YOKOTA AIR BASE, Okinawa – At the start, Friday’s Nile C. Kinnick at Yokota game took on the look of a repeat of the Red Devils’ 55-27 September home romp over the Panthers.

Yokota fumbled the opening kickoff and Kinnick’s Dre Paylor scored two plays later, 44 seconds into the game.

From there, though, the similarities ceased. And Yokota’s ground game looked like the Panthers of days of yore.

Sophomores J.J. Henderson and Nick Pederson combined for seven touchdowns, six on the ground, and Yokota rushed for 349 yards on 53 carries in a 48-14 victory. The Panthers forced four turnovers, blocked a kick and held the Devils to a season-low 168 yards.

“I thought we did a better job defensively of attacking the line of scrimmage and we did a better job of tackling, especially gang tackling,” said coach Tim Pujol of Yokota (4-4), which won its third straight after losing four in a row.

“Last time we played them, we put up 27 points … but when you give up 55, you’re not going to win. So, the whole key for us was defense.”

The start of the game wasn’t very assuring, Pujol said. “When you give up a fumble and they score on the second play of the game, you’re going, “Good Lord, here we go again.’ But from there, we tightened things up a bit.”

Henderson gained 182 yards and scored four times on 30 carries; he now has 1,060 yards on 137 carries with 15 touchdowns. Pederson added 164 yards and two TDs on 18 carries and caught a 5-yard touchdown pass.

Freshman Noah Macias had three of Yokota’s four takeaways, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Ke’Ondre Davis blocked a punt and Shota Sprunger intercepted a pass.

Kinnick’s Dre Paylor, who had 371 yards the last time he played Yokota, was held to 86 yards on 20 carries; he still leads the Pacific with 1,864 yards on 229 carries. He and Dustin Wilson scored Kinnick’s touchdowns on runs.

“We just got outplayed. A fantastic job by the Panthers,” Red Devils coach Daniel Joley said. “They came out and were better than us, absolutely.”

With the win, Yokota (2-2 Division I) and Kinnick (6-4 overall, 3-2 D-I) split their DODDS Japan season series right down the middle, winning one game each and earning the maximum 20 points needed for tiebreaking purposes.

Each remains alive with an outside shot at a berth in the Nov. 9 D-I title game and since they’re still even after two tiebreakers, they have to move onto the third, which is point differential against common opponents.

Yokota’s game against Kadena on Oct. 5 date was canceled by two typhoons approaching Okinawa, and DODDS Pacific officials have indicated it’s unlikely the game will be made up.

Kinnick needs a win at home Saturday over Kadena if it’s to have any shot at a title-game berth. “We don’t know what the situation is going to be,” Joley said. “They have a makeup game with Kadena and we play Kadena. We’ve gotta make both of those games work.”

DODDS Pacific athletics coordinator Don Hobbs said DODDS is reluctant to extend the season past Nov. 9, and said he’ll work over the weekend to examine the possibilities and try to come up with a solution.

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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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