Kadena gets revