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Kinnick-ASIJ kicks off D-I showdowns

Coach Dan Joley says his Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils are "laser-focused" on one goal, to beat American School In Japan. Such a win would help the Red Devils take control of the Far East Division I title chase.

DAVE ORNAUER/STARS AND STRIPES

By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 7, 2017

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – En route to its school-first Far East Division I football title a year ago, American School In Japan football stumbled just once – losing 29-22 at home to Nile C. Kinnick last Oct. 1, after winning its first three games by a 126-0 margin.

The Mustangs have a chance to avenge that lone loss of the 2016 season and get a jump in the chase for a second straight D-I title-game berth when they visit the Red Devils on Friday – a Kinnick team looking for its first D-I title and first appearance in the finals.

“It’s exciting to see these kids get up for a big game like this,” Kinnick coach Dan Joley said. “The kids are laser-focused right now.”

The Red Devils have some cachet of their own to defend, though it’s modest in comparison to the DODEA-Pacific large-schools title; Kinnick won both the DODEA-Japan and Kanto Plain crowns last season.

While those are important, “we have bigger goals, and one is to beat ASIJ and that’s the most important one right now,” Joley said.

It’s the first of three games scheduled between the three currently unbeaten D-I teams that are in prime position to take charge of the title chase. ASIJ hosts last year’s runner-up, Kadena, on Sept. 16, then Kadena travels to Kinnick for a Sept. 30 showdown.

Such showdowns are “big games for everybody,” Joley said. “That’s why we don’t look too far ahead. We’re focused on 7 p.m. Friday. All the rest doesn’t matter much. The guys know they have to control their destiny and the way to do that is one game at a time.”

ASIJ at Kinnick is this weekend’s lone game with playoff implications, though the weekend also features other high-profile gridiron matchups.

For the first time, D-I Kubasaki of Okinawa travels to a Division II school. Humphreys, the D-II runner-up a season ago, will likely join the D-I ranks next season. The Dragons and Blackhawks tee it up at 6 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re very excited about it,” Blackhawks coach Steve Elliott said of his team’s season opener. “It should be an entertaining game.”

The Dragons (0-2) will take on a player who transferred from Kubasaki to Humphreys in summer 2016 – David Key, a sophomore fullback-linebacker whose older brothers, Kareem and Kentrell, were Dragons stars earlier this decade on the gridiron and basketball court.

“We know about David,” Dragons coach Fred Bales said. “We’ve heard some good things about Humphreys. We’re looking forward to seeing how we stack up against them.”

Two teams familiar with each other lace it up at 7 p.m. Saturday at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, when defending D-II champion Matthew C. Perry hosts the team that won the previous three D-II titles, Daegu.

The Samurai visited the Warriors last season and won 52-6, avenging a 52-20 loss at Daegu in 2015. The last time the two teams met at Iwakuni was the 2014 D-II title game, which Daegu won 60-50, the highest-scoring DODEA-Pacific playoff game ever.

But that history is “all out the window,” Perry coach Frank Macias said. “It’s who’s playing better. That’ll be the difference Saturday.”

“Our guys are pretty focused, and after what happened last year, they want revenge,” Daegu coach Blake Sims said.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

Twitter: @ornauer_stripes

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