KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Season 20 of the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League began with defending champion Hansen shutting out Kinser 18-0 and the Okinawa Dragons avenging last season’s semifinal loss to Ryukyu University 35-12.
The games were played on Sunday for the first time, and at the league’s home for the 2019 season, Habu Field at Kadena’s Ryukyu Middle School. Previously, Okinawa’s teams played on Saturdays and at various venues on bases around the island.
Hansen 18, Kinser 0: Unable to sustain a ground attack with a new, young offense, the Outlaws took to the air, behind dual quarterbacks Morgan Grant in the first half and Josh Prince in the second.
Grant ran a couple of keepers into the Kinser red zone, then hit Cole Horner on a 10-yard slant for touchdown early in the second quarter. Prince hit Jeromy Rodriguez for second-half TD passes of 4 and 45 yards.
On defense, Jayson Scott, a converted free safety now playing defensive line, recorded three sacks and multiple tackles for losses in the second half. Kevin Perez-Pinales led the secondary with two interceptions.
Still, “we have a lot to work on with our offense and defense,” Outlaws coach Dean McCown Sr. said.
Dragons 35, Ryudai 12: Reggie Hunter ran for two scores and amassed 162 rushing yards, while Wellington Daniels added a rushing TD and ran for 70 yards for the Dragons, who lost last year’s semifinal 32-14 to the Stingray, a Japanese college team, on May 26 at Habu Field.
“The defense stepped up and brought the heat,” Dragons coach Jermaine Baker said. Strong safety Jeffrey Botts was proof of that, returning an interception 60 yards for a score. He also ran back a kick 74 yards for a touchdown.
Cornerback David Gibson also had an interception, while Gabe Edwards and Edward Billingsley each had multiple sacks and tackles for losses.
One major change, Baker said, was having Shakeem Mack at quarterback, working behind an offensive line that opened holes for Hunter and Daniels and gave Mack time to throw.
Taichi Anpo scored both Stingrays touchdowns, catching a 5-yard pass from quarterback-coach Riichiro Shinjo and returning a kick 80 yards.
In Week 2, the Dragons and Outlaws face each other at noon and the Ronins play the Stingray at 5 p.m. Sunday.