Kinnick outscores Kadena to take command of D-I chase
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2017
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – It took a clutch defensive takeaway to end the highest-scoring game of the Division I regular season.
Devoney Stanley, a senior defensive back, intercepted a fourth-down pass with 27.5 seconds left and host Nile C. Kinnick held on to edge Kadena 45-40 in a battle of unbeaten D-I teams, with possible host rights to the Far East D-I title game at stake.
“It was all about who wants it more,” said Stanley, who suffered along with his teammates through three previous losses to Kadena since 2014 by a margin of 122-25. “I knew I could do something about that ball being thrown.”
The Red Devils (5-0 overall, 4-0 D-I) had just taken the lead 45-40 on Kacey Walker’s 26-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-25 with 2:25 left. Kadena (4-1, 3-1) took the kickoff and promptly marched 33 yards on four plays to Kinnick’s 37.
Three incompletions preceded Stanley’s interception, at Kinnick’s 30. Walker took a knee on the next play and the clock ran out, sparking a sea of red-and-white clad celebration on the Red Devils’ sideline.
“We needed everybody for this game,” said Walker, who accounted for 194 yards on offense and six touchdowns. “Everybody showed up for this game, and we all have the same goal, to win Far East.”
“That was a fantastic game,” Kadena coach Sergio Mendoza said. “Kinnick has a good team, a lot of talent everywhere on the field.”
With the victory, the Red Devils are in the driver’s seat for a shot at hosting the D-I final for the first time, the weekend of Oct. 27-28.
“We had help from everybody today,” said coach Dan Joley, 0-5 against Kadena prior to Saturday’s victory.
“We told the players at the start of this season, to trust us, to trust themselves, to trust each other and do things the right way, on the field, in the classroom, outside the classroom, we would have a great season,” Joley said. “And we’re halfway there.”
The Red Devils have one D-I game left, Oct. 21 at Seoul American; a win would make Kinnick the D-I host team.
Kadena, with a Pacific-record five D-I titles and nine D-I final berths, can still reach the D-I final but only as the visitor. They visit Kubasaki on Friday, then host defending champion American School In Japan on Oct. 13.
“We had too many penalties, too many false starts,” Mendoza said. “We had them fourth and long and they threw a touchdown pass; that’s a maturity thing. We have a lot of growing to do. We’ll be a better team next time. I just hope there is a next time.”
Most of the scoring came after lengthy drives that chewed up valuable clock time. Walker scored Kinnick’s first two touchdowns on runs of 1 and 3 yards, but Kadena tied it on runs of 2 yards by Uriah Morris and 27 by quarterback Cody Sego, the latter set up by a Walker fumble.
“That gave them hope,” Joley said of the Panthers’ rally.
Walker’s third TD, a 9-yard run, put Kinnick up 20-14, then Eric McCarter put Kadena up 21-20 at half on a 2-yard TD. Sego expanded the lead to 27-20 with a 13-yard touchdown run halfway through the third period, then the lead see-saw began.
Aaron Peterson ran 24 yards for a TD and Walker scored again on a 1-yard burst to put Kinnick up 32-27 after three periods. McCarter answered with a 22-yard scoring run 1:31 into the fourth quarter, then Walker replied with yet another 1-yard TD run with 7:53 left.
Sego found a wide-open Owen Sinning from 38 yards out for Kadena’s last touchdown with 5:28 left. That set the stage for Peterson’s game-winning scoring catch.
Joley said he was glad his team “got to experience that game. Some teams and players can play an entire high school career and never experience a game like that.”
Kadena’s game at Kubasaki kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday. Kinnick faces two Division II foes next, starting with Yokota for homecoming next Friday at 6 p.m.