone to the two-division structure late last decade. Misawa (3-2), by virtue of its 34-30 win Saturday over undermanned, defending champion Yokota (2-3), took a half-game lead over Yokosuka (2-2) and a one-game lead over the Warriors.
But with two games left, Yokosuka at Yokota on Saturday at Misawa at Yokosuka on June 15, we could very easily have all three teams finish 3-3, which would send us to what would be as complicated a tie-breaking process as we’ve seen in years. Scrutinize the points-allowed figures, perhaps break out the tea leaves, Ouija boards and crystal balls, too.
It’s no more clear in the South Division, where Kadena (3-2) had a golden opportunity to clinch at least a tie for the title and a first-round playoff bye, but for the second time this season couldn’t find the key to the end zone in a 6-2 home loss to Hansen (2-2).
Three division games remain, with Kadena visiting defending division champion Foster on Saturday and a pair of clashes between Hansen and Foster on June 15 and 22, the latter a makeup of a postponed April 27 date. And the South, too, could see all three teams finish 3-3.
Parity of the first order.
It’s been that unpredictable this season. Six of the league’s 13 games have been decided by six points or fewer. Twice, we’ve had games in which both teams managed but single digits in points, the aforementioned Hansen and Kadena teams; the Wolfpack downed the Dragons 8-2 in that May 5 game played on Hansen’s parade deck.
Ten times, Kadena found its way into Hansen territory last Saturday, five times into the red zone, including the last three possessions. Just when you thought the Dragons found the key to the end zone, a penalty, a solid defensive play, a sack or some other misfortune would befall Kadena and keep the door to the goal line sealed shut.
Devonte Ecford’s two field-goal attempts … one wide left, the other clanged off the goalpost. Hit both of those, and Kadena wins.
Last two drives … Devon Cheatham appeared to be positioned to catch a sure touchdown pass, only to have it batted down at the goal line. Shawn Avery caught what appeared to be a 5-yard touchdown pass, only to have it wiped off the books by a holding penalty. On the very next play, he caught what would have been a 21-yard scoring pass, but it was ruled out of bounds.
Kadena outgained Hansen for the second time this season 205-113. The Wolfpack scored on its first possession, a 99-yard, 14-play drive that ended with Dustin Moore’s 2-yard run. And Hansen could only manage 14 more net yards. Almost as if the Wolfpack thought the first possession was enough. Which it was, but geez … Kadena finishes some of those possessions, it could just as easily have been a 40-6 blowout.
Anybody who remembers Yokota’s home 33-6 blowout of Misawa on May 18 might be shocked to see how the Jets returned the favor, downing the Warriors 40-30 at home last Saturday.
But keep in mind, command at Yokota only gave the OK for 12 players to make the journey to Misawa Air Base’s Hillside Stadium. And from all indication, the ironman group gave the Jets every last thing they could possibly handle, throwing the kitchen sink at Misawa in what Jets coach Jeremy Sanders called a “typical black-and-blue division” game.
The quarterbacks simply played spectacularly. Douglas Brown had the Jets’ Air Raid attack in full gear, throwing TD passes of 46 yards to Joshua Mason, 4 to Donterrio Erby and 6 to Davonn McMillan, and adding a rushing touchdown of 1 yard.
Former Jet Darone “B-more” Frierson was equally effective, rushing 1 yard for a score and throwing scoring passes of 53 yards to Lamon Irvin and 75 and 40 yards to Robert Harris.
Each defense added a touchdown, Cortez Dorsey on a 35-yard fumble return for Yokota and Erby a 52-yard interception return.
In the end, the game was halted with six minutes left after the Jets assumed a 40-30 lead. Safety the main concern. Truthfully, 12 is not nearly enough, home, away or otherwise, to take the field with in any circumstance.
Memorial Day weekend was the first time we saw all six USFJ-AFL teams in action on the same day this season, including the first inter-division game of the season.
Two of the games were blowouts at least on the scoreboard, with Yokosuka romping past Misawa 34-0 in a game called at halftime with the Jets facing a manning situation similar to that of Y0kota’s last weekend. Misawa was only permitted 16 players, which diminished to 14 by halftime. Jamaal Moore threw two touchdown passes and Dwayne Scott ran for a pair of scores.
Frierson rushed for a couple more scores and hit Vick Taylor for a 35-yard scoring pass as Yokota had its way with Hansen 30-8, though coaches on both teams said the game was far closer than the score indicated.
But what stood out about those two games was the fellowship and the helping hand that the teams gave each other when in need, particularly Hansen and Misawa. The Wolfpack stayed at Yokosuka but played at Yokota and Misawa vice versa.
Somehow, Hansen was accorded billeting at no cost at Yokosuka. The Seahawks graciously shortened their practice sessions to permit the Wolfpack to work out on turfed Berkey Field, mirroring the conditions they’d face at Yokota. In turn, the Wolfpack took the Seahawks bowling, where the players enjoyed great rapport and Seahawks coach James Price and Wolfpack coach Michael Harris formed a solid bond. The Seahawks said they’d reciprocate and visit Hansen next season as a result of that bond.
Price, for his part, also ensured the Jets were taken care of transportation-wise. He personally drove the Jets back and forth to and from Yokota. Commissioner Joe Howell was able to find accommodations for the Jets while in the Kanto Plain.
It’s that spirit of cooperation upon which the league was founded in its current form back in 2000. When teams faced duty, transportation or weather problems, people would bend over backwards to help find ways to make up or reschedule in the most painless ways possible. Good to see that cooperation in action again.
Kadena coach Robert Friend would gladly accept any sort of win under most circumstances. He just wished his Dragons would not have waited until the last minute to pull out their 12-6 win over Foster. Avery’s 35-yard touchdown pass from Dishawn Harvey broke a 6-6 tie in the closing seconds.
“Scary. We have to execute,” Friend said, adding that they couldn’t keep pushing the envelope like that and expect to remain atop the division. His words proved prophetic after last Saturday’s loss to Hansen.