Roy and Chris Roach stood on the sideline of Bonk Field, just hours after a 14-hour flight from Virginia, and watched the football team they now call their own lose 34-7, to Komatsubara, a Japanese high school team, in the Yokota Panthers’ preseason-opening scrimmage Aug. 23.

How things have changed since then — specifically since the brothers donned Panthers blue-and-gold to lead Yokota to the brink of a fifth straight Japan Football League title and the accompanying berth in November’s Rising Sun Bowl V on Okinawa.

The transfer backs from Tabb High School in Hampton, Va., have piled up 1,579 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns, pacing Yokota to an 8-0 mark and helping stretch the Panthers’ on-field winning streak to 36 games, dating back to the 2000 season.

The brothers arrived just when it appeared the Panthers were due for a rebuilding season after the departure of Darren Taylor (JFL-record 1,802 yards in 2001) and Mike Chamberlain (2,354 all-purpose yards in 2002).

“They’ve added a lot,” coach Tim Pujol said. “They stepped in, they played right away and they have a serious attitude toward the game.”

So serious that neither brother is willing to talk about a trip to Okinawa yet.

“That’s too far ahead. We’re taking it one game at a time,” Roy said Saturday, moments after his 162 yards rushing and two TDs led the Panthers to a 40-14 win over American School In Japan.

That sealed Yokota’s fifth straight Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools title. A win Friday at Nile C. Kinnick’s homecoming would give Yokota its fifth straight JFL title.

And that’s the extent of their focus.

“We’re focused on the game in front of us,” Roy said.

It’s been that way since they watched that preseason scrimmage. A week later, the brothers suited up and led Yokota to a 64-6 victory over Urawa, another Japanese school. Roy, a senior, amassed almost 300 all-purpose yards and scored four times; Chris, a junior, ran five times for 30 yards. Each had an interception.

“It wasn’t easy at first,” Chris said, “but once the other guys saw that we had skill, they took us in.”

“They brought us into the family very quickly,” Roy added. “It feels good to be here. We’re Panthers now.”

Week after week brought victory after victory, including 44-6 and 41-8 victories over Kinnick and Zama American — teams thought to be in line to break Yokota’s JFL stranglehold.

And the brothers feel the best is yet to come. “We’re getting close to being there,” Roy said. “The team’s getting stronger.”

Chris said, “We’re starting to learn how each other plays. We can pretty much tell what each other is going to do. But we need more playing time together, more practice, getting used to each other, cutting down on mistakes and penalties.”

Neither takes sole credit for their glossy stats.

“All the credit goes to the line and the blocking backs,” Roy said.

Yokota’s offensive line is anchored by seniors Jason Correll, Jason Barajas and Isaac Felarca, junior Michael Herron and sophomore Joe Saffold. Senior fullback Jeremiah Pearcey (589 yards, 10 TDs) has become a key blocker.

“Without them, it doesn’t happen,” Roy said.

How does Yokota football compare to the game in Virginia, with its squads of up to 70 players and quick, athletic running backs?

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 10,” Roy said.

Chris explained, “Even though the players here are smaller than they are back home, they play together, with intensity and cohesiveness.”

The siblings say getting to the Rising Sun Bowl — and winning — would make the journey to Japan, which began by watching that defeat against Komatsubara, worth it.

“It would be well-earned,” Roy said.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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