Listen to coaches Tim Pujol and Sergio Mendoza describe the other’s team and it sounds as if they’re talking about their own squad.

Pujol’s Yokota Panthers and Mendoza’s Kadena Islanders are as ground-oriented as they come. Each has a yardage-chewing featured back augmented by a solid supporting cast of blocking backs and linemen, with passing games as economical as they are effective.

They’ll square off at 7 p.m. Saturday at Yokota High School’s Bonk Field. The Panthers are aiming for “one for the thumb,” a fifth straight All-Japan championship, while the Islanders seek their first.

“In some ways, watching their offense is like watching ourselves,” said Pujol after the Okinawa Activities Council championship Friday, which the Islanders won 37-12 over the defending champion Kadena Buccaneers.

“I see an excellent kicking game to help win the battle of field position, a solid running attack with a good line and a hard-hitting defense and good team speed. They look solid in all three phases of the game. It’s going to be a challenge.”

It also might mean the closest Rising Sun Bowl since Yokota edged the Kubasaki Samurai 3-0 in the second All-Japan championship four years ago.

Yokota’s ground game benefitted from senior Chris Roach, with 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns, while the Islanders were powered chiefly by senior Keith Loving’s 1,042 yards and 13 TDs.

It would mean nothing, both coaches said, were it not for the play of the offensive lines.

“The guys in the line don’t get noticed much,” said Pujol of a Panthers crew that includes seniors Mike Herron and Josh Smith and juniors Mark Dixon and Joe Saffold. “It’s a thankless job. But they’re the heartbeat of the team.”

“They have to be smart, even smarter than the running backs,” said Mendoza, whose Islanders’ seven-man human sled includes senior Grady Pennell, juniors Hunter Harveston and C.J. Weidner and sophomore Greg Munroe.

“As things change in front of them, they have to adjust, even before everybody else does,” Pujol said. “And the other backs are also involved in the blocking.”

That would mean guys such as Yokota junior fullback Shamarr Howell and Islanders 225-pound junior Ted Awana.

All of them working together will give the winning team its greatest edge: controlling the ball.

“If we can move the ball, move the chains and score, that will be our best defense,” Pujol said.

Mendoza hasn’t had the advantage of seeing Yokota, as Pujol did the Islanders. But he said he doesn’t feel he needs to employ anything but what got the Islanders to the big game.

“I have all the respect in the world for Yokota’s program,” he said. “We’re going to focus, regroup and get down to basic football execution. We don’t see any big changes. We’re going to go out and do our best.”

If the Islanders are at their best, Yokota and any other team might have its hands full, said Fred Bales, coach of one of the Islanders’ victims this season, the Samurai.

“They’re very balanced,” Bales said. “They attack right, left and middle, across the whole front. You can’t cheat on defense. You have to load up against the run. They don’t throw often but they have a senior quarterback [Stcyr Madayag] who operates well.”

Madayag didn’t throw much but went 5-for-10 for 167 yards and three touchdowns in one contest, and finished the season 12-for-36 for 225 yards. That’s comparable to Yokota’s Shawn Novak, a fellow senior who went 16-for-29 for 293 yards and five scores.

But like the Islanders, Yokota’s bread and butter is the ground game — and to stop it, a team must destroy its interior, said Robert Stovall, coach of the Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, who lost twice to Yokota this season.

“The line secures their championships year after year,” Stovall said. “A team has to find a way for their defensive line to get in the backfield, overcome a dominant offensive line and make the backs bump.”

Almost as if the two teams were made from the same mold, Pujol said.

“Good running game with good blocking and quality people to carry it, a good kicking game and a defense that hits hard and adjusts well and stays with its responsibilities. I’d like to think of us as having those same characteristics,” Pujol said.

“We’re going up against the most quality team in the Pacific,” Mendoza said. “Good tradition, good coaching staff. I’m expecting to go in and do our best.”

A look at the teams ...

