Hansen rallies past Okinawa to grab top military football seed
By DAVE ORNAUER | Stars and Stripes | Published: April 14, 2019
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Aaron Ingram had not played since leading Hansen to the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League title last June. He made the most of his return from duty commitments on Sunday, helping the Outlaws repeat as the league’s regular-season champion.
Ingram passed 33 yards to Michael Mauger for the game’s only touchdown with 3:50 left in the third quarter and Caine Collins and the Outlaws’ defense made it stand up as Hansen edged the Okinawa Dragons 7-0 in the final game of the USFJ-AFL regular season.
“He put the team on his back,” Outlaws assistant coach Jeffrey McIntyre said of Ingram.
Ingram came on in relief of starter Brandon Stevenson in the last series of the first half and went 10-for-13 for 171 yards. Six of the passes went to Mauger for 122 yards. They helped decide what had been a pitched defensive battle for the game’s first 32 minutes, 10 seconds.
With the victory, the Outlaws clinched the top seed entering next Sunday’s playoffs, with Hansen (5-1) taking on fourth-seeded Kinser (1-5) and the No. 2 Dragons (5-1) facing No. 3 Ryukyu University (1-5). The Stingray beat the Ronin 13-7 in Sunday’s earlier game.
Hansen 7, Dragons 0: “I stepped on and just said relax, everything’s fine, don’t worry about things, that coach trusts us,” said Ingram, 25, a Marine sergeant assigned to 3rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Camp Hansen. Ingram had been sidelined due to duty commitments.
It was the first time he’s touched a football, he said, since the Outlaws’ 40-22 Torii Bowl win last June 2 over Ryudai. “It was great coming in and playing, a reaffirmation for me,” Ingram said. “I’m like a little kid out there.”
Mauger had caught several passes on slant patterns under the Dragons’ secondary, and said he suggested that he try going outside toward the corner of the end zone.
“I told my quarterback to trust me,” said Mauger, 20, a lance corporal from Beaumont, Calif. “The cornerback bit on the pattern, I went to the outside, told myself to not drop the pass, to trust my quarterback, I went up and got it and won it for my team.”
It was the lone scoring play during a game that featured many a missed opportunity for the Dragons and turnovers for both sides.
Dragons receivers dropped two sure touchdown passes, kicker Jeffrey Botts shanked a 30-yard field-goal try right on Okinawa’s first possession, and the Dragons stalled on four other drives, turning the ball over twice on downs, fumbling twice and throwing one interception.
“We can’t be mad at anyone but ourselves,” Dragons coach Jermaine Baker said. “The wide receivers couldn’t finish plays when we needed them. If you let a team stick around, they can steal it.”
Okinawa’s defense did its part, with Desondre King picking off two of the Dragons’ four interceptions and Edward Billingsley recording two of the Dragons’ five sacks.
But the Outlaws did even better, holding the Dragons to 108 offensive yards on 53 plays. Collins recovered two fumbles, each of which squelched Dragons drives. Josh Prince intercepted a Dragons pass in the closing seconds to seal it.
“I’m glad it happened now. We will learn from this,” Baker said, adding that his team will quickly put the loss behind it and concentrate on the playoffs. “My guys will be hungry.”
Ryudai 13, Kinser 7: Kenta Ogasawara threw 5 yards for a TD to Naoki Yoshimoto, who later booted two 26-yard field goals as the Stingray rallied from an early 7-0 deficit to score 13 unanswered points.
Ogasawara was 18-for-40 for 177 yards, with Yoki Matsui catching five passes for 76 yards and adding four returns for 104 yards. Kinser’s Lane Johnson accounted for 129 yards total offense, including a 65-yard scoring pass to Ander Wagner to give the Ronin a brief 7-0 lead.