YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Far East basketball tournament MVP Willie Brown seems quite at home on the gridiron as well.
Brown returned an interception for a touchdown and set up the game-winning TD with a fumble recovery, fellow senior Trinidai Stansel ran for two TDs and made a crucial stop on a late two-point conversion try and Seoul American dethroned defending champion Kadena 22-21 on Saturday for its second Far East Class AA football title in three years.
"He’s a heck of a good athlete. He’s got good quickness and great hands. And he made three huge plays," Falcons coach Julian Harden said of Brown, chosen as the MVP of the 2008 Far East Class AA Basketball Tournament last February.
The three plays included a 21-yard catch late in the first half that kept a Seoul drive alive and Kadena’s offense off the field.
It was Brown’s second-half defensive heroics that ultimately helped vanquish Kadena, which had shut out its five opponents prior to Saturday’s contest.
"I admire Kadena and everything they bring to the table," Harden said of the Panthers, who beat Seoul 27-10 at Kadena in the 2007 Class AA semifinal and edged Kadena 12-6 in overtime for the 2006 Class AA title.
"This time, I expected it be a dogfight, and it was everything I expected it to be," Harden said, crediting DODDS-Korea Football League brethren Daegu American, which beat the Falcons 14-8 on Seoul’s homecoming, and Osan American for preparing the Falcons for Kadena.
"Had it not been for Daegu and Osan, we would not have been able to do this," he said. "Daegu is small and quick, Osan is big and strong. Kadena had both. Osan and Daegu prepared us well for this."
The Panthers fought as hard as they could, but were done in by their miscues, coach Sergio Mendoza said.
"Seoul always has a tough program, well-coached and disciplined," he said. "It was hard- fought. A fumble and holding penalties on long drives. An interception for a touchdown. You can’t win a championship when you make mistakes like that."
On the interception, Brown said he read Kadena quarterback Lamar Stevens’ eyes all the way.
"I knew he was going to fake right and throw left, and I just came up and got it," he said of his 24-yard run to the end zone. Stansel’s two-point run made it 14-7 Falcons 1:38 into the third quarter.
Stevens atoned for his error by running 47 yards for a TD with 2:14 left in the period. Jordan Ray’s two-point run put Kadena ahead 15-14.
On the Panthers’ next possession, Falcons cornerback Alex Rhinehart stripped Kadena running back Brandon Harris of the ball, and Brown fell on it. "I wanted the ball," Brown said. "I wanted the championship. Do whatever it takes."
Stansel’s 5-yard TD run and two-point conversion put the Falcons up to stay 22-15.
It still wasn’t over. Kadena engineered a 65-yard, 14-play drive in the last 6:48, cutting the gap to one point on Stanley Schrock’s quarterback sneak with 6 seconds left.
Ray took the ball off-tackle right on the two-point conversion try, but ran smack into Stansel who wrestled him down just shy of the end zone.
"We didn’t come here to tie," Mendoza said. "We had an opportunity to put it away, and we didn’t. It’s disappointing to work so hard in a program and kill yourself with penalties and turnovers. We just didn’t have it."
Harden faced a similar dilemma near the end of the first half on fourth-and-2 play at Kadena’s 6-yard line. He chose to go for it rather than try a field goal and came up short.
That left the halftime score 7-6. Stansel scored on Seoul’s first possession, a 5-yard run to cap a 68-yard, 13-play drive in 7:13. Schrock answered with a 1-yard sneak 2:38 into the second quarter.
Seoul outgained Kadena 233-228. Stansel led the Falcons with 135 yards on 25 carries. For the Panthers, Harris had 75 second-half yards on 15 carries, and Stevens had 66 yards on eight tries.