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Kadena football victories over Kubasaki have been as common as coffee beans the last five years, with the Panthers outscoring the Dragons 479-54 en route to 14 straight wins.

Extending the streak to 15 wasn’t so easy Sept. 9, though. Kadena still won, but only by a 15-14 margin at Kubasaki’s Mike Petty Stadium, the closest game the two teams had played in 17 years.

All of which makes Friday’s 4 p.m. showdown at Panthers Field, with a Far East Division I playoff first-round bye and semifinal berth on the line, that much more meaningful, both coaches say.

“The last game could have gone either way,” said Sergio Mendoza, crafter of that winning streak in his five-plus years at the Panthers’ helm. “It was a tight battle. I expect we’ll have another.”

“Every game is a big game. Some games are bigger than others,” said coach Fred Bales, who helmed the Dragons to a 2-1 season-series victory over Kadena and a Division I title in 2005. “The team that blocks and tackles and makes the fewest mistakes will win it.”

Given that Kadena has won its three games this season by a total margin of 17 points after outscoring foes 665-105 the past four seasons, it would appear the two-time defending Division I champion Panthers have “come back to the pack a bit,” Bales said.

“They’re a young team, but they’re the champions until proven otherwise. It’s incumbent upon us to make the plays to win the game.”

Mendoza feels his Panthers have “the potential to be a good team” but “we just have to make the strides to get there. We’re still trying to find ourselves. We’re so young at so many key positions.”

Perhaps key for Kadena will be shutting down Dragons super sophomore Jarrett Mitchell, who had 287 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in a 41-17 romp over Seoul American last Friday.

“He’s a speedy guy. We’ll have to make some adjustments to counter that,” Mendoza said.

Three hours after the Kadena-Kubasaki showdown, Yokota and Nile C. Kinnick will do battle at Yokota’s Bonk Field to determine the other D-I semifinalist and first-round bye.

The losers of those two games will host “play-in” games on Oct. 3, the Kadena-Kubasaki loser entertaining Guam High and Seoul American traveling to the Yokota-Kinnick loser.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, Guam High, shrugging off the loss of two games by forfeit, will try to seal fourth place in the Interscholastic Football League when it hosts Southern at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Also, a historic first meeting of Osan American at Zama American is on tap at 6 p.m. Saturday – a game that could be a preview of the Nov. 5 Far East Division II championship game.

Daegu American begins defending its two straight DODDS Korea titles when it visits Seoul American at 6 p.m. Friday.

CorrectionA sentence implying that a block in the back call on a kick-return touchdown and an inadvertent whistle on an interception-return touchdown benefited Kadena has been removed. The inadvertent whistle prevented an interception-return touchdown for Kadena, not Kubasaki. A videotape of the block in the back call shows it was the correct call.

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