Kinnick's Leon Awesso and Kadena's Frank Stare chase the ball during the Boys D-1 final.The Panthers won 5-2.

Kinnick's Leon Awesso and Kadena's Frank Stare chase the ball during the Boys D-1 final.The Panthers won 5-2. (Zakeira Washington/Special to Stripes)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea – Through 19 matches this season, Kadena’s boys soccer team had not one blemish on its record, beating every American and Japanese team it played.

But to Panthers coach Abe Summers, only one thing mattered: Capture the Far East Division I tournament banner and salve the bitter memories of last year’s championship loss to host Nile C. Kinnick.

Mission accomplished.

Tyler Smith notched his 27th and 28th goals of the season and the Panthers pulled away with four goals in the second half to win 5-2 Wednesday over the Red Devils at Humphreys High School’s Blackhawks Field.

“We were undefeated on the season (but) we didn’t care so much about that,” Summers said. “We just cared about winning at Far East.”

Seared into their memories, Panthers players and coach said, was the 3-2 defeat against Kinnick on a chilly, windy, rainy morning. The Panthers led 2-0 at half, only to see Kinnick rally for the victory.

This time, on a brilliant sunny day, Kadena led from the outset. “Much different from the hurricane we played in last year,” Summers said.

At half, with the Panthers up only by one, Summers told the Panthers to keep calm and play the soccer they knew how to play.

“We had to experience that last year,” Summers said. “Sometimes, it’s painful, but it’s an experience you have to have and you learn to close out games.”

Elijah Whipp, Sebastian Praske and Jelani McGhee each added goals for the Panthers. Leon Awesso and Nick Moore each tallied in the second half for the Red Devils.

“They have played pretty much flawless football this tournament,” Kinnick coach Tim Rippeth said. “Complete games. They played the same way in the final.”

It was Kadena’s first D-1 soccer title since 2017 and its Pacific-record eighth overall. The Red Devils were shooting for their third straight and third overall.

“Last year, we got a little stressed, things came apart and Kinnick made a good comeback,” Summers said. “This year, we were not going to let it happen.”

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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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