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Okinawa takes over military football league lead

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 3, 2019

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Michael Willis caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Shakeem Mack in overtime to finally end a defensive struggle, lifting the Okinawa Dragons to a 6-0 over defending champion Hansen and into first place in the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League.

The Dragons improved to 2-0, while dropping the Outlaws to 1-1 and tied for second place with Kinser. The Ronins got their first win of the season by rallying for a 20-7 victory over winless Ryukyu University.

Dragons 6, Hansen 0: Unlike the season opener the previous week when the Dragons poured it on against Ryudai, they struggled to move the ball, as did the Outlaws.

The teams combined for 149 offensive yards, less than 1½ trips down the field. They had more penalty yards than offensive yards; the teams were flagged a combined 21 times for 197 yards.

“Last week, the offense led us to victory; this week, it was our turn to pick them up,” Dragons assistant coach Luis Moret said. “Defense all day. Defense wins championships. Bend but don’t break.”

Hansen only got as far as the Dragons’ 11-yard line on the Outlaws’ first possession. The Dragons nearly won the game in regulation time, but couldn’t get any further than Hansen’s 3-yard line on the final possession of the fourth quarter.

But it was during that last fourth-quarter possession that the Dragons finally moved the ball and gave the offense confidence headed into the extra session, Mack said.

“It was a very slow start; we weren’t executing well,” Mack said. “But in the end, we had the energy and the heart. It was one of those nice little plays.”

On second down in the Dragons’ overtime possession, Willis lined up in the slot at the Outlaws’ 27, blazed past the Hansen defense and snagged Mack’s pass wide open into the end zone.

“I had to catch it, for everybody that put in the hard work on our team,” Willis said.

Mack finished 6-for-18 for 72 yards. Edward Billingsley had two of the Dragons’ four sacks, Desondre King intercepted a pass and Austin Abad recovered a fumble.

Kinser 20, Ryudai 7: Lane Johnson amassed 184 yards total offense, throwing 31 yards to Chris Holder for one touchdown and rushing 10 yards for another for the Ronins.

Artanza Starr broke the scoring ice, returning a fumble 12 yards for Kinser’s first touchdown in the first quarter. The Stingray replied two possessions later when Taichi Anpo caught a 7-yard pass from Kenta Ogasawara. Anpo had 115 all-purpose yards on seven touches for Ryudai.

Johnson was 5-for-11 for 122 yards and rushed 16 times for 62 yards for the Ronins. Anthony Pollard also recovered a fumble and recorded a sack, Devonte Singletary intercepted a pass and Wade Taylor had two of the Ronins’ four total sacks.

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