Edgren turns tables on Zama to reach finals
Robert D. Edgren receiver Izzy Leon - playing with a broken toe - tries to evade the tackle of Zama American's Jay Lavette during Friday's Far East Division II title-game qualifier at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The Eagles won 46-13 and earned the right to travel to Daegu for Friday's D-II title game.
Stars and Stripes
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan – All week at practice, Tyrone Bacalso told his coaches to give him the ball.
On Friday, he got it 25 times and rewarded his coaches’ faith and helped Robert D. Edgren earn a trip to the Far East Division II title game next week in Korea.
Bacalso returned two punts for lengthy touchdowns, Khaleem Shabazz accounted for three TDs and the Eagles rang up season highs in total offense and total yards as they dethroned defending D-II champion Zama American 46-13 - Edgren’s first win in nine tries.
“He wanted the ball tonight,” coach Blaine Miller said of Bacalso, who had 243 yards on five returns and 291 all-purpose yards. “Tyrone’s been a great player since last year. He played well, but the guys around him played well so he could play well. I’m proud of that supporting cast that told him, run behind us.”
It was a far cry from two weeks earlier, when the Trojans dominated the Eagles 32-6 at Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
The teams split the season series; each earned the maximum 20 points per game for point-differential tiebreaker purposes. The third tiebreaker is point differential in all D-II games; Edgren won because it lost to Daegu by a point and Zama lost to Daegu by seven.
Thus the Eagles earned the right to travel to Daegu for Friday’s D-II championship game at Camp Walker. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
“We’re starting 70-percent underclassmen, and it’s been a long journey,” Miller said. “In 20 years, this is the hardest job I’ve had because they’re young dudes, but tonight they came to play. Our guys bought in.”
The Eagles ran 45 times for 180 yards, had 252 yards of offense on 56 players and had 609 total yards, including 357 on eight returns. The defense intercepted three passes and got two sacks.
Izzy Leon, playing with a broken toe, had one of the interceptions. “He refused to let us take him out,” Miller said.
Zama (2-7) started off strongly, scoring on its first possession on Nick Zeagler’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Raymond Bestor, and it appeared as if a repeat of the Oct. 18 game was on.
But the script changed after that. Shabazz ran 1 yard for a score and Scott Sheehan’s extra-point kick put Edgren in the lead for good 7-6.
The turning point came at the start of the second quarter. Bacalso ran back a 90-yard punt return, then Edgren covered the onside kick. Nick Cunniff made it 19-6 with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Bestor cut the lead to 19-13 on a 60-yard halfback TD pass to Hiro Beale. But Bestor went down with a knee injury when his next pass attempt was deflected and intercepted by Santiago Fleming, who returned it 92 yards for a touchdown just before halftime.
Shabazz ran for another touchdown and hit Sheehan for a TD pass and Bacalso returned another punt 63 yards for a TD to cap the scoring.
“Edgren did a great job tonight,” Zama coach Steven Merrell said. “They had a good game plan, they did some things really well and we didn’t execute when we needed to execute. We started off well, but we just weren’t able to get things on track like we did two weeks ago.”
Zeagler was 5-for-17 for 44 yards with three interceptions. Beale caught three passes for 79 yards. Beale and Jay Lavette each recorded interceptions.