A 26-6 victory might seem a bit one-sided, until one considers the truly one-sided nature of previous Tomodachi Bowl friendship football games in the Tokyo area since 2010. The first four times Team USA and Team Rising Sun teed it up, the Americans outpointed the Japanese 236-51; then came last year’s debacle, a 100-22 Team Rising Sun win, fueled by the presence of Japanese college soph0mores and freshmen going up against American high school players. The tweaks made by the Japanese to their player-selection formula appears to have worked this time. They held a combine similar to what they held last year, only this time without the sophomores; just college freshmen and high school seniors. They invited 175 players and kept 55, and had practices over five weekends leading up to the game. Team USA had its usual complement of 32 players, from 10 DODEA-Pacific and international schools, and had just three practices over 18 hours on Friday and Saturday. This one was a defensive struggle. And both sides appeared to be pleased after the game ended, on a cloudy, cold Sunday afternoon at Tokyo’s Amino Vital Stadium. “It’s the most evenly matched game we’ve had,” said Dan Joley, one of Team USA’s assistants and head coach at Nile C. Kinnick. “I think they got the formula right this time.” Were it not for a Team USA defense that racked up four sacks, forced Team Rising Sun to punt eight times, stopped the Japanese deep in USA territory three times, plus an interception by Seoul American’s Myles Haynes early in the third quarter, it might have been closer. Team Rising Sun had just benefitted from a pass-interference penalty that brought the ball to the Americans’ 29 … and negated a Haynes interception. Two plays later, Haynes got the pickoff that this time stood up. Another star on defense included Anthony Calhoun III of Daegu, who racked up 11 tackles and one sack. Then there was Jaylin Barmer, the lone representative from Humphreys, who also had 11 tackles, four for losses, including one sack. He also ran for a touchdown. Isaiah Johnson of Kubasaki scored Team USA’s other rushing touchdown. Yokota’s Marcus Henagan tossed touchdown passes to Kubasaki’s Jacob Green and Panthers teammate Shota Sprunger. Daegu’s DeAndre Rosalie made a leaping catch between defenders to keep one scoring drive alive and Sprunger toed the sideline to snag another pass to set up another scoring play. All told, Team USA held Team Rising Sun to 186 yards, the second-most the Japanese have ever totaled in the game’s history … but far less than the 666 yards and 13 touchdowns they scored last year. Team USA, held to 291 yards on 68 plays last year, amassed 395 yards on 80 plays this time. Organizers on both sides say they want the Tomodachi Bowl to continue. And a handful of coaches said they’re hoping for an even closer verdict next March 12, site to be determined.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now