YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Blocking and tackling were among the many growing pains that plagued the young, rebuilding Yokota Panthers this season, which saw them lose four straight games for the first time in 15 years.

Those two aspects of the game are improving for Yokota, Panthers coach Tim Pujol said, and have fueled a turnaround that’s seen the team win twice in the last two weeks, including Saturday’s 40-9 home romp over Seoul American.

“We’re still not fantastic at (it),” but we’re getting better on defense,” he said. “And we’re doing a better job of blocking, not just the line and the ends, but also the backs blocking for each other.”

The blocking helped sophomore backs J.J. Henderson (142 yards, two touchdowns, 17 carries) and Nick Pederson (84, one, nine) break free to help Yokota gain 290 yards on the ground as a team and 346 overall. Jamarvin Harvey and Marcus Henagan also rushed for touchdowns and Pederson caught a 44-yard TD pass.

Yokota’s bend-but-don’t-break defense, meanwhile, allowed two lengthy scoring drives, but halted the Falcons on five other trips into Panthers territory.

“It’s just that simple for this team, that blocking and tackling were things that early in the season we needed sorely to work on,” Pujol said. “And we’re getting better at those things, and consequently, we’re making first downs, we’re getting some stops and we’re putting up some points.”

Yokota (3-4 overall, 1-2 Division I), which has scored 80 points and allowed just 22 in its last two games, also got an interception from Pederson, fumble recoveries from Emilio Saucedo and Sam Michelsen and sacks by A.J. Leake and Christian Ancrum.

Aside from the three turnovers, the Falcons lost key senior fullback-linebacker John Stoll to a leg injury late in the first half.

“We looked disorganized from the get-go,” said coach Jim Davis, whose Falcons (1-4, 0-3) were eliminated from the D-I title-game race. “And you can’t be disorganized against a team that’s coached that well. Tim does a great job with them. You have to be on all cylinders and we weren’t from the get-go.”

Max Weekley, the Falcons’ third quarterback this season, was a bright spot on offense, garnering 99 yards’ total offense and a touchdown.

He engineered drives of 50 yards on 15 plays in 6:34 that led to a Tristan Williams 25-yard field goal late in the first half, and one of 68 yards on 15 plays in 5:23 capped by Weekley’s 14-yard touchdown run with 9:36 left.

Stoll’s replacement, Christian Guevera, led the Falcons with 48 yards on 10 carries; Stoll had 44 on 10 when he departed. Christian Buckingham picked off a Henagan pass for the Falcons.

Seoul American next visits Daegu, with kickoff at 6 p.m. Friday. Yokota hosts DODDS Japan champion Nile C. Kinnick on Friday; kickoff is at 7 p.m.

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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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