Last-second tackle helps Yokota down ASIJ
TOKYO – A rookie defensive back played perhaps the biggest role in helping Yokota football end a three-season losing streak at American School In Japan’s Mustang Valley.
J.J. Henderson, a 5-foot-7, 130-pound freshman, tackled Mustangs receiver Takuma Riordan at the 1-yard line Friday after a Hail Mary pass play by David Hernandez as time ran out, preserving the Panthers’ 27-21 comeback victory over ASIJ.
“That was something else,” said coach Tim Pujol, whose Panthers had lost 48-8, 34-14 and 14-9 at Mustang Valley the previous three seasons and were 2-4 overall against ASIJ in that span.
“We never should have been in that position in the first place,” Pujol said of ASIJ’s desperation heave for the end zone. The Panthers had the ball and were driving in the closing seconds when they lost their fifth fumble of the contest at midfield with enough time for one ASIJ play.
“It did take a final play by Henderson to stop what could have been overtime or worse, another ASIJ win,” Pujol said.
It was a different sort of nightmarish Mustang Valley scenario, one in which the Panthers couldn’t put a handle on the football. In addition to the five fumbles, one of two Stanley Speed pass attempts wound up in ASIJ’s hands.
“We did everything we could to give away that game,” Pujol said. “But for all the things we did wrong, we did just enough to win. And that ASIJ team is a good team. They’re well-coached, they’re very disciplined.”
“Breaks went both ways,” ASIJ coach Craig Karnitz said. “We fought hard. Yokota fought hard. We each deserved it, but Yokota did enough to win. Both teams should be proud of their efforts.”
Raymond Butler ran for three touchdowns en route to a 193-yard, 17-carry performance. Morgan Breazell added 105 yards on two attempts and Speed ran for a touchdown, finishing with 35 yards on seven carries and Donovan Ball added two carries for 51 yards.
Yokota went up 7-0 early and led by that amount at half. Then ASIJ came alive, scoring three times in a 14-minute span, two touchdowns by Ken Yajima and one by Haru Kent. The Panthers trailed 14-7 and 21-13 in the second half.
“Then, Yokota started being Yokota,” Karnitz said of a Panthers squad that scored the last 14 points, unanswered, going ahead for good with 8 minutes, 56 seconds left.
“In the third quarter, we came out on fire, but Yokota had too much left in the tank. They are tough.”
ASIJ visits Nile C. Kinnick at 7 p.m. Friday, while Yokota travels to Kubasaki next Saturday for a 2 p.m. kickoff.