After mostly D-1 competition, Zama and Edgren face off
Stars and Stripes
CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Zama American and Robert D. Edgren enter Friday’s showdown at Naval Air Facility Atsugi’s Reid Memorial Stadium at a combined 1-12 and having been outscored by a combined 444-189, mostly in games involving Division I opponents.
But now the Trojans and Eagles, who played in last year’s Far East Division II title game, get down to the business of settling which one gets to go to Korea on Nov. 8 to play at Daegu for the D-II title.
Zama and Edgren face each other twice in three weeks for that honor. Round 1 is Friday, when the Trojans host the Eagles in their homecoming game. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. The rematch is Nov. 1 at Misawa Air Base.
Zama beat Edgren 35-20 in last year’s D-II title game at Zama.
While their cumulative record doesn’t show it, coaches of each team say win-loss ledgers don’t always tell the whole story. Each team entered the season in rebuilding mode, with mostly young players replacing established stars who either graduated or transferred.
“I had all new kids and didn’t have a breakaway superstar,” Eagles coach Blaine Miller said, crediting his coaching staff for “building this team from scratch” and that the players’ transformation has been “amazing.”
Following season-opening losses at Yokota and Nile C. Kinnick by a combined 89-6, the Eagles came up one point short of Daegu, 14-13, on Sept. 14, then led unbeaten American School In Japan 26-21 in the third period before falling 50-26.
Next came a 48-32 loss in the Kinnick rematch on Oct. 4, far different from their first encounter. Khaleem Shabazz ran for three touchdowns and Tyrone Bacalso scored twice and gained 268 total yards.
“To watch them learning football and applying it is amazing,” Miller said. “It’s been the hardest year of my coaching career, but it’s the pinnacle of my 20 years of coaching.”
The highlight of Zama’s season was beating Yokota for the first time in four years, 21-20 on Aug. 30. Zama also played DODDS Japan champion Kinnick close in each of their two games, losing 27-19 on Aug. 23 and 34-20 on Sept. 20.
“Our record doesn’t reflect how good our team can be, who we really are,” said coach Steven Merrell, whose Trojans have gotten big play after big play from Raymond Bestor, who’s thrown for and caught touchdown passes and made several key interceptions.
“We’re better than that,” Merrell said of the 1-6 mark. “We have to seal the deal and go back to our mantra, which is finish. If we get healthy and get on the same page, we can compete with anybody. We’ve had some disappointments, but we still have something to play for. The meaningful games lie ahead.”
Other meaningful games include Kinnick’s visit to Kubasaki with spots in the Nov. 9 D-I title game on the line; kickoff is 2:30 p.m. Seoul American is at Yokota, each with an outside shot at a D-I title-game berth. Kickoff is 3 p.m.
Guam High battles George Washington in a Interscholastic Football League semifinal at 3 p.m. Saturday at Southern High in Santa Rita, field conditions permitting, league president Martin Boudreau said. Guam is being pelted by rain and wind from Typhoon Francisco.