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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – Twenty-eight straight losses over 14-plus seasons. That’s 5,439 days, dating back to Oct. 16, 1998 when Nile C. Kinnick last beat Yokota. Those numbers loom large as Friday’s Yokota at Kinnick matchup approaches.

The past few seasons, a Yokota victory would have seemed like a fait accompli. But with the Panthers graduating almost its entire starting lineup in June, the Red Devils appear to have a chance at ending that lengthy streak of futility.

“That’s going to be an exciting game,” said coach Blaine Miller of Robert D. Edgren, who has played both teams, losing 54-6 at Yokota on Aug. 23 and 35-0 at Kinnick on Aug. 30.

“Both teams will have to play consistently good football and avoid making mistakes,” said Steven Merrell, coach of a Zama American team that beat two-time defending Division I champion Yokota 21-20 last Friday after losing 27-19 at Kinnick on Aug. 23.

Some of Kinnick’s players weren’t even born when it last beat Yokota. Tim Pujol was a year away from assuming the Panthers’ helm.

Kinnick was en route to a fourth straight Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools title and an 8-1 record. Yokota? En route to its second straight winless season, almost unheard of for a program with 30 Kanto, 13 DODDS Japan, five Rising Sun and two Division I titles.

The Red Devils haven’t won a football title of any kind since. Pujol, meanwhile, is 120-20 in 14-plus seasons at the helm of a program considered the gold standard of Pacific high school football.

Is it finally time for those 15 years of frustration to end? Miller and Merrell outlined ways for each to win Friday. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Kinnick needs to “keep the ball out of Yokota’s hands,” Merrell said. “They have to provide good pass protection for (quarterback) Dustin (Wilson). They need to be patient, maintain ball control and play soundly on defense.”

“Kinnick can throw the ball very well; they are not one-dimensional,” Miller said, adding that running back Dre Paylor “runs as hard as anybody I”ve seen (in the Pacific). Tough, fast and elusive.”

It’s a question, each said, of whether Yokota can answer with its vaunted running attack, given how they’ll be outsized in the line.

“Yokota lines up and runs you over and they do it well,” Miller said. “If they can run the ball downhill, it could end up being a shootout.”

While a line that averaged 240 pounds across is now gone, Yokota “still runs a sound offense and moves the ball downfield. If they can sustain the ground game, they have a chance,” Merrell said.

It’s the second game of the season that counts toward berths in the Nov. 9 Division I title game. On Saturday, Kadena visits Seoul American in a game that doesn’t count toward the D-1 playoffs at 2 p.m. and Kubasaki plays at Daegu at 6 p.m.

On Friday, Division II defending champion Zama American visits American School In Japan in the Mustangs’ opener at 6 p.m. Guam High tries to run its season-opening winning streak to three at Okkodo at 7 p.m.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

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