CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Welcome to the Battle of the Running Backs, better known as one of the most intense football rivalries in the Pacific, regular-season Round 2 pitting Kadena at Kubasaki.

Prepare for a gridiron version of ground assault, pitting the Panthers’ Justin Sego (36 carries, 333 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Gage Bongo (21, 153, 2) against the Dragons’ threesome of Jarrett Mitchell (34, 324, 4), Winston Maxwell (26, 211) and Tyshon Butler (16, 115). Kickoff is 6 p.m. Friday.

But it’s more than the gaudy rushing totals, coaches of each team say. Whoever controls the line of scrimmage and mans their defensive assignments will likely come out on top.

“Like any game, it’s who blocks and tackles the best is going to win,” said Fred Bales, coach of the Dragons, who’ve finished second in the Far East Division I title game the last two years. Kubasaki took the first step back to the 2013 game on Aug. 26, winning 12-6 at Kadena.

“Between the two schools, they have a lot of talent. Both teams will be more mature than the first time they met. It’s going to be an exciting game.”

“Any coach who’s been around football worth their salt knows, it ends and begins in the line,” said Sergio Mendoza, coach of a Panthers team that has won three D-I titles but none since 2010. He’d won five straight island titles from 2006 before Kubasaki disrupted that streak in 2011.

Elsewhere on the D-I circuit, Nile C. Kinnick travels to Seoul American for a 2 p.m. Saturday kickoff, fresh off its epochal 55-27 win over defending champion Yokota that ended a 28-game, 14-season losing streak to the Panthers.

The Division II three-way battle for title-game berths begins Saturday when Daegu, winner in 2010 and 2011, travels to Robert D. Edgren, trying for its first D-II title since 2008. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

Yokota, on its first two-game skid since 1998, hosts American School In Japan at 7 p.m. Friday in a Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools contest.

On Guam, Okkodo visits George Washington at 7 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, Simon Sanchez travels to John F. Kennedy and Southern, which finally has enough gear in to put the team on the field, plays Father Duenas Memorial at George Washington. Both Saturday games kick off at 7 p.m.

Mendoza sounded a cautiously optimistic note regarding Kadena’s chances on Friday. “I like that we’ve played two full games, we’ve gained a lot of experience the last two weeks,” he said. “We’re healthy, we’ve been working hard. I think we’re as ready as we can be.”

Both teams’ backs will get theirs, Bales said. “You’re not going to shut down talented players for four quarters. You have to limit the damage, play sound defense, tackle well, keep your focus and your intensity for four quarters.”

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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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