CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Not having a consistent placekicker last season cost the Zama American football team a potential victory against Robert D. Edgren and likely set the tone for the Trojans’ 0-8 campaign.
So second-year coach Victor Rivera spent part of his recruiting period finding a sure-footed kicker — soccer player Jon Kimball. And on Saturday, Kimball put his best foot forward when Zama needed it most.
“Boy, did that pay off,” Rivera said after Kimball’s extra point helped the Trojans rally for a 7-6 victory over the Eagles at Trojans Field.
The victory was Zama’s first since defeating American School in Japan 38-6 on Oct. 29, 2004.
And it reversed the outcome of Edgren’s and Zama’s first meeting of last season, also at Trojans Field, when Neils Johnson’s tackle of Zama’s Christian Sandiko on a two-point conversion attempt preserved Edgren’s 7-6 victory.
Rivera lamented then the lack of a placement specialist, saying that an extra-point kick could have sent the game to overtime.
“Having that kicker made the difference today,” Rivera said.
Zama trailed 6-0 in the second quarter before his senior twin tandem of Quincy and Quenton Howard hooked up, Quincy passing 45 yards to Quenton for a touchdown that tied the contest with just under four minutes left before halftime, setting up Kimball’s point-after kick.
After that, the game became a defensive struggle, with a Zama interception squelching Edgren’s last-ditch drive in the closing minutes. Rivera credited his charges for their second-half discipline; after racking up 10 penalties for 100 yards in the first half, the Trojans were flagged once in the second half.
“We had the momentum in the second half. We were in absolutely great condition, and it showed,” Rivera said.
He spent most of last season trying to rid the team of its “Zama Drama” reputation and instill core values in a team long known as the bad boys of the Japan Football League and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools. Behavioral guidelines, even white shirts, black ties and slacks on road trips became the order of the day.
Saturday’s victory validates all he’s tried to do the past season-plus, Rivera said.
“I congratulate my coaches for their work and the kids for believing in and sticking with the program,” Rivera said.
The victory should also give the Trojans the confidence they’ve sorely needed, he said. “Now, we know Zama can win and be a thorn in people’s sides the rest of the season.”
It was the third straight game the two teams have played decided by three points or less the past two seasons. Edgren edged Zama 17-14 last Oct. 28 at Misawa Air Base.