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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Another football season, another Rising Sun Bowl berth for the Yokota Panthers.

Roy Roach and Jeremiah Pearcey each ran for three touchdowns as the Panthers captured their fifth straight Japan Football League title on Friday, spoiling Nile C. Kinnick’s homecoming with a 49-14 victory.

Yokota earned a trip to Okinawa for a shot at its fourth straight All-Japan football crown, and ran its on-field winning streak to 37 games dating back to October 2000, two short of the Pacific record.

“Awesome,” said senior lineman Jason Correll, adding that he’d gazed that morning at a newspaper clipping he taped to the wall of his room, a photograph of Yokota’s 34-6 preseason loss Aug. 23 to Komatsubara, with a headline that read: “Uncommon defeat for Yokota Panthers.”

“We overcame,” Correll said of a team that was thought to be in rebuilding mode. “I’m proud of the team. Everybody underestimated us. But we had a tradition, and we had to uphold it. We couldn’t let ourselves down.”

“This team has the heart,” senior lineman Karl Gerstner said. “We proved people wrong.”

Coach Tim Pujol, who’s been at the helm for all five seasons of Yokota’s run, took special pride, he said, in capturing his latest JFL title.

“For two years in a row, we’ve lost 20 out of 28 players, and the players who have moved up from JV and who have moved in have helped us a lot,” he said.

“A lot of people thought this group couldn’t match up to the teams the last couple of years, that we didn’t have the depth and we couldn’t replace the key players who departed. It’s been a gratifying building process for us. We’re happy with what this team has done.”

Roach, one of those new players, ran for touchdowns of 44, 2 and 19 yards, rushing for 154 yards on 17 attempts. Pearcey added TD runs of 4, 23 and 12 yards, netting 93 yards on 11 carries plus two returns for 75 yards.

But unlike Yokota’s 44-6 romp over Kinnick on Sept. 26, this one was in doubt until the third quarter. Red Devils back Lenny Lynce saw to that, running 4 and 6 yards for second-quarter TDs, and Kinnick trailed 22-14 at one point.

“We thought we were in it,” Red Devils offensive coordinator Jimmy Davis said. “We were in a lot better position than the first time around. But there’s a reason why they’re [Yokota] the five-time champions. They execute things well. They do things right.”

Lynce totaled 136 yards on 12 carries plus 11 tackles and three returns for 92 yards. Brenden Lynce ran 10 times for 87 yards and recorded eight tackles. Richie Korth, playing tailback for the first time in six weeks, added 57 yards on eight attempts.

Kinnick visits the American School In Japan on Saturday to wrap up the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools season. Yokota, which completed its Kanto season 6-0 with Friday’s victory, hosts Robert D. Edgren in its JFL regular-season finale on Friday.

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