The memory burns in the mind of Misawa Marauders coach Dwight Abel almost as if it had occured yesterday.
Misawa led Yokota 6-0 until the fourth quarter of the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League season opener June 3, only to fall 8-6 — the Marauders’ first home loss in five years.
But the zinger came moments after the game ended, when Yokota’s players ran up the small hill next to the east end zone, where Marauders fans watch home games and Misawa’s players run to celebrate their victories.
The Warriors did their own victory dance, snapping team photographs atop of the hill, infuriating Abel and the Misawa faithful, who hope for revenge when the teams square off again at 2 p.m. Saturday for the semifinal.
“We took that personally,” Abel said. “We have some long memories. … We want to play that game Saturday, and after it, we want to stand up on that hill, take our own photographs and cast that weight off of our shoulders.”
Warriors’ coach Chris Bell said he couldn’t blame the Marauders for feeling that way and knows it will be a motivator for Misawa entering Saturday’s contest.
Misawa did exact revenge of a sort, beating Yokota 12-9 later in the season. And the one-point difference between the two teams is just another indication of what coaches say has been the most wide open season as the league has seen.
Regular-season champion Yokosuka finished 4-2, followed by Misawa and Yokota, each 3-3, and Atsugi 2-4, which was won its last two regular season games but lost in the first round of the playoffs last Saturday to Yokosuka, which will host the Torii Bowl title game Sept. 9.
Yokota enters the playoffs on something of a down note, having lost four of its last five games. The entire coaching staff has been replaced since the season began, as has the starting quarterback, with Bruce Turner taking over for Jacob Dowdell, who transferred last month.
But stalwarts Patrick Piazza, with eight touchdown catches, and Kevin Hill, with five rushing TDs, still are around. And Bell insists Misawa won’t see a repeat of the June 3 hill antics, nor anything other than a serious, businesslike, on-field demeanor with a three-pronged approach: Preparation, good sportsmanship and representing Yokota well.
“I want Misawa to think about what happened 11 weeks ago, because they’ll be facing a totally different team,” Bell said. “We have a different team, a different mind-set, a different philosophy. Play hard between the hashmarks and not worry about what’s outside the lines.”
Abel feels Misawa’s regular-season record was misleading: The team’s three losses came by a total of eight points, and still on the roster are a solid runner (reigning league MVP Jamey Crawford with 8 rushing TDs) and a live arm (quarterback Fred Ellis).
“We racked up a lot of penalties,” Abel said, citing Misawa’s 14-12 Aug. 5 loss to Atsugi, in which the Marauders were flagged 11 times for personal fouls alone. “That was the biggest factor for us losing.”
No matter who faces Yokosuka in the Torii Bowl, “they’re all good teams out there,” Bell said. “Any one time, you can be beat.”