ATSUGI NAVAL AIR FACILITY, Japan — An unconventional offense coupled with quarterback Barry Smith’s breakout performance Saturday finally ended the Atsugi Falcons’ 20-game losing streak before a joyous crowd at Reid Memorial Stadium.
Smith sneaked 1 yard for a touchdown in the first quarter, then hit Mario Cruz from 33 yards out for the winning score. The Falcons held on from there as Atsugi shocked the defending U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League champion Misawa Marauders 14-12.
“It seems surreal,” said coach Danny Estrada, whose Falcons (1-5 overall, 1-4 league) hadn’t won a league game since beating Futenma of Okinawa 30-0 on Aug. 2, 2003.
“This was a dogfight from the beginning,” Estrada said. “We knew Misawa always comes to play and my guys played with our hearts, guts and souls.”
Misawa’s (3-3) three-game winning streak came to an unceremonious end. The Marauders flattened the Falcons 30-0 on June 24. On Saturday, Misawa never got enough traction to hope for a repeat: Twice, the Marauders went ahead only to see the Falcons rally.
Unlike that earlier contest, when the Marauders’ defense stifled Atsugi’s pro-set offense, the Falcons went to a five-receiver spread attack.
“That was our gameplan all week,” Estrada said. “We spread them out and we moved the ball.”
Smith threw 33 times, completing 17 for 196 yards, and Atsugi penetrated Misawa’s “red zone” five times, converting two of them.
“Atsugi came out with great intensity and they did their homework,” Marauders coach Dwight Abel said. “Their quarterback played an excellent game. Our secondary was having a hard time shutting them down” until the second half.
Misawa struck quickly, as reigning league MVP Jamey Crawford rambled 53 yards for a touchdown before Smith’s sneak tied it. In the second quarter, Fred Ellis hit Josh Dinger from 15 yards out to put the Marauders up 12-7 before Smith’s game-winning TD strike to Cruz.
The game then became a defensive standoff, with Atsugi holding the Marauders to just 56 yards in the last two periods. “Our defense played a helluva ballgame in the second half,” Estrada said.
While Misawa succeeded in moving the ball, penalties — 16 in all — short-circuited one drive after another. Abel pointed to those penalties as a major reason for the loss.
“Atsugi played really well,” he said, “but it wasn’t Atsugi who beat us.”
Next for the Falcons is their regular-season finale at home on Sunday against Yokota.
Abel said he considers Saturday’s defeat a learning experience for his team. “This isn’t over,” he said. “We understand the mistakes we made. We will be ready come our next game.”
The Marauders next travel to Okinawa for a non-league battle pitting the defending USFJ-AFL champs against the two-time Okinawa Football League champion Kadena Dragons.