Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Yokota prepares for the journey south to battle defending champion Foster for the USFJ-AFL Torii Bowl trophy:
Perhaps the most overused quote I’ve ever heard in my years of watching football in the Pacific is: “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.”
Don Meredith said it over and over again on Monday Night Football in its infancy: “Mistakes will kill you.”
Few times were either or both of those football clichés more prevalent than in last Saturday’s U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League North Division championship game in which the Yokota Warriors scored on one turnover and converted two others into scores in their 39-6 romp over the Misawa Jets.
Arguably one of the most lopsided championship contests, division or league, in USFJ-AFL history was pretty much over in the second quarter thanks to a 4-minute, 25-second stretch in which the Warriors did it on both sides of the ball.
¬¬-- Defensive lineman Ernie Carrasco forced a hurried throw by Jets quarterback Douglas Brown that sailed into Yokota linebacker Mark Rocamontes’ hands at the Misawa 33. Toward the left corner he ran and made it 12-0 Warriors.
-- Two plays into Misawa’s next possession, a bad snap sailed over Brown’s head and was recovered by Braxton Gilkey. One play later, former Jets quarterback Darone Frierson found Robert Harris Jr. in the right corner of the end zone on a timing pattern for an 18-0 lead.
-- After an ugly sequence in which each team had points taken off the board due to penalties and one changed call (more on that later), Frierson again found Harris in the same corner for a score that made it 26-0.
Yokota picked on Misawa’s cornerbacks all night long. Frierson also hit Darryl Mosby on timing routes for touchdowns of 11 and 19 yards, the latter capping the scoring for the night.
When Frierson wasn’t going 8-for-15 for a meager but economical 59 yards and four touchdowns, Yokota’s backfield enjoyed a field day, Kevin Fortin, Anthony McNeill and Kevin Peoples gaining 202 yards on 38 carries. The latter’s 8-yard run put Yokota on the board less than seven minutes into the contest.
But it was the defense that set the tone and kept the tone going for Yokota all night. Four interceptions. Three fumble recoveries, including one by Rocamontes.
It wasn’t all neatness for Yokota, though. The Warriors were flagged 11 times for 109 yards. And special teams weren’t exactly a blessing for Yokota, either.
-- Justin Stabler was one of Misawa’s few bright spots, gaining 165 yards on four returns and very nearly breaking a couple for scores.
-- The Warriors were penalized four times for illegal blocks in the back on punt returns.
As for the calls, a great many sent head coaches Selwyn Jones of Yokota and Misawa’s Jeremy Sanders into states of fury. Each side was warned more than once about keeping feelings and emotions in check; in fact, after it appeared Yokota had stopped the Jets on a goal-line stand, the Warriors sideline was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, putting the ball at the Yokota 4 with a first-and-goal. Brian Childress scored Misawa’s lone points one play later.
Among other things that were the subject of debate during and after the game:
-- Misawa’s use of an offense called the A-11, a hybrid formation developed last decade by Piedmont High School in California that has been outlawed by National Federation of State High School Associations, which rules govern USFJ-AFL play. The formation’s premise was to take advantage of a loophole in the rules governing kick formations to disguise which offensive players are eligible to receive a pass on any given play. It was used in 2007 and 2008 before NFHS closed the loophole in February 2009, eliminating important facets of the formation and in actuality making it unusable. However, the league’s bylaws don’t specifically address the A-11 or its use.
-- The USFJ-AFL’s mercy rule, which states that once a team secures a 30-point lead in a league game, the game is played with a running clock. Once the lead shrinks below 30, a regulation clock resumes; however, it was argued that NFHS rules state a regulation clock resumes once the lead shrinks below 21 points. The league rules and bylaws don’t specify that; thus, once Childress scored, the game went back to regulation clock before Mosby’s 19-yard pass gave Yokota a plus-30-point lead for good.
-- Among penalties that wiped points off the board was what appeared to be intentional grounding of the ball by Brown in the Misawa end zone for what would have been scored a safety and making it 20-0 Yokota. Those points were removed when one of the upfield officials said Misawa had a receiver in the general area where the ball was thrown.
-- Each team had touchdowns taken off the board, Misawa’s Davonn McMillan’s 80-yard scoring catch erased by an illegal formation penalty. Most football rules specify that an offense line up with seven on the line and four off the line. Yokota’s Joe Stevens had a 55-yard punt-return touchdown negated by – you guessed it – a block-in-the-back penalty.
Back to the Torii Bowl title game for the third time in four years for the Warriors.
And back into the roiling heat of Okinawa summer, which can at times be more than beastly.
The game’s on Aug. 4. The hydration process begins two days before and ends a day after the return home. That’s a no-fooling strategy even with a 6 p.m. kickoff. Ask anybody who’s played football at any time of day or played a softball game in the Firecracker Shootout at the highest of high noons.
Three parts water for every part sports drink (the non-alcoholic type), for you need water to process all the sugars in sports drinks. Avoid soft drinks, Red Bull and Monster; they only make you thirsty. And avoid salt tablets as well.
The big challenge, as always, with long-haul football travels is locking down air transportation and ensuring enough people can be released from work to fly to Okinawa on Friday, play on Saturday and return on Sunday.
Long over are the days when Air Force or Navy aviators seeking to bulk up their flying hours could haul a football team for a “training mission” hither and thither. Base commands and force support/services lend very little support to varsity teams, so they’re pretty much left on their own to scam space-available seats on board an Air Mobility Command aircraft. Seats on Navy Air Logistics Office flights, which at one time were plentiful, are hard if not impossible to come by these days. And it’s not their mission to support football teams, who, like they, are hired and commissioned to defend the country, not kick an oblong-shaped spheroid around a grass gridiron.
These teams are no strangers to each other, but before anybody uses the Warriors’ 27-6 home win over Foster to gauge what might happen, keep in mind, the Bulldogs left starting quarterback Sanford James and several other key starters home. It will be much, much different this time around, since Foster’s home and the shoe might be on the other foot in terms of who Yokota can bring.
Somehow, some way, they’ll make it there and we can likely expect a good, solid, hard-hitting battle for 60 minutes. Ten days to go from this writing. Best of luck to both sides.