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Former Yokota High School sports hero Stefan Welch continues to thrive at his old stomping grounds, now as placekicker for the defending U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League champion Yokota Warriors. The 2007 graduate and former Panthers placekicker and soccer star booted a 42-yard field goal with six minutes left as the Warriors opened the 2013 season by rallying for a 10-9 triumph at Yokosuka.

“It was ugly, but the guys pulled it off,” Yokota coach Selwyn Jones said, adding that the Warriors prevailed despite losing several players to injury in driving rain and cold at the Seahawks’ Berkey Field.

Darone Frierson’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Rob Harris and Welch’s point-after try accounted for Yokota’s first points in the first quarter. Yokosuka replied with a 20-yard Jamal Moore-to-Robert Hannah touchdown pass and Sofcac Campbell’s 25-yard field goal.

In Saturday’s other USFJ-AFL opener, Kadena’s defense and torrential rain combined to doom defending South Division champion Foster as the Dragons routed the Bulldogs 28-0.

Shaun Avery starred on both sides of the ball for the Dragons, running 28 yards for a TD and returning a 30-yard pick-six on defense; he had 81 total yards on six touches. Ralphael Jones and Manny Griffin also ran for Kadena touchdowns. Kadena had 145 yards on 38 plays.

Kadena’s defense gave Foster fits from opening kick to final gun. The Dragons recorded five quarterback sacks and five takeaways, including two fumble recoveries by Anthony Mitchell, and held the Bulldogs to minus-42 yards and two first downs on 30 plays.

The USFJ-AFL season opens with a new old face as the first commissioner of the league since 2009. Joe Howell, a veteran Yokota player and coach who served as the league’s commissioner for one season, in 2003, was voted back into the post unanimously by the league’s coaches last week.

The league’s coaches behaved as commissioner by committee the last three seasons.

Regular-season play lasts 10 weeks, until June 22, followed by the three-tiered playoff starting June 29, culminating with the Torii Bowl championship game, this year at the site of the North Division winner July 13.

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