Shawn Novak didn’t throw a single pass. He didn’t pick up a single rushing yard.

Yet the senior quarterback played as key a role in the Yokota Panthers’ season-opening 56-7 rout of Robert D. Edgren last Saturday as anybody, said Yokota coach Tim Pujol.

A year after virtually having his arm twisted just to get him on the field, Novak has completely grasped Pujol’s ground-oriented attack, to the point that he audibled about half of Yokota’s plays in the victory over Edgren.

“Everybody remembers that it was Chris (Roach) or D.J. (McCary) or Josh (Cunningham) who crossed the goal line. But rewind the play back to conception, a lot of it is set up by what Shawn does,” Pujol said.

“Shawn’s really become a person who has a good understanding of the game. He changed the play at the line because he saw something that would work better. He understands what we’re doing, our schemes, line blocking, seeing how plays develop, how to attack certain defenses.”

Such understanding was obvious to Robert D. Edgren’s Eagles coach Jim Burgeson, who marveled at Novak’s ability to exploit a defensive weakness.

“Our kids froze up in that game,” Burgeson said. “They weren’t lining up right, they weren’t tackling. And that kid, he just picked us apart. There were obvious holes, he checked off at the line and Roach’s yards-per-carry (118 yards, five touchdowns, seven carries) attests to that.”

It’s what’s made Novak a “take-charge” kind of player in all the sports he plays, Pujol said, doing equally well as a basketball point guard or a baseball pitcher.

“It’s a combination of intelligence and Shawn’s desire,” Pujol said. “He likes to be a student of what he does. A basketball guard has to be a playmaker, direct the show. A pitcher has to be aware of situations around him. There’s a mental side to being a quarterback. And he’s got it.”

Perhaps a greater challenge than offensive execution for Yokota might be handling the front seven of the Zama American Trojans, Yokota’s next opponent. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday at Yokota Air Base’s Bonk Field.

Zama’s line outsizes the Panthers’ by an average of 50 pounds on both sides of the ball. The Trojans average 250 pounds across the front line, with senior Teddy Carter the largest of the bunch at about 350.

“Same song, sixth verse,” Pujol said. “I don’t think I can go back to any year when we’ve had Zama outsized.”

So what to do about it?

“Even though we’re smaller, a good fire-off and speed translates to power,” Pujol said. “Keep a body on a body from snap to whistle and give our backs a chance to find a seam. If we give daylight to our backs, they can hit the holes quick and hopefully run faster than the big guys.”

And size didn’t seem to make much difference in Zama’s 20-6 loss last Friday to Nile C. Kinnick. Trojans coach Ron Geist said he’s hoping for improvement this week.

“I’m hopeful that my boys will rise to the occasion,” he said of senior defensive leaders David Burnett and Kristan Stover and senior Justin Planty and sophomore Aaron Tabor at offensive tackle.

“I’m just waiting for my big tackles to take over and dominate,” Geist said. “They’re capable. They understand what to do. They just need more [repetitions] to execute properly. Given enough time, I think they’ll be able to do it.”

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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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