NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan – They’d watched their hopes for 11 straight DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools titles evaporate in a 33-6 loss at Zama American on the same weekend a season ago. On Friday, the Yokota Panthers reversed the outcome and closed in on both titles yet again.

Josh Chamberlain ran for 63 yards and two touchdowns and A.J. Eldridge forced a game-changing fumble that led to a TD just before halftime as the Panthers held off a tenacious Trojans squad 34-22.

“It was a hard-fought game,” Yokota coach Tim Pujol said. “They have some tough runners. They play solid defense. They’re well-coached. Just a very solid team.”

Yokota (5-0 overall, 4-0 in both Kanto and DODDS Japan) needs only to beat Nile C. Kinnick at home on Friday to seal both league titles for the 11th time in Pujol’s 12 seasons at the Panthers’ helm.

“Now, we just have to finish the deal,” Pujol said.

To do that, he said, Yokota must continue to improve, “especially on offense” and on special teams.

“There are some things we have to do better,” Pujol said. “Our kicking game wasn’t very good this week. And we had too many penalties. Our offensive execution wasn’t quite on today.”

That allowed Zama (3-3 overall, 3-2 DODDS Japan, 1-2 Kanto) to remain in the contest late in the third period, trailing 20-16. But the Panthers ground out two more TDs and were never threatened again.

Despite getting three touchdowns and a field goal, Zama “just didn’t get the job done,” coach Steven Merrell said.

“We played tough, the guys showed some improvement” over a 17-0 loss at Yokota on Sept. 10. “We had some problems defensively, we let some cutbacks get us, we missed a lot of tackles.”

Eldridge’s forced fumble set up a Chamberlain touchdown, “certainly a key play in the game,” Merrell said.

Yokota’s Devin Day added 86 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown, Morgan Breazell ran eight times for 125 yards and a score and Myles Andrews ran for a touchdown and was 2-for-5 for 44 yards, each completion to Breazell.

For Zama, Michael Spencer ran 21 times for 155 yards and a score, Matt Cole was 3-for-7 passing for 71 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to David Coleman, and Richard Castillo added a 1-yard run.

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