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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – It took a bit longer than expected, but Nile C. Kinnick starts its bid for its first appearance in a Far East Division I football title game Saturday.

The Red Devils open their season against a Kubasaki team that’s appeared in the last five D-I championship games, winning in 2013, but already in a hole after losing its opener 34-3 on Sept. 2 to two-time defending champion Kadena.

Kubasaki coach Fred Bales says he remembers an old high school mentor saying, “You can’t win them all unless we win the first one.”

“Well, we didn’t win the first one,” Bales said Thursday, a day before the Dragons were to fly to Tokyo for Saturday’s showdown with Kinnick; kickoff is at 2 p.m. at Yokosuka Naval Base.

With so few games – a seven-game regular season, six against D-I opponents – that lead toward the two spots in the D-I title game Nov. 12, “all the games are important,” Bales said.

“If we want to stay relevant, we need to win this one,” Bales said. “They’re (Kinnick) a good, competitive team. It’s always tough on the road. Just go up there and compete. That’s always our goal. We always look forward to the challenge.”

Senior running back Braylan Pittman and fellow senior quarterback Cameron McCall of Kubasaki must take on junior quarterback Kacey Walker and a Red Devils spread offense similar to that of the Dragons.

While Kubasaki has a game under its belt, the Red Devils were supposed to open Sept. 2 at home against Matthew C. Perry. That game got pushed back when the Samurai didn’t have enough players with the required 10 practices.

That left Kinnick with an extended summer camp, six weeks since starting workouts. But coach Dan Joley said the lengthy summer sessions also conferred some benefits.

His players have “taken a real businesslike approach to this,” Joley said. “They’ve taken the extra time to tune things up. We’ve added a lot of things” to the offense and the defense as a result.

“That said, we’re not battle tested yet,” Joley said. “The kids haven’t experienced the tempo of a real game. There’s a lot of questions to be answered. It should be a good game.”

The last time the teams met at Berkey, Kinnick won 22-18. “That was great football, exciting, hard hitting, a lot of back and forth,” Joley said.

Twitter: @ornauer_stripes

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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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