Okinawa title game an all-Kadena affair
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — It will be Kadena vs. Kadena in Saturday’s Okinawa Activities Council football island championship.
While the Buccaneers had their way in one semifinal, dethroning the defending champion Kubasaki Samurai 55-0 on Tuesday at Mike Petty Stadium, the Islanders had their hands full with the Kubasaki Shogun.
Keith Loving racked up 261 all-purpose yards, scored two touchdowns and fueled a defense that picked off four passes as the Islanders held off a second-half rally to down the Shogun 35-17 and earn their first island championship berth.
They’ll battle the Bucs, who reached the title game for the third straight time, at noon Saturday at Panthers Field, Kadena Air Base. At stake: the right to host the Japan Football League champion Yokota Panthers in Rising Sun Bowl V on Nov. 15 at Kadena’s McDonald Stadium.
It’s the first time since the league went to a playoff to determine its Rising Sun Bowl representative in 2001 that the Bucs and Islanders will meet for the league title, and the first time since 1994 that they finished 1-2 in the standings.
The Islanders dominated the first half and took a 21-3 lead, but the Shogun came alive after halftime, with Ronnie Stevens rambling 18 yards for a touchdown and catching a 58-yard pass from Nick Leemaster for another.
It took a 6-yard TD run by Loving and a 1-yarder by David McCowan for the Islanders to keep the Shogun at arm’s length.
“Grace under pressure,” Islanders coach Sergio Mendoza said.
McCowan’s touchdown capped an 88-yard drive set up by one of two interceptions by free safety Alex Berrios.
“In the fourth quarter, we needed a turnover and an 80-yard drive, and we accomplished that,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said he was concerned when his team fell 29-0 to the Buccaneers in the regular-season finale Oct. 30, after opening the season with five shutout victories.
“Psychologically, we were able to regroup,” Mendoza said. “They came together as a team today. This is probably the best game they’ve played all season. This was an identity check for us.”
Loving ran eight times for 106 yards and returned the first of his two interceptions 56 yards to open the scoring. Berrios’ lone completion was a 4-yard TD pass to Arnold Tillman. McCowan gained 109 yards on 13 carries, including his first TD, a 12-yarder.
While the Islanders struggled, the Buccaneers made it three straight blowouts over the Samurai, outscoring them 143-8. Now, they get a chance to atone for losing the island championship 35-27 last year to the Samurai.
“This is just the first step,” said coach Brian Wetherington.
All-everything back A.J. Morgan accounted for four touchdowns. He ran four times for 41 yards and two scores and went 2-for-5 for 109 yards and two TDs.
Complementing him was freshman tailback Darnell Womach, who gained 168 yards and scored twice on 10 carries.