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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa ¡X Even before Yokota and Kubasaki played their first interarea football game two years ago, coaches Tim Pujol and Fred Bales expressed the view that the series, even if it doesn¡¦t count in playoff placement or league standings, is worth its weight in gold.

The Panthers and Dragons get to see players and styles they don¡¦t normally see in the regular season, they said. The games help tell where each of them stands against programs elsewhere in the region. If nothing else, it keeps the teams active during league-scheduled bye weeks.

"It¡¦s a nice thing, always, to play a game outside your district. It gives you a new and fresh perspective," Bales said Monday, five days before the third game in the annual home-and-home rivalry. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Yokota¡¦s Bonk Field.

Playing interarea games "gives us an opportunity to see teams we may face down the road in the playoffs," Pujol said. "Or just an opportunity to play somebody different, outside of the Kanto or JFL schedules. It¡¦s exciting for the kids."

Yokota won the first game of the series 51-21 two years ago. Kubasaki repaid the favor 18-14 last season.

This season, 10-time DODDS-Japan Football League champion Yokota entertains Kubasaki and then three-time Okinawa Activities Council champion Kadena on Oct. 17. Kubasaki also visits Kinnick on Oct. 3; the teams have never faced each other before.

"I think it helps foster relations between coaches, schools and athletics programs," Pujol said, adding he thinks the series helped spawn other interarea games such as Yokota hosting Kadena.

Most coaches might greet a bye week as a good chance to heal injuries, prevent the risk of others or just to rest. Pujol says he views it differently.

"It¡¦s better to stay in rhythm when you play once a week, when you have an opponent to prepare for each weekend," Pujol said. "I¡¦ve never figured out how to attack the bye week and get the most out of it."

Having been outscored 77-10 in two losses to Kadena this season, Bales could be forgiven for welcoming the chance to play on the road; the Dragons have won the past two interarea games they¡¦ve played, but haven¡¦t beaten Kadena the past 12 times they¡¦ve played each other.

Still, "we have no illusions about the quality of opponent we¡¦re facing. It¡¦s their field, their community. It¡¦s a tough assignment," Bales said.

"But it¡¦s nice to go interact with another program and play a non-district game."

Elsewhere:

ƒÞ  Junior fullback-middle linebacker Michael Spencer (knee) will likely be a game-time decision as Zama American hosts Kinnick at 7 p.m. Friday.

ƒÞ  Seoul American, on the heels of a school-first shutout loss, visits Daegu American at 2 p.m. Saturday, hoping to avoid losing to both DODDS-Korea small-school programs for the first time in school history.

ƒÞ  Robert D. Edgren, with quarterback Zach Davis nursing an injured shoulder, visits American School In Japan at 7 p.m. Friday. The Eagles must contain Alex Busam, who has 383 yards and five touchdowns on 32 carries.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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