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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea – No championships were on the line. And the game took place at season’s beginning, not at season’s end.

But Kadena, with a roster of 90 percent freshmen and sophomores, accomplished what its star-laden teams of the past never could do – beat Seoul American on the Falcons’ Sims Field.

Freshman Justin Sego returned the opening second-half kickoff 98 yards for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown as Kadena downed Seoul American 21-7 in the season-opening game for both teams.

“I haven’t been more proud of a group of kids for a long time,” said coach Sergio Mendoza, whose Panthers lost heartbreaking Far East Division I title games - 16-8 in overtime in 2006 and 22-21 in 2008 - on the same field.

“They grew up a lot,” offensive coordinator Steve Schrock said of his young charges. “Coach Mendoza had to make changes and fill holes all game long.”

Saturday’s verdict was far closer than the Falcons’ 57-0 defeat at Kadena last Sept. 2.

“This Seoul American team is far better than last year’s,” Schrock said. “Seoul played a very, very tough game. Their coaches and players did a great job and played their hearts out.”

“It wasn’t bad,” Rydell Wilkins said after his Falcons head-coaching debut. “I was encouraged with how we played, cohesive, together and we never gave up. But we have work to do. The offensive and defensive lines, we need to get them more focused and lessen mental mistakes.”

Joey Dyer ran a counter play 30 yards for Kadena’s first touchdown. The Panthers went up 14-0 on the opening second-half kick-return TD, then Kadena sealed the scoring on a 28-yard pass from Maverick Giron to Josh Dyer.

Tomiwa Akinbayo accounted for the Falcons’ lone points by catching a 5-yard scoring pass from Harold Martin. Martin was 4-for-8 for 44 yards, all to Akinbayo, and Ty White ran 12 times for 31 yards.

“Akinbayo and White are great athletes and they’ll only get better,” Schrock said.

Likewise, Kadena’s players will improve and “be a lot better in eight weeks” when the D-I playoff semifinals take place, Mendoza said.

Kadena is unbeaten against Seoul American in two games on Okinawa.

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