Familiar foes meet with D-II lead at stake
Stars and Stripes
When it comes down to playing each other, Daegu’s and Zama’s football teams withhold very few secrets from each other. The Warriors’ spread formation is about as familiar to Trojans coach Steven Merrell as his Wing-T is to Warriors coaches Luke Spencer and Ken Walter.
They’ve met four times since 2009, three times for the Far East Division II title. They lace it up again Saturday at 6 p.m. at Camp Walker’s Kelly Field, with the Warriors needing a win to secure host rights to the Nov. 8 D-II title game.
“It’s like the Kentucky Derby, held once a year, but it’s a big game,” said Spencer, who spent the first four go-rounds as Daegu’s defensive coordinator and is the head coach this season. “We’re preparing for a well-coached team that’s going to bring its A game.”
“It’s always high stakes,” Merrell said.
While the teams have been ultra competitive on the field, off it, the coaches have spent time getting to know each other.
“It’s a unique relationship,” Merrell said. “They’re good coaches, good people and I respect them and their program.”
When last they saw each other, Andre Encarnacion and Mitchell Harrison, now graduated, were steamrolling the Warriors 45-12 last Sept. 8 on Zama’s Trojans Field. It’s a game that’s stayed with Spencer since.
“With us, it’s always a see-saw battle of adjustments,” Spencer said. “Last year, they threw the ball better than they ever had and it gassed our defense, put us on our heels.”
This year, it will be quarterback Nick Zeagler of Zama throwing aerials to his favorite target Raymond Bestor, along with a new stable of running backs. Daegu counters with sophomore quarterback David Cooper plus two solid backs in Rahmaan Abdul-Azeez and Caleb Page and plenty of tall receivers.
“Stay within what we do, minimize mistakes, focus on what we do well,” Spencer said, adding he’s watched film of last year’s game repeatedly and says he’s seen many “things that can be remedied if you play good football.”
“You have to take care of what we can take care of, handle our responsibilities, execute all assignments, line up correctly and avoid turnovers,” Merrell said. “Play football like we know how. You can’t control what they do but we can control what we do.”
If Daegu wins, then it’s up to Zama and Robert D. Edgren of Japan, which play each other Oct. 18 at Zama and Nov. 1 at Misawa Air Base, to see who earns the right to travel to Korea. A Zama victory throws the D-II race wide open.
The Division I jockeying continues on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Seoul American’s Sims Field when Kadena comes calling for the second time in three weeks.
Nile C. Kinnick goes to Mustang Valley for a key first-place Kanto Plain battle; kickoff is at 6 p.m. Friday. Guam High tries to rebound from its first loss when it faces Southern on Saturday. Kubasaki makes its first-ever visit to Edgren, kickoff is 7:30 p.m. Saturday.