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NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan – Thanks to the heroics of Hiro Beale, Zama American took a major step Friday toward a chance to defend its Far East Division II championship.

The senior running back-defensive back rushed for a touchdown and intercepted two passes and the Trojans defense held Robert D. Edgren to 170 yards in a 32-6 homecoming victory at Atsugi’s Reid Memorial Stadium.

“Those were really big,” coach Steven Merrell said of Beale’s interceptions, each squelching Eagles drives. The second led to Zama’s last touchdown, a 32-yard run by Jay Lavette with 8 minutes 35 seconds left.

The Trojans (2-6) snapped a five-game losing streak and gained the early edge in the two-game series between the teams to determine who travels to Daegu for the Nov. 8 D-II title game. But Merrell sounded a cautionary note.

“We took a giant step toward where we want to go, but we have another step to go and we know they’re … going to see what they can do to prepare” for the rematch Nov. 1 at Edgren, Merrell said. “I told the guys that just because we beat them like this tonight, to not think that will happen in two weeks.”

Zama only needs a win or a loss by 19 points or fewer; the Eagles (0-7) need a win by 20 points or more to secure the berth. Edgren owns the second tiebreaker, having lost to Daegu by one point while Zama lost by seven.

Beale rushed only three times, but gained 34 yards and scored on an 11-yard run 4:27 into the third quarter. His first interception 10:50 before halftime halted an Edgren drive that reached Zama’s 17-yard line. The second came right at the start of the fourth quarter at Zama’s 18-yard line.

Chris Reynolds ran 16 times for 54 yards and two TDs and Rafael Morales had a team-high 66 yards on 13 carries. Nick Zeagler was just 3-for-10 for 48 yards, but one of them went 15 to Raymond Bestor for a score. Morales also recovered a fumble on the second half’s first play, setting up Beale’s rushing TD.

“We were able to get part of our running game going; we hadn’t had as much success as we had with it before. And we’ve had a bit of success with the passes; we were able to continue working on that,” Merrell said.

“And our defense stepped up. The defense answered the call. We kept hearing these things about (Edgren’s) offense and speed, and they have that. But I was really proud of our defense and how they stepped up and shut a lot of things down.”

Senior Tyrone Bacalso paced the Eagles with 94 yards on 11 carries, including Edgren’s lone touchdown, a 7-yard run with 5:49 left. He also caught a pass for 24 yards and had four returns for 62 yards. Izzy Leon had an interception and the Eagles recorded two sacks. Penalties and injuries hurt the Eagles; they were flagged 13 times for 115 yards.

“We’re pretty beat up,” coach Blaine Miller said. “We’re going to get home and see where we stand. There’s plenty to get fixed.”

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

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