Misawa, Kadena to meet for Torii title
Hansen Wolfpack running back Early Neal is brought down by Kadena Dragons defender Colt Kehlenbeck during Saturday's U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League South Division championship game at the Camp Hansen parade deck. Kadena won 20-14 and will visit Misawa in the Torii Bowl league title game July 13.
Misawa will host the Torii Bowl for the fourth time. Kadena will be its opponent in the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League’s title game for the first time.
Jakai Alston rushed for two touchdowns to power the Jets to a 45-6 rout Saturday over outmanned Yokota in the North Division title game. In the South, Julian Taylor intercepted two passes, running the first back 44 yards for the go-ahead touchdown as the Dragons edged Hansen 20-14.
With the win at Camp Hansen’s parade deck, Kadena (5-3) travels to Misawa Air Base in northern Japan to face the Jets (5-2) for the league championship at 3 p.m. July 13 at Misawa’s Hillside Stadium.
The Dragons won the old Okinawa Football League in 2004 and ’05, but have never won the USFJ-AFL crown.
The Jets won the Torii Bowl in 2005 and ’08 at Misawa and lost the 2011 title game at home to Foster – the first time the home team lost the Torii Bowl. Misawa also lost the 2002 Torii Bowl at Yokosuka.
Taylor missed the middle four weeks of the USFJ-AFL season due to duty commitments and returned for last week’s 32-19 semifinal win over Foster. Taylor had one of four Kadena interceptions in that game; he doubled that total on Saturday as well as recovering a fumble.
“He was hungry,” Kadena coach Robert Friend said, adding that this Dragons team is the “best I’ve ever coached or played on. When we play as a team, we’re a force to be reckoned with. The South is hungry.”
It was a game of missed chances and turnovers – six by Hansen alone, including four interceptions that kept the Wolfpack from establishing momentum. Kadena suffered a lost fumble and three interceptions, one of which Jeremy Geiger returned 38 yards for a score.
“We made way too many mistakes for us having played this many games,” Wolfpack coach Michael Harris said. “We played hard (but) we didn’t play well. It just wasn’t enough to beat that team today.”
Sandwiched around Taylor’s pick-six for Kadena were a 4-yard Emmanuel Griffin touchdown run that began the scoring and a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cory O’Cull to former Kubasaki High School star Lamar King that put the contest out of reach.
O’Cull was 10-for-21 for 148 yards and Brandon Avery had three catches for 66 yards. Griffin ran for 78 yards on 16 carries.
Griffin’s game-opening score was matched by Hansen on its next possession by Early Neal, who ran 13 times for 67 yards, including the game-tying 2-yard touchdown run. Dustin Moore was 5-for-15 for 101 yards and Jason Jarmond had 140 all-purpose yards on eight touches.
For the Jets, Alston ran for touchdowns of 10 and 20 yards and Misawa broke open what had been a 7-6 game at halftime by scoring 38 unanswered points.
“We ran the ball well in the second half, our offensive line created massive holes for us,” coach Jeremy Sanders said. “We’re going to make sure Kadena gets a good game.”
Quinton Murphy and Joshua Mason also rushed for touchdowns, Douglas Brown tossed a 20-yard TD pass to Devon McMillan and Robert Fitzwater returned an interception 50 yards for a score.
Yokota was handicapped by having only 12 available players, and only five of them were on the team’s roster.
Duty commitments forced many players to stay behind; coach Selwyn Jones was forced to recruit seven people not on the team just to have enough players. Kicker Stefan Welch and punter Alexander Oelfke were forced to play positions to which they were not accustomed.
“We had to do what we had to do to play,” Jones said, adding the situation was “heartbreaking” and he spent all game long wondering “what might have been if we’d had our full team.” Oelfke scored Yokota’s lone touchdown.
“My hat’s off to Yokota,” Sanders said. “They played with much effort and heart.”