YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — After four straight losses, the Yokota Raiders suddenly find themselves on a two-game winning streak.
Henry Freeman ran for a touchdown and passed for another as Yokota got its first U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League win of the season Wednesday, a 23-18 victory over Kadena that knocked the Dragons out of first place.
“We put ourselves back on the map,” coach Chuck Wichert said. “We’re ready to play. The guys are prepared, ready and they’re really hungry. Yokota football is not to be taken lightly anymore.”
Freeman’s 4-yard scoring run put Yokota on the board first. He tossed a 17-yard TD pass to Marlowe Grimsley after Jeffrey Sparks returned an interception 14 yards for an earlier score. Jake Busler added a 30-yard field goal as the Raiders (2-4 overall, 1-3 in league play) did all their scoring in the first half.
That offset A.J. Hickman’s 4-yard TD pass to Chris Clark on Kadena’s first drive, Charles Clarke’s second-quarter fumble recovery in the end zone and Paul Robinson’s 4-yard quarterback sneak in the third quarter.
Since falling 90-12 on June 22 to the Japanese national team, composed of players from the semi-pro X-League, the Raiders have won two straight, including last Saturday’s 12-6 victory over the Nagoya Isono Angels, an X-League Division II squad.
Wichert feels the loss to the national team lit a fire under his squad.
“That pushed them to another level, knowing what we had to do to compete in this league,” Wichert said. “The team is on a high now, coming together, believing in each other. We’ve become a family.”
Yokota now faces four road games to close the season: at second-place Misawa (2-1) on Aug. 2, then a pair of games on Okinawa against Courtney-Hansen on Aug. 9 and Futenma on Aug. 13, followed by a season-ending battle at Yokosuka on Aug. 30.
“I call it a high mountain,” said Wichert, whose team must win all four games to keep postseason hopes alive. “The road trips are going to be tough.”
Kadena coach Glen Ballard feels Yokota could hold its own on the road.
“Yokota didn’t look like an 0-3 team tonight,” said Ballard. Kadena (2-1), which entered the game in a first-place tie with three-time champion Yokosuka, visits the Seahawks on Saturday.
“I told the guys before the game, the worst opponent you can face is somebody who has nothing to lose. Yokota came to play football. The hungry dog always wins the fight. And now, we go from facing a team with nothing to lose to facing a team with first place to lose.”