Zama unbeaten no longer as Mustangs capture title
Stars and Stripes October 27, 2023
CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Call Friday’s Division II final Shou Time.
Freshman Shou Murakami-Moses intercepted four passes and American School In Japan’s defense recorded seven takeaways and four sacks in shutting out Zama 14-0 in Friday’s Far East Division II football final at Zama’s Barry Huitema Memorial Field.
“Awesome. He gave us some security back there,” Mustangs coach and athletics director Tim Jacobsson said of Murakami-Moses, ASIJ’s free safety, who had nine interceptions in the Mustangs’ last four games.
With the victory, the Mustangs captured their first D-II title and became the first team in Pacific football history to win both a D-II and Division I title; they won the D-I championship in 2016.
Zama, in effect the defending champion having won the last D-II final in 2019, was going for its fourth D-II title overall. ASIJ snapped the Trojans’ 14-game winning streak dating back to the 2022 season opener.
“Winning 14 straight games is hard; winning 15 can be impossible,” Trojans coach Scott Bolin said. “This is a good team with a stellar defense. We just happened to face a good team tonight. Our defense gave us opportunities, but the offense couldn’t finish the job.”
ASIJ (6-1) opened the scoring after Murakami-Moses’ first interception, driving 73 yards on 10 plays in 5 minutes, 12 seconds, capped by Isreal Rodriguez’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Noa Grasse.
The Mustangs capped the scoring with 4:49 left in the third quarter on Rodriguez’s 18-yard TD pass to Hayden Thomas. The closest Zama came to breaking the shutout was a missed 40-yard field goal by Haydn Parker 3:35 before halftime.
Murakami-Moses intercepted passes on the Trojans’ first two possessions, Campbell Little recovered a fumble on the third and Murakami-Moses got his third pickoff on the fourth.
“Too many mistakes, too early,” Bolin said.
For Murakami-Moses, it was a matter of sensing where he thought Zama quarterback Will Schmiedel was going with the football.
“I just watched the quarterback’s eyes and moved whichever way he was looking,” Murakami-Moses said.
“The guys are excited for him to play the next three seasons,” Jacobsson said of Murakami-Moses, who is expected to graduate from ASIJ. He had never played football before this season.
Little recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass. Andreas Elstrom had two of the Mustangs’ four sacks five plays apart in the fourth quarter.
Rodriguez finished 11-for-17 for 107 yards. Grasse had 115 yards total offense on 18 touches.
“Everyone counted us out, even at school,” Grasse said, noting that Zama beat ASIJ 7-0 in their previous encounter Sept. 22, also at Zama and in the rain. “We wanted to show that we are the ones who could win. “I’m proud of my teammates. I’m super happy.”
“I knew he was going to be the leader of the team,” Jacobsson said of Grasse. “He’s the heart of the team. We’ve had seniors who have carried the team and it all came together at the right time.”
For the Trojans, Schmiedel went 12-for-24 for 124 yards. Giovanni Joell recovered a fumble for Zama’s only takeaway of the contest.
As for Jacobsson, he said it was his last game coaching the Mustangs; he plans to leave ASIJ at the end of the school year. “A great way to end my time here,” he said.