Kadena Islanders (8-0)

Head coach: Sergio Mendoza (third season)

Regular season

Sept. 17: Kadena Islanders 26, Kadena Buccaneers 0

Sept. 24: Kadena Islanders 17, Kubasaki Shogun 7

Oct. 2: Kadena Islanders 41, Kubasaki Samurai 20

Oct. 12: Kadena Islanders 27, Kadena Buccaneers 14

Oct. 15: Kadena Islanders 25, Kubasaki Shogun 7

Oct. 22: Kadena Islanders 17, Kubasaki Samurai 14

Okinawa Activities Council playoffs


Oct. 29: Kadena Islanders 21, Kubasaki Shogun 16


Nov. 4: Kadena Islanders 37, Kadena Buccaneers 12

Rushing offense

1,965 yards, 20 touchdowns, 372 carries, 5.282 yards per carry.

Passing offense

12-for-36, 8 interceptions, 225 yards, 3 touchdowns.

Total offense

2,137 yards, 23 touchdowns, five field goals, 426 plays.

Return yardage

751 yards, 5 touchdowns, 38 returns.

Total yardage

2,888 yards, 28 touchdowns, five field goals.

Turnover margin

27 takeaways, 20 giveaways

Players to watch

Keith Loving, senior running back/linebacker: 1,042 yards, 13 touchdowns, 154 carries, 6.766 yards per carry; 24 yards, 2 catches; 293 yards, 1 touchdown, 17 returns; 3 fumble recoveries.

David McCowan, senior running back/linebacker: 469 yards, 3 touchdowns, 82 carries, 5.72 yards per carry; 106 yards, 1 touchdown, 6 returns; 3 interceptions.

Ted Awana, junior fullback/linebacker: 273 yards, 2 touchdowns, 65 carries, 4.2 yards per carry; 42 yards, 4 catches; 25 yards, 2 returns; 1 interception, 1 sack.

Stcyr Madayag, senior quarterback/defensive back: 12-for-36, 8 interceptions, 225 yards, 3 touchdowns; league-high 5 interceptions; 100 yards, 5 returns.

Grady Pennell, senior lineman: 3 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 fumble-return touchdown, 1 interception-return touchdown.

Hunter Harveston, junior lineman: 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 2 punt blocks.

C.J. Weidner, junior linebacker: 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 fumble-return touchdown.

Yokota Panthers (8-0)

Head coach: Tim Pujol (sixth season)

Regular season

Sept. 4: Yokota 56, Robert D. Edgren 7

Sept. 10: Yokota 34, Zama American 0

Sept. 24: Yokota 7, Nile C. Kinnick 6

Sept. 30: Yokota 55, American School In Japan 0

Oct. 8: Yokota 41, Robert D. Edgren 0

Oct. 15: Yokota 36, Zama American 8

Oct. 29: Yokota 24, Nile C. Kinnick 7; clinched Kanto Plain and JFL titles

Nov. 6: Yokota 27, American School In Japan 0

Rushing offense

2,381 yards, 30 touchdowns, 272 carries, 8.754 yards per carry.

Passing offense

16-for-29, 2 interceptions, 293 yards, 5 touchdowns.

Total offense

2,674 yards, 35 touchdowns, 301 plays.

Return yardage

877 yards, 5 touchdowns, 38 returns.

Total yardage

3,551 yards, 40 touchdowns.

Turnover margin

19 takeaways, 13 giveaways.

Players to watch

Chris Roach, senior tailback/safety/kick returner: 1,400 yards, 21 touchdowns, 166 carries, 1,666 yards, 8.434 yards per carry. 298 yards, 3 touchdowns, 11 returns. 2 interceptions, 1 interception-return touchdown.

Shawn Novak, senior quarterback: 16-for-29, 2 interceptions, 293 yards, 5 touchdowns.

Josh Cunningham, junior halfback: 282 yards, 2 touchdowns, 29 carries. 59 yards, four returns.

Shamarr Howell, junior fullback/defensive back/kick returner: 294 yards, 3 touchdowns, 41 carries. 91 yards, 2 touchdowns, 7 catches. 207 yards, 1 touchdown, 9 returns. 2 interceptions.

Jamal McNeill, senior defensive back: 4 interceptions, 1 interception-return touchdown, 1 fumble recovery.

D.J. McCary, senior defensive back: 3 interceptions.

author picture
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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