Yokota's Roach, Kadena's Morgan square off in Rising Sun Bowl
It’ll be a battle of the “Magnificent 7s” when the Yokota Panthers and Kadena Buccaneers meet Saturday at 7 p.m. in Okinawa’s McDonald Stadium for Rising Bowl V.
Kadena senior A.J. Morgan and Yokota senior Roy Roach — who both wear the No. 7 — have compiled 2,288 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground, 3,247 all-purpose yards and 34 TDs, and have led their teams to a combined 17-1 season record.
“They bring up the level of play of the other 10 guys on the field, and take their success from what the other 10 do for them,” said Buccaneers coach Brian Wetherington.
Yokota (10-0), five-time defending Japan Football League champion, will go for a fourth straight All-Japan title against the Bucs (7-1), Okinawa Activities Council champs for the second time in three years.
Leading the way:
¶ Morgan, three-year Bucs veteran and part of a team that lost to Yokota 42-14 two years ago in Rising Sun Bowl III. He’s shifty, fast and elusive, whether lining up under center or at tailback, returning punts and kicks or at linebacker, where he has six interceptions.
¶ Roach, a transfer from Tabb High in Hampton, Va., this year. He lines up deep for returns and plays some linebacker, but does most of his damage at tailback. He’s speedy but more workmanlike, less flashy, than Morgan.
Tim Pujol, Yokota’s coach, who has seen both play this season, says, “They’re asked to fill different roles for their teams.”
He watched Morgan tally 243 all-purpose yards and toss two TD passes in the Bucs’ 21-7 all-island championship win Saturday over the Kadena Islanders.
“A.J. scrambles, passes, he’s dangerous in the open field,” Pujol said. “Roy has his role, too. We get him the ball in situations where he can move the chains.”
But as visible and important as Morgan and Roach have been, Saturday’s outcome might hinge on what occurs in the interior, both coaches said. Yokota’s line boasts a mix of senior leaders (Jason Barajas, Isaac Felarca, Karl Gerstner) and underclassmen (Joe Saffold, Justin Barajas, Michael Herron) who may be the foundation for future Yokota triumphs.
They go up against a Bucs interior loaded with seniors (Grant Knowles, Terrence Hayes, Alex Juarez, Chris Doran) but with underclass talent similar to Yokota’s (Nick Morrison, Thomas Armani, Zach Sisco).
“The line of scrimmage determines how many breaks the backs get,” Wetherington said. “You play a war to open things up for A.J., and I’m sure it’s the same way for Roach.”
“There are very few exceptions, winning only on big plays, but that doesn’t happen often,” Pujol said. “If you win the line of scrimmage, you give yourself the best chance.”
Trying to stop the Bucs, Pujol said, starts with containing Morgan — not easy, given that his team uses a variety of formations, from the wishbone to a spread set called “air raid,” in which four receivers line up on one side, to give Morgan room to operate.
“The line does a good job of giving time to let A.J. decide what he wants to do,” Pujol said. “They also have a defensive front that penetrates and hits hard. When you stop the run, you give yourself a good chance.”
Other players have gained chunks of yardage for Kadena. Senior Tyler Schmidt earned 434 yards and seven touchdowns, while freshman Darnell Womach added 473 yards on 64 carries with five TDs.
On the other side, Wetherington also realizes that if you stop Roach, two other backs can hurt you: Roach’s brother, junior wingback Chris Roach (849 all-purpose yards, nine touchdowns) and senior fullback Jeremiah Pearcey (1,223 all-purpose yards, 17 touchdowns).
“That’s a three-headed monster,” Wetherington said. “Put them in a wishbone, I hate to see that come at me. You have to come out with a game plan and stop what you can.”
There’s no doubting, Pujol said, how much the Magnificent 7s will mean to the Panthers’ chances of continuing their championship run or the Bucs’ hopes of grinding it to a halt.
“They have a huge impact for their teams,” he said.