Yokota knocks Osan out of title game
Stars and Stripes October 14, 2023
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – On a Saturday dedicated to Yokota’s seniors, a pair of freshmen supplied the biggest plays.
Kysiem Banks returned a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown, A.J. Webster rushed for two touchdowns and Cecil Jackson made an end-zone tackle for a safety and the Panthers rallied from 14 points down to edge Osan 23-22 at Yokota’s Bonk Field.
With the win, the Panthers (3-2) eliminated the Cougars (4-2) from the chase for a berth in the Far East Division II title game. Zama (6-0) hosts American School In Japan (3-1) in the D-II final Oct. 27.
“What a game. That was football,” Panthers coach Michael Woodworth said. “The seniors left everything on the field and to leave with a win like that, just a phenomenal effort.”
Though the Panthers were outgained 292-188 on offense, it was Banks and Webster with their big plays on defense and special teams that turned the contest around late in the third quarter.
With the Cougars up 14-6, Osan drove to the Panthers’ 5-yard line, following an interception by Aaron Patterson. On third-and-4, the Cougars’ Eddie Kim rushed left then lost the ball. It was deflected by Yokota’s Rodrigo Negron and Aiden Leppo into Banks’ arms.
“I saw space and just took off,” Banks said. He eluded a couple of would-be Osan tacklers and ran up the right sideline into the Cougars’ end zone.
When Banks picked up the ball at the 1-yard line, “I turned to the Osan players and said, ‘Watch this,’” Panthers senior captain Braedan Raybon said. “I have faith in him (Banks). When he gets the ball, he’s so shifty. He’s got speed. He’s got determination.”
Royce Canta caught a two-point conversion pass from Ethan Bricker to knot the score 14-14. On the ensuing kickoff, an Osan return man touched the ball as it bounced into the end zone.
Osan’s Kaden Elwood tried to run it out of the end zone, but was tackled by Jackson for a safety to give Yokota the lead for good 16-14.
“Webster, wow. Banks, what a play,” Woodworth said.
All that came after the Cougars took a 14-0 lead in just over a quarter of play. Kim scored from 23 yards out with 6:44 left in the first quarter, and on a 16-yard run at the start of the second period.
The Panthers cut the gap to 14-6 six minutes before halftime on Webster’s 2-yard touchdown run.
Webster struck again from 23 yards to make it 23-14 with 6:31 left in the game. The Cougars replied less than two minutes later, getting a 14-yard scoring run from quarterback Joshua Low with 5:27 left. His two-point conversion run capped the scoring.
The Cougars had one last chance, getting the ball back with 18.8 seconds left and no timeouts left at the Osan 34, but three plays went nowhere and the clock ran out.
“It came down to the last play. I love games like this,” Woodworth said.
Banks’ fumble return was one of three takeaways by the Panthers, all fumble recoveries. Ethan Bricker was 6-for-16 for 75 yards. Webster finished with 49 yards on 15 carries, and Casey Bumpers added 44 yards on 15 attempts.
“Turnovers will get you every time, especially when you turn it over on the 1-yard line,” Cougars coach Tyler Greve said. “It’s not what we wanted, but it’s what we earned.”
Low finished with 127 yards on 22 rushes and Kim added 138 on 25 attempts for Osan. Low was 2-for-8 passing. Patterson had a fumble recovery, an interception and two catches for 27 yards.
The Cougars host Zama next Saturday, and as such, most of the Trojans coaching staff and several of their players came up from Zama to watch Saturday’s game.
“A bang-up job by Yokota, an excellent job between two good teams,” Zama head coach Scott Bolin said.
The Panthers entertain Nile C. Kinnick on Friday in the season finale for each team.