KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – One might point to the body of work of the running backs known as “Speed Inc.,” Thomas McDonald and Shariff Coleman (1,446 yards, 19 touchdowns), as being chiefly responsible for Kadena’s football success the past two seasons.

But after the defending Far East Division I champion Panthers’ 44-0 homecoming romp Friday over Kubasaki clinched their sixth straight Okinawa Activities Council title, coach Sergio Mendoza prefers to point to things that don’t show up on a stat sheet.

“The kids feel really comfortable. They’re gelling with each other. They’re playing as if they’re blood relatives,” Mendoza said after his Panthers improved to 6-0 on the season in a game played with a running clock in the second half.

Mendoza cited the leadership of players such as seniors Lotty Smith, Rodney Goodson, Aaron Ahner and James Nollie who “filled the vacuum” left by the departure of graduates Stan Schrock and Sean O’Neil.

“I’m proud of them, but more than anything, I’m proud of the total team effort. They play like they love each other and when a team plays like that, like they love each other, it’s inspiring,” Mendoza said.

“We’ve worked really hard to get to this point where we can go back to the playoffs. It feels good. I like that we earned the right to represent the island in the playoffs. I’m proud of that fact.”

Under rainy skies at Kadena’s Ryukyu Middle School, the Panthers pounced on a fumble on the game’s second play and never looked back.

Coleman ran 11 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns, McDonald added 107 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts and Smith ran 2 yards for a touchdown and his only pass attempt went for a 29-yard TD to Ahner. The Panthers also scored a fourth-quarter safety.

While piling up 806 yards on 97 carries and 10 touchdowns on the ground the past two games, Kadena’s defense has held Kubasaki to 133 yards in the last seven quarters. Kubasaki, which fell 56-16 on Oct. 1 at home to Kadena, has lost 14 straight to the Panthers dating back to 2006.

“I did not have my team ready to play tonight. This one’s on me tonight. This was my fault,” Kubasaki coach Fred Bales said.

His Dragons (3-2) do have one shot at their first Division I playoff berth since winning the title in 2005. They host Nile C. Kinnick of Japan in DODDS Pacific’s first play-in game at 7 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re going to take a few days’ rest and regroup and come back strong next week,” Bales said.

author picture
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.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now