Defense rules the day as Team USA routs Rising Sun in eighth Tomodachi Bowl

Eric McCarter of Kadena High School, Okinawa, outruns Yuto Okano of Aoyama Gakuin University for a touchdown during the Tomodachi Bowl at Reid Memorial Stadium, Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, March 10, 2019.


By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 10, 2019

NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — If the best offense is a good defense, as the saying goes, then Team USA hit the mother lode Sunday and snapped a two-game Tomodachi Bowl losing streak in the process.

The Americans prevailed 23-3 in the eighth renewal of a friendship game pitting players from 10 Department of Defense Education Activity high schools in Japan, Okinawa, Korea and Guam against Japanese high school and college players from the Tokyo area.

The game honors Operation Tomodachi, in which Japan’s and America’s militaries partnered in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and resulting tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011.

David Key of Camp Humphreys, South Korea, returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown – one of five takeaways for Team USA on the day. Blackhawks teammate Junior Gregory also intercepted two passes in the matchup at Atsugi’s Reid Memorial Stadium.

“I was just trying to score. It was such a rush,” Key said of his pick-six, which sealed the win for Team USA with 3:49 left. Key ran untouched to the end zone, getting a huge block along the way from Gregory.

“It’s so surreal,” Gregory said. “It’s like a dream come true. All the hard work we put in and it paid off.”

Team USA coach Dan Joley oversaw the team of 45 American players from Zama American, Yokota and Kinnick high schools in the Tokyo area; Robert D. Edgren of Misawa Air Base and Matthew C. Perry of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni,Japan; Osan American and Humphreys in South Korea; Kubasaki and Kadena of Okinawa; and Guam High.

“Incredible defense today,” said Joley, the head coach of Far East Division I champion Nile C. Kinnick in Japan. “It gives the offensive guys a comfortable feeling when the defensive is functioning on all cylinders.”

The first of Gregory’s interceptions came late in the first half. Eric McCarter of Kadena followed that with a 3-yard touchdown catch. Haydn Guiste of Kinnick immediately picked off another Team Rising Sun pass, and McCarter converted that into six points with a 9-yard run. McCarter was named the game’s most valuable player.

“It feels good to play with all of these players from all these schools, and to score those two touchdowns, that was great,” he said.

Justyn Seraphin of Zama American also had an interception, and Tyler Phan of Guam High recovered a fumble.

Each of those takeaways short-circuited a red-zone possession by Team Rising Sun, which got as far as Team USA’s 3-yard line in the fourth quarter but couldn’t score a touchdown.

Team USA also got six quarterback sacks, one of which resulted in a two-point safety. Kohei Ogawa, a Daito Bunka University freshman, was sacked in the end zone by Kinnick’s Justice Jackson and Guam High’s Phan and Anthony Bowe.

Team USA won despite being outgained by its Japanese counterparts 208-161. Genta Nakagawa, a senior at Komaba High School in Tokyo, gave Team Rising Sun an early 3-0 lead with a 23-yard field goal 2:10 into the contest. But it was all Team USA from there.

Kinnick quarterback Patrick Kelly was 10-for-20 for 98 yards, with an interception. Red Devils teammate Kaine Roberts led Team USA with five catches for 74 yards. Key had 122 all-purpose yards. Punter Skyler Klimek of Kubasaki, Okinawa, averaged 36.5 yards on eight punts.

NUMBERS: Team Rising Sun had won the previous two Tomodachi Bowls 42-8 and 27-14 at Tokyo’s Amino Vital Field. … Team USA is 6-3 overall in games against their Team Rising Sun counterparts dating back to the 2010 Camellia Bowl in Kawasaki. … This is the second such meeting in which Team Rising Sun did not score a touchdown. Team USA shut out Japan 61-0 in the Camellia Bowl. … Team USA is unbeaten in games played on U.S. bases, including a 2-0 mark at Reid; the Americans beat Team Rising Sun 68-13 in 2014 at Reid.


David Key of Humphreys High School, South Korea, runs into Yuto Okano of Aoyama Gakuin University and Ryusei Chisuke of Daito Bunka University during the Tomodachi Bowl at Reid Memorial Stadium, Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, March 10, 2019.

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