Kadena football coach Sergio Mendoza feels the new Far East football playoff system enacted last season by DODDS-Pacific is “awesome” because it’s giving the the kids the stateside football experience.

Kadena football coach Sergio Mendoza feels the new Far East football playoff system enacted last season by DODDS-Pacific is “awesome” because it’s giving the the kids the stateside football experience. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

TORII STATION, Okinawa — Until 1999, Pacific high school football largely was a sectional sport. Teams would battle for league honors but little more.

That changed in fall 2005, when Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council calendared a full-fledged football playoff.

And in his fourth year as FEAC chair, Don Hobbs, DODDS-Pacific Director Nancy Bresell and coaches are hailing the playoff as a smashing success.

Said Hobbs: “It’s made the season more meaningful.”

Added Bresell: “Everybody wants a championship in their sport. ... It’s going to result in greater pride on the part of the schools, their students and their communities.”

Osan American of South Korea crowned itself Far East Class A champion for schools with enrollments of 360 and less Nov. 5, rallying from 14 points down to beat Robert D. Edgren of Japan 16-14.

“It changed the face of the sport out here,” said Osan coach Tony Alvarado. “We all see where we stack up.”

Even more drama unfolded in the Class AA playoff for schools of 360 students and over. Seven-time Japan Football League champion Yokota took a 36-game winning streak into its semifinal clash with Seoul American but lost to the Falcons 13-10, also on Nov. 5. The next Saturday, Kubasaki of Okinawa captured the title by ending the Falcons’ 25-game winning streak 38-8.

“It made winning more prestigious,” said Tim Pujol, who’s bridged the time gap from 1999, when no playoff existed; to 2000-2004, when Japan and Okinawa champions played in the Rising Sun Bowl; to today. “It removes the water-cooler discussion. It puts it all out there: Line up and play and see who’s the best team in the Pacific.”

As to logistics, Hobbs said, “everything went very, very well.” And all the districts hosting semifinals and championship games this year plan “to build on the success of what occurred last year.”

Hobbs discussed the Far East football playoffs and other “state of DODDS-Pacific sports” issues during a wide-ranging interview earlier this month in his Torii Station office.

This year’s playoff pairings are set. On Nov. 4, Osan travels to Misawa Air Base for a Class A title rematch with Edgren and Okinawa Activities Council champion Kadena visits Yokota and Seoul American travels to Guam High for the Class AA semifinals. The Seoul-Guam winner hosts the Class AA championship Nov. 11.

As to giving the players the stateside football experience, said Kadena coach Sergio Mendoza, “we’re doing it now.”

Even the lead-up to the playoff has seen its share of drama. On Oct. 13, Yokota trailed 28-16 in the third quarter but rallied past Nile C. Kinnick 29-28 to clinch its eighth straight JFL title. And Osan scored its first win over Seoul American in school history.

“I don’t know if that’s because of the playoffs” creating extra motivation, Hobbs said, “but certainly it has created some enthusiasm within the Pacific for this event.”

Still, he said, the playoffs have had their hitches and glitches.

The main problem, he said, is arranging travel. For example, Okinawa champion Kadena must arrange for a flight to Tokyo for its semifinal with Yokota and also have reserve flights to both Inchon Airport in South Korea and Won Pat Airport on Guam for a possible championship at Guam High or Seoul American.

“Sometimes airlines aren’t really receptive to making those kind of reservations,” Hobbs said, “especially knowing in advance they’re going to be canceled.”

While Okinawa-Tokyo flights are plentiful, flights to Korea and Guam are not. “And ... we want kids to miss as little school as possible,” Hobbs said.

Such issues are “solvable,” he said. “The schools just have to know and be prepared.”

The bottom line, Hobbs said, is that the playoff has gotten off the ground and is here to stay. “It’s made for seasons in which they know there’s something to shoot for at the end.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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