Coach Daniel Estrada’s Atsugi Falcons seemed to be in control of their second game this season against the Yokosuka Seahawks on July 29 at Yokosuka Naval Base’s Berkey Field, leading 14-7 late in the first half.
Then, wham. Yokosuka quarterback Cameron Haines passed 55 yards to K.C. Davis for the game-tying touchdown en route to the Seahawks’ second 20-14 victory in as many meetings this season with Atsugi.
The common denominator in both losses? Defensive letdowns at crucial times, Estrada said.
“You have to play each and every down. Don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “It was as plain as day on film. The assistant coaches and I reached the same conclusion. They scored a touchdown when our defense took one play off.”
When the two teams meet in a U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League semifinal on Saturday, “We can’t take any plays off. If we play each and every down, this time we’ll come out victorious,” Estrada said.
One might view Atsugi as the most dangerous team entering the playoffs. Despite finishing last in the regular-season standings at 2-4, the Falcons come in sporting a two-game winning streak after snapping a 21-game, three-season slide.
The winner of Saturday’s battle will face off in the Sept. 9 Torii Bowl title game against the winner of the second semifinal pitting Yokota at defending champion Misawa on Sept. 2. If Atsugi upsets Yokosuka, Misawa and Yokota will play for Torii Bowl host rights; if Yokosuka wins on Saturday, the Seahawks will host the championship game for the third time.
The three-week playoff schedule will cap what coaches and commissioner Kyle Rhodus have termed the closest in the seven seasons since the league took on its current structure in the 2000 campaign. Yokosuka finished 4-2 and Misawa and Yokota 3-3; two games separated the four teams.
Yokosuka coach Robert Cole said his Seahawks weren’t overly concerned with Atsugi, only to play the best they can as a team no matter the opponent.
“We’re confident that we’ll do the best job we possibly can. If we go out and play as a team, we’ll win as a team,” Cole said.
It will be a test of Atsugi’s swarming zone-blitz defense and quarterback Barry Smith’s arm against a big, physical Seahawks squad featuring the talents of Davis, who leads the league with 10 interceptions.
Saturday, Aug. 19
Yokota at Misawa, ppd., transportation problems.
Saturday, Aug. 26
Atsugi at Yokosuka, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 2
Yokota at Misawa, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 9
Pairing, site and time TBD.