Kadena reaches USFJ-AFL title game
September 15, 2003
CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — Behind the play of quarterback Paul Robinson and two TD runs by fullback Charles Clark, Kadena earned the right Saturday to play in the U.S. Forces Japan- American Football League title game.
Now the question is: When will it be played?
On the heels of the Dragons’ 26-6 victory over the Misawa Marauders in Saturday’s first-round playoff game, coach Glen Ballard said his team is saddled by duty commitments and can’t travel to Yokosuka Naval Base to face the Seahawks for the league title until mid-October, at the earliest.
The league championship game was scheduled for Saturday, but has been postponed until at least Oct. 18, Commissioner Joseph Howell said.
“We should be able to travel on the 18th,” Ballard said. “But there’s no way we can do it before that.”
Kadena Air Base began a military exercise Sunday, Ballard said, in preparation for the 18th Wing’s annual operational readiness inspection the first full week of October.
However, mid-October could be a problem for the Seahawks, coach Isaac Lee said. The Navy doesn’t typically comment on fleet movements, but Lee said chances are the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk battle group may leave its Yokosuka port for maneuvers in mid-October.
“We should play it when it’s optimum for both teams,” Lee said when contacted by telephone Saturday night. “We should play it when we’re both ready.”
Howell said details need to be worked out between the three- time defending champion Seahawks and the Dragons, “but as things stand now, we will postpone the championship,” he said.
Kadena entered Saturday’s game after not having a full practice for three weeks, but it still beat Misawa by the same score as it did one month earlier.
The Dragons appeared rusty early, and the Marauders went ahead 6-0 on fullback Sylvester Barner’s 13-yard burst six minutes before halftime.
But from then on, it was all Kadena.
A personal foul penalty — one of nine called in the game — followed by Robinson’s 34-yard pass to wideout A.J. Hickman set up the tying score, a 14-yard end run by Robinson. Trent Beavers’ 2-point conversion run put Kadena ahead to stay with 2:11 left before intermission.
Misawa promptly fumbled, James Graves recovered and Clark ran in from 10 yards out two plays later, infuriating Misawa coach John Hemphill.
“You don’t expect to beat people when you play like that,” Hemphill said after the game. “You play from the neck up.”
Hickman caught a 37-yard pass and Beavers snagged an 18-yarder to set up Clark’s 8-yard scoring run 4:38 into the third period. The Dragons closed the scoring on James Francis’ 53-yard interception return with 10:14 left.
“I'm fortunate to have Paul Robinson, A.J. Hickman and Trent Beavers on my team,” Ballard said. “They are a legitimate triple threat.”
Robinson accounted for 133 yards of offense. Leonard Moses paced a rushing attack that netted 156 yards by carrying 12 times for 63 yards. Kadena’s defense recorded four sacks and forced five turnovers, with Tim Starling recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass.
Barner paced Misawa’s offense with 90 yards on 16 tries. Quarterback Andre Rice was 6-for-16 for 80 yards, with three interceptions on successive drives. Courtney Haralson rang up two sacks for the defense.
Now, Ballard must figure a way to beat the Seahawks, who edged the Dragons 16-12 on July 19 at Yokosuka. Bringing at least 20 players would help, he said.
“If I can get 20 there, we can play a lot harder game than we did the last time,” Ballard said. “We gave them the hardest game they played all season. The hungry dog will win this fight.”