H.S. Football lookahead:Much riding on Zama-Edgren
Coach Steven Merrell and his Zama "Trojan Horses" backfield have quite a bit to play for over the next two weeks, more than at any time in Zama American football history:
On Friday, they have a chance to virtually seal their first DODEA Japan Football League title and Far East Class A title-game berth when they visit Robert D. Edgren. No Zama boys team has won a Far East team title of any kind since boys basketball in 1963.
On Oct. 23, American School In Japan visits with the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools title on the line for the winner, and a chance to dethrone Yokota, which has won the league every year since 1999.
"This is what we’re here for. This is a big deal," Merrell said, describing Friday’s visit to Edgren as "essentially a playoff game." Kickoff time is 7 p.m.; Zama beat Edgren 40-24 on Aug. 28 and needs to win or lose by 15 points or fewer to seal the Class A final berth.
Such honors would crown what has been a memorable season for Zama (4-1). Coming off an 0-7 2008 campaign, the "Trojan Horses," juniors Michael Spencer and Ashton Norwood, and senior Ryan Blackstock, have compiled 1,584 yards on 225 carries in Merrell’s wing-T attack.
"Especially our seniors, the ones here last year and the year before, they’re making memories. It’s a special deal for them," Merrell said.
But even with a landmark 33-6 victory Oct. 2 over Yokota, Zama’s first over the Panthers since 1998, Merrell is quick to caution his players that they’ve not won a thing yet.
"These next three weeks, our season begins with so much at stake," Merrell said of Edgren, ASIJ and an Oct. 30 at Kinnick.
Despite the Yokota win, "we’re not any better than we were two years ago" when Zama went 4-4, Merrell said. "We’re on the verge. We’re at the apex. We could win out, or we could lose the next three and people would forget about us in a month. We could go in either direction."
Zama ran the ball well (400 yards, 56 carries) in the Aug. 28 game with Edgren, but allowed two long kick returns and two long passing TDs.
"We have to stop those big plays. We have to have those fixed," Merrell said. "If they (Eagles) put things together and we don’t, we’ll be thinking about what could have been."
Could-have-beens are something the Eagles have thought much about during an up-and-down 3-3 campaign, which coach Chris Waite feels could turn around by avenging the Aug. 28 defeat.
"Zama has asserted themselves this season," Waite said. "And we’ve kind of dropped off the radar. A victory over them would put Edgren back on the radar."
Just as the Trojans have much on the line, so, too, could the Eagles. They follow Friday’s game with a road contest at Yokota; a win by 17 or more over Zama and another over Yokota could send Edgren into the Class A title game for a fifth straight year.
"That would be absolutely remarkable," Waite said. "There’s a lot to be seen on Friday. I think we can win. It depends on which Edgren team shows up to play."