MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It took five years but the Misawa Marauders finally achieved an elusive goal: capturing the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League regular-season title.

Jamey Crawford ran for a 23-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and David Valencia sealed it on a 40-yard pass to Mark Fox with 1:04 left in the fourth as Misawa defeated Yokota 14-0 to edge the Warriors for the title on a points tiebreaker.

“It feels good,” said Misawa head coach John Hemphill, especially for a Marauders team minus several previous standouts. So “we worked them hard this year, they went through the wringer, and it’s good to see our hard work pay off.”

Saturday’s outcome actually left Misawa (4-1) a half-game behind Yokota (5-1) in regular-season standings. But transportation problems cancelled last weekend’s game pitting five-time regular-season and league champion Yokosuka (2-3) at Misawa.

Coach Kyle Rhodus ruled that the game would not be rescheduled and that Saturday’s Yokota-Misawa game would determine the regular-season champion and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Yokota had beaten Misawa 12-2 in their first meeting June 25 and needed to beat the Warriors by 11 points or more to overcome Yokota.

Crawford’s touchdown run got the Marauders off to a solid start but defense, Hemphill said, made the difference in the contest.

“We tried to mix defensive fronts,” said Hemphill, mindful that Yokota player/coach Jacob Dowdell had thrown for 382 yards and four touchdowns using four- and five-receiver sets in his previous two games.

“We tried to put pressure on the quarterback and keep the running backs in the backfield to block for him, isolating the only two receivers to one side of the field. “It worked,” Hemphill said.

The Warriors came close to punching it into the end zone twice in the third quarter, only to miss field goals each time.

“They executed and we didn’t,” Dowdell said, adding that duty commitments left him with just one starting offensive lineman.

“That really showed at crucial times,” he said. “We put ourselves in a hard position but we told the guys that we’ll go with what we’ve got. They [Misawa] executed when they needed to … they capitalized on our mistakes.”

Now that the Marauders have won the regular season, Misawa gets at least one more home game: Saturday’s battle with last-place Atsugi (0-6). If Misawa wins, it will host the Torii Bowl on Aug. 27.

Misawa has finished second in the regular season three times, playing for and losing the league title in 2002 and 2004, both games at Yokosuka. Now, the Marauders have home advantage.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for our fans if nothing else,” said Hemphill.

Saturday’s semifinals will pit host teams that have had their way with the visitors.

Yokota beat Yokosuka twice and Misawa shut out the White Dolphins twice by wide margins.

The Marauders “are a rough and rugged kind of team. They really take it to you,” said Atsugi coach Daniel Estrada, adding that the young White Dolphins “underestimated” Misawa in the season opener, then faced them July 30 with only 16 players, seven playing for the first time.

“We have a lot of our starters and players back,” Estrada said. “We’re looking forward to the playoffs.”

USFJ-AFL standings

USFJ-AFL standings

W L Pct. PF PA

x-Misawa 4 1 .800 103 18

Yokota 5 1 .833 109 41

Yokosuka 2 3 .400 54 66

Atsugi 0 6 .000 21 162

x-won regular-season title based on points tiebreaker.

Saturday, Aug. 13

Misawa 14, Yokota 0, makeup of postponed July 23 game.



Saturday, Aug. 20

Atsugi at Misawa, 2 p.m.

Yokosuka at Yokota, 6 p.m.

Torii Bowl

Saturday, Aug. 27

Semifinal winners, at site of highest remaining seed

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