They’d just come off their finest Interscholastic Football League performance to date, Guam High finishing second in the regular season and capturing its fourth third-place IFL playoff game heading into the DODDS-Pacific playoffs.

Then the bottom fell out. The Panthers traveled to Okinawa, where they lost a 15-0 semifinal shocker to Seoul American, a team that had won but one regular-season game. Sufficiently deflated, the Panthers next fell 24-7 in the third-place game to Yokota.

Coach Billy Henry says he and his charges have learned their lesson from that debacle, and toward that end has streamlined his team’s approach and philosophy: Keep it simple and build everything around the offensive line.

“We don’t get opportunities to look at those teams, and we didn’t know what to expect” in the DODDS playoffs, said Henry, adding that the two games served as an “eye opener” for the Panthers.

“I may have been overconfident. I didn’t know the caliber of players they had. I was impressed with Seoul; they were a better quality team. When we lost to Seoul … Yokota capitalized and we never recovered.”

What those games gave the Panthers, Henry said, was a basis for him to rework his strategies.

Out the window goes the spread option attack that led the Panthers to a 5-1 regular-season record. In its place, Henry has installed the wishbone. And long before that, Henry instituted a summer workout program and even implemented a player cut “to ensure we have the best caliber of kids.”

Fifty players tried out; Henry has kept 30 of them, including a handful of senior veterans who made the trip to Guam last November.

Paul Floyd moves over from wide receiver to quarterback. He’ll be handing off the ball to quick, agile senior D.J. Cruz. They’ll operate behind a line that averages 265 pounds, a unit that Henry calls the “backbone” of the team. Devon Jacobs also returns at receiver.

“We’re coming to play football this year,” Henry said, adding he believes the Panthers will be a “contender” for their first Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam title and “a threat to whom we play overseas” in the DODDS playoffs.

One problem the Panthers do face is graduating 13 seniors come June. “This is our shot,” Henry said. “It’s now or never. Now or rebuild.”

The Panthers open the IIAAG season Friday or Saturday against Simon Sanchez at Okkodo High School in Dededo at 7 p.m.

The IIAAG season was to start on Aug. 21, but all three games scheduled last weekend results in forfeits, Southern to Father Duenas Memorial, Okkodo to George Washington and Simon Sanchez to John F. Kennedy, due to equipment problems.

Stripes sports never sleeps at …

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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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