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Bucking a trend of recent years, Zama American seems to be progressing rather than regressing.

And just in time for the Trojans’ matchup with defending league champ Yokota on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Yokota Air Base’s Bonk Field.

After losing its first two games by a combined 13 points, Zama has run off three straight victories by a 143-0 count. The Trojans began strong the past two seasons but faded — to 4-6 in 2001 and 5-5 last season.

Coach Ron Geist credits “fundamentals and execution of plays.”

Yokota coach Tim Pujol has taken note of the Trojans’ improved play, especially Zama’s ability to move the ball in the air as well as on the ground.

“They’re more balanced between run and pass, and they’ve been successful throwing the football, especially to Corey Stacy,” Pujol said of the Trojans’ wide receiver. “Now, you have to defend the run and the pass on any play.”

Of the 866 yards Zama piled up in its past two games, 271 came through the air. David McMahon went 10-for-22 and threw four TD passes, all to Stacy, who racked up 279 all-purpose yards in those 48-0 and 42-0 victories over, respectively, the American School In Japan (0-3) and Matthew C. Perry (0-3).

On the ground, Zama boasts an offensive line averaging 240 pounds and a slew of experienced backs carrying the ball.

They’re led by senior fullback Russ Casimire, with 166 yards and four TDs in the past two games. Jon Gilgenast has added two scores, while Luis Cuadrado, out of the tailback slot, has rushed for 210 yards in two games.

All those factors confront the Panthers (5-0 overall, 4-0 JFL) as they try to extend a 33-game on-field winning streak going in Friday’s rematch of a Sept. 5 clash, in which Zama led most of the way before fading 23-18 against the Panthers at Trojans Field.

The Trojans (3-2, 2-2) are fighting to stay alive for a shot at their first berth in the Rising Sun Bowl All-Japan championship, scheduled for Nov. 15 on Okinawa.

Zama needs to beat the Panthers by more than five points, then down Nile C. Kinnick (4-1, 3-1) at home by more than eight points on Oct. 17, then hope Kinnick can knock off Yokota on Oct. 31 at Yokosuka Naval Base to force a three-way tie.

Though still unbeaten, the Panthers haven’t been nearly as dominant as in past years. They’ve already allowed 40 points, four more than they gave up all of last year. Robert D. Edgren held them scoreless in the first half last Saturday before they prevailed 14-0.

Geist believes Friday’s game will be won and lost at the line of scrimmage.

“We need to control the line of scrimmage, both offensively and defensively,” he said. “We need to contain their running back and we need to defend against the high-percentage passes.”

Yokota’s running back is Roy Roach, the latest in a long line of star backs for the Panthers. He’s amassed 850 yards and seven touchdowns on 98 carries, an average of 8.67 yards per attempt.

Yokota needs to continue that output, and that of Jeremiah Pearcey (322 yards, six TDs, 50 carries) and Chris Roach (219 yards, five TDs, 21 attempts), while focusing on halting Zama’s ground attack, Pujol said.

“You still have to stop run first,” he said. “They may be more balanced, but they still depend on the run. That’s still the No. 1 thing you need to do on defense. They have a big, experienced line and they’ve got great runners. It’ll be a real challenge. It’s going to be tough.”

Shogun’s Bell hopes to toll again soon on Okinawa

The most talked-about joint in the Okinawa Activities Council football league — the left knee of versatile Kubasaki Shogun quarterback Orlando Bell — is healing fast; he hopes to be back on the field next Friday against the league-leading Kadena Islanders.

“It’s holding up,” said Bell, who began practicing Monday, two weeks after being carried off the field Sept. 22 during the Shogun’s 26-13 loss to Ryukyu University at Kubasaki’s Mike Petty Stadium.

Before the injury, he’d recorded 97 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries in four quarters of play in two games. Since then, the Shogun have fallen by a combined 74-0 to the Islanders and the Kadena Buccaneers.

Kadena’s two teams have owned the Shogun and defending champion Kubasaki Samurai so far, outscoring them 107-0 in three contests, with five more inter-school games left this season.

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