Far East H.S. football playoffs: No rest for road-weary Yokota this week
Tim Pujol is used to travel, be it 10-hour bus rides to Misawa Air Base for league games at Edgren or long plane rides to Okinawa for Rising Sun Bowl contests with Kadena and Kubasaki.
But not until this week have Pujol and his Yokota Panthers had to make two lengthy road trips in a span of 10 days.
A scant five days after Yokota won its Class AA football semifinal playoff 41-8 at Guam High, the Panthers boarded another flight Thursday to Okinawa for their Class AA championship tilt against the Kadena Panthers.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. Saturday at Kadena’s McDonald Stadium.
“Three nights in an unfamiliar bed and two days of travel, that can be tough physically,” said Pujol, whose Panthers got home at 11 p.m. Sunday, were at school at 7:30 a.m. Monday and at practice at 3 p.m.
“You could tell we were tired,” Pujol said. “Now, it’s get caught up with schoolwork, sleep for a couple of days in the bed they’re used to, then turn around and do it all over again.”
His Kadena counterpart, Sergio Mendoza, can speak with experience about trying to win back-to-back Class AA playoff games on the road. His Panthers won the semifinal 37-30 at Yokota before losing the championship at Seoul American 12-6 in overtime last season.
“Rest is as important as the practices,” said Mendoza, whose Panthers bunked for the Class AA title game at the Walker Center on Yongsan Garrison’s South Post, 25 to a room plus coaches. “If we had had more rest, we’d have played a sharper game, I think.”
With that in mind, Mendoza said he plans to roll out the figurative red carpet for Yokota, serving them a team dinner on Thursday evening after the Panthers arrive, ensuring they have vehicles to get around base and taking care of their billeting at Shogun Inn on Kadena.
“They have family serving their country just as our players do,” Mendoza said. “It’s important to show them proper respect.”
Saturday’s battle is a rematch of the highest-scoring game in the three years that DODDS-Pacific has staged football playoffs. Given each team’s arsenals, the rematch could yield similar fireworks:
Nine-time Japan Football League champion Yokota (10-0) brings two-time JFL rushing leader Anthony McNeill to the table along with running mates Tony Presnell and Derick Seward, along with passing tandem DeEric Harvin and Riki Byrnes.
Kadena counters with its own three-back set of Ernest Carr, Roosevelt Payne and Brandon Harris, with Jimmy Wright and Stan Schrock playing the pitch-and-catch game.
“I don’t know which unit is facing more pressure,” Pujol said.
“There’s pressure on the offense because (Kadena) has played three games and only given up 16 points. There’s pressure on the defense, because you won’t win many ballgames giving up 37 points. And they’re as talented as they were last year, if not more.”
Mendoza calls Yokota a “top-notch opponent, a program that’s the most storied and successful in the Pacific, one that we’re familiar with and one that we highly respect.”
“They bring intensity, execution, a lot of desire and the strongest tradition of football in the Pacific,” Mendoza said. “They have great talent, and they have Tim Pujol, who has a great football mind.”
High school football
Class AA championship
Saturday, Nov. 10
Yokota vs. Kadena at McDonald Stadium, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, 7 p.m.
Class AA championship team capsules
Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base, Japan
Head coach—Tim Pujol, ninth season. Overall record, 79-8.
Key players—Anthony McNeill, Sr., RB-DB (1,140 yards, 14 touchdowns, 176 carries, leads Pacific in all categories following 1,706-yard, 229-carry 2006 season); Andrew Conkling, Jr., OL-DL; Josh Lehnerd, Jr., OL-LB; DeEric Harvin, So., QB-DB (28-for-57, 562 yards, 11 touchdowns); Bob Scott, Sr., OL-DL; Riki Byrnes, Sr., K-P, TE-DB (196 yards, 7 touchdowns, 11 catches); Phillip Williams, Sr., DE-TE (174 yards, 4 touchdowns, 5 catches); Rainey Daily, So., FB-LB; Tony Presnell, Jr., RB-LB (789 yards, 9 touchdowns, 87 carries); David Dezell, Sr., OL-DL; Chris Castillo, Sr., OL-DL; Aaron Sargent, Sr., SE-DB-RB; D.J. Roberts, So., OL-DL; Derick Seward, Fr., FL-DB (538 yards, 6 touchdowns, 49 carries).
Strengths—Continuity in program, coaching, versatility in offensive weaponry; can run three backs and pass consistently.
