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Ex-Navy player helps keep Hansen in striking distance

By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 7, 2019

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – A former Naval Academy football player made some huge contributions to Hansen on Sunday, helping the Outlaws keep alive their chances at a U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League regular-season title.

Daniel Gonzales, an Outlaws fullback-linebacker, rushed 4 yards for a touchdown and returned an interception 83 yards to set up another as defending champion Hansen blanked Ryukyu University 28-0 to remain a game back of the league-leading Okinawa Dragons.

“He’s a very hungry young man who really loves the game,” Outlaws coach Dean McCown Sr. said of Gonzales, a Marine Corps officer who arrived on Okinawa late last year. “He leaves it all on the field. He’s a special breed.”

Gonzales, 25, of Tucson, Ariz., was a four-time All-State first-team baseball and three-time All-State first-team football player at Cienega High School before entering Annapolis.

A member of the Class of 2017, Gonzales was co-captain of the Midshipmen defense and started at inside linebacker as a senior in the 2016 season. His Navy teams went to the Poinsettia Bowl, Military Bowl and Armed Forces Bowl in his three seasons on the team.

“I love the game. I love playing it,” Gonzales said. “I wanted to serve and play football” at the Naval Academy. “I thought it was a great opportunity.”

With the victory, the Outlaws improved to 4-1, a game behind the Dragons (5-0), who retained their league lead by beating Kinser 29-6. Ryudai fell to 0-5 and the Ronin to 1-4 with their defeats.

The USFJ-AFL regular season ends on Sunday with Kinser facing Ryudai at noon, followed by the Outlaws vs. the Dragons at 5 p.m. Hansen needs to beat the Dragons by 7 or more points to seize the regular-season title; the Dragons beat the Outlaws 6-0 the first time they met March 4.

Hansen 28, Ryudai 0: Brandon Stevenson passed 46 yards to Michael Mauger for a touchdown and ran 12 yards for a score and Victor Nard, converted from linebacker to fullback, scored from 7 yards out to fuel an Outlaws offense that racked up a season-high 296 yards on 62 plays.

Hansen’s defense held the Stingray to just 20 yards on 37 plays, including negative-25 yards on 13 rushes. The Outlaws had two takeaways and three sacks.

“Everybody’s finally buying into the process of what we’ve been doing all season,” McCown said. Aside from numerous penalties – the Outlaws were flagged 17 times for 150 yards – “we did pretty well today,” McCown said.

Dragons 29, Kinser 6: Reggie Hunter, playing his last game for the Dragons before separating from the Marine Corps, rushed 19 times for 80 yards, including touchdown runs of 4, 1 and 3 yards, and caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Shakeem Mack.

The Dragons’ offensive line “made sure they played a great game for him,” Dragons coach Jermaine Baker said. “He played (Hunter) like a man possessed. We played with a lot of passion today and made sure to feed him (the ball) a lot. He’s going to be a big loss for us.”

Hunter was the bright spot in an offense that generated just 160 yards, but had several short-field opportunities thanks to five Ronin turnovers. Jeffrey Botts had an interception plus five returns for 134 yards and had one kick-return touchdown called back on a penalty.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

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