Hansen, Okinawa win to set up Torii Bowl showdown
By STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 21, 2019
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Jeffrey Botts returned three interceptions for touchdowns, leading a defense that picked off eight passes and paced the Okinawa Dragons to a 50-0 rout of Ryukyu University on Sunday in the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League semifinal.
With the win, the Dragons reached the USFJ-AFL’s Torii Bowl title game after a one-year absence and avenged last year’s 32-14 semifinal loss to the same Stingray. The Dragons will play Hansen, which eliminated Kinser 13-2 in Sunday’s other semifinal.
Dragons 50, Ryudai 0: “We took care of business,” Dragons coach Jermaine Baker said. “Our defense was amazing the whole game, the wide receivers made plays, the running backs ran hard, the quarterback (Shakeem Mack) spread the wealth to make it difficult to key on.”
But Botts proved to be a major difference maker on defense, returning pick sixes 24, 28 and 41 yards. Cornerback Jakell Johnson returned an interception 36 yards for a score, Edward Billingsley had two picks and Dilan Centers and John Weaver one each.
“Botts did what he does best, make great plays,” Baker said, adding that Botts, 21, of Cincinnati, a Marine corporal based on Camp Foster, could play college football.
Botts scored all five touchdowns for the Dragons in their 32-12 preseason win in early February over the Yokosuka Seahawks at Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
“I knew then that he was special,” Baker said. “As a player, he’s everything you want. He’s coachable, a leader and gives 100 percent on every play.”
Also for the Dragons, Lawrence Johnson, Wellington Daniels each rushed for touchdowns and Donovan Beasley caught a touchdown pass from Mack.
Next Sunday, the Dragons will face an Outlaws team that they beat 26-0 in the Torii Bowl two years ago. “We got one game left to bring it all together,” Baker said.
Hansen 13, Kinser 2: The Outlaws prevailed in the manner in which they have much of the season, coach Dean McCown Sr. said: “Very slow on the offensive side and the defense was perfect as always.”
Brandon Stevenson threw touchdown passes to Alex Hayward and Jack Schulz. Defensively, the Outlaws recorded seven sacks, intercepted a pass, forced two fumbles and recovered both.
McCown said he knew that coach Kyree Hall and the Ronins would “come out and leave it all on the field. He threw everything at us including the kitchen sink, but we were able to hold our ground and finish with the W.”
Hansen is the reigning USFJ-AFL champion, having downed Ryudai 40-22 in the Torii Bowl last June 2. The Outlaws and Dragons split the season series this year, Hansen winning 7-0 last week and the Dragons 6-0 on March 3.
Of Sunday’s rubber match in the Torii Bowl, McCown said: “This is what everyone in this league has been waiting for.”