CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Defensive stars shined Saturday as Zama American finally solved the puzzle that was Daegu.
Andre Encarnacion shook off an ankle injury to run for three touchdowns, O.C. Cruz and RayVaughn King returned interceptions for scores and Rafael Morales had two sacks and two fumble recoveries as the Trojans pulled away in the second half to rout the two-time defending Division II champion Warriors 45-12.
“In the second half, we really got things in gear and got the momentum going,” said coach Steven Merrell, whose Trojans lost the last two times they faced Daegu in the D-II title game, 7-3 last November and 28-2 in 2010. “It was nice to get on track, especially in a division game that counts.”
With the win, Zama (1-2) tied Robert D. Edgren for the early lead in the chase for berths in the D-II title game to be played Nov. 10. Edgren walloped Osan American 40-7 earlier Saturday.
Encarnacion, the senior fullback, tweaked his right ankle a week earlier in a 50-0 loss at Yokota, but answered with a 16-carry, 113-yard performance against Daegu. “He ran like a workhorse, ran just fine,” Merrell said.
Cruz’s 35-yard interception-return touchdown was a “critical play” just before the half, Merrell said.
The play of Morales, who also had nine tackles, was a pleasant surprise for the Trojans. “We knew he could do some things for us. He did a really great job. We’re glad he’s on our team,” Merrell said.
The Trojans even worked some magic in the air, with Nick Zeagler tossing a 56-yard TD pass to David Coleman. The two divided time under center, combining to go 6-for-7 for 137 yards. Holden Limas ran for 55 yards on five carries, including a 39-yard touchdown run.
Ronald McLean answered with 186 yards on 25 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown run, and Steven Robinet added a 5-yard scoring run. But Daegu was undone by two plays, coach Ken Walter said.
The Warriors were penalized for illegal shift on a kickoff, when they had two groups of four players each in motion at the same time, then a forward shovel pass was ruled a fumble, recovered by Zama.
“That changed the game,” Walter said, adding, however, that “to be honest, the way we played, we wouldn’t have won anyway. Steve (Merrell) came out with some new stuff and they (Trojans) were really prepared. They outplayed us down the stretch.”
Zama travels to Osan in another key D-II battle, while Daegu hosts Kadena in an inter-district, inter-division next Saturday.