Drawbacks—Lack of overall depth, physical size; only one player, Castillo, weighs more than 180 pounds.
What Yokota brings to the table (from Fred Bales, coach of Kubasaki which lost 51-21 at Yokota on Oct. 6)—They attack at all points. They stretch the line, find a weak spot and exploit it. (If Kadena can shut down the run), they have an effective passing alternative. A very simple but eloquently executed gameplan. They are relentless, tenacious and they know how to win.
Kadena Panthers Kadena Air Base, Okinawa
Head coach—Sergio Mendoza, second season. Overall record 5-1.
Base offense—Full-house power, University of Missouri-style spread.
Base defense—8-man variable fronts.
Key players—Stanley Schrock, So., QB-WR-S; Julius Crepeau, Sr. LB; Jordan Ray, Jr., OL; Chris Latham, Jr. OL; Jon Wright, Sr., QB 5-for-11, 176 yards, 1 touchdown); Vince Coronado, Sr., FB-LB (1 interception-return touchdown, 1 fumble recovery, 1 sack); Alex Weaver, Sr., RB; Luis Duncan, Jr.; Roosevelt Payne, So., RB (146 yards, 1 touchdown, 28 carries; 131 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 catches; 63 yards, 3 returns); Ernest Carr, Sr., RB (418 yards, 4 touchdowns, 51 carries); Brandon Harris, So., RB (144 yards, 3 touchdowns, 19 carries).
Strengths—Versatility on offense, go-get-’em attitude on defense. Work ethic, unity.
Drawbacks—Lack of experience.
What Kadena brings to the table (from Fred Bales, coach of Kubasaki which lost 45-0 and 41-6 to Kadena on Oct. 12 and 19 in best-of-three Okinawa Activities Council series)-They are less seasoned than Yokota, which has played nine games while Kadena’s had only three. They have talent, and they’re well-coached and well-disciplined. They are lightning fast. They have the best team speed I’ve seen in all my years on Okinawa. They have a group of four or five bona fide playmakers.
Friday, Nov. 9
Game 1-Simon Sanchez at George Washington, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 10
Game 2-Guam High vs. Father Duenas at George Washington H.S., Mangilao, 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 16
Game 3-Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser at George Washington H.S., Mangilao, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 17
Game 4-Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner at George Washington High School, 7 p.m.
The Top Ten
The Top Ten teams in Stars and Stripes’ Far East high school football ratings, with records through Nov. 3, points and last week’s rating, as compiled by Dave Ornauer of Stars and Stripes sports. Ratings are based on teams’ records, quality of wins, strength of roster, schedule and leagues, point differential and team and individual statistics. Maximum rating is 500 points:
Record Pts Pvs
1. Yokota (Japan) 10-0 492 1
2. Kadena (Okinawa) 3-0 484 2
3. Father Duenas (Guam) 9-1 476 3
4. Robert D. Edgren (Japan) 5-3 448 7
5. George Washington (Guam) 7-3 440 5
6. Seoul American 5-1 436 3
7. Simon Sanchez (Guam) 7-3 428 6
8. Zama American (Japan) 4-4 380 9
9. Taegu American (S. Korea) 3-3 364 7
10. Guam High 4-7 340 10
Week 11 outlook
Friday, Nov. 9
Guam-Father Duenas 12, Guam High 6; George Washington 20, Simon Sanchez 13.
Saturday, Nov. 10
Class AA championship-Kadena 23, Yokota 20.
Last week-4-1, .800.
Week 10 grid honors
Edgren-Andrew Blankenship 100 yards, 1 TD, 10 carries. Zach Latimore 2 TD runs. Johnell Alexander 78 yards, 1 TD, 2 interception returns.
Taegu American-Antonio Harris 93 yards, 1 TD, 14 carries; 12 yards, 1 return. Angel Hickman 81 yards, 14 carries; 102 yards, 5 returns; 1 sack.
Yokota-Anthony McNeill 175 yards, 4 TDs, 14 carries; 68 yards, 2 returns. Tony Presnell 64 yards, 1 TD, 11 carries; 50 yards, 1 catch. DeEric Harvin 4-for-4, 91 yards, 1 TD, 42 yards, 4 carries.
Guam High-Torus Washington 8-for-15, 98 yards, 1 TD. Myron Marshall 6 tackles, 6 assists.
Seoul American-Daniel Burns 6-for-20, 96 yards, 2-yard TD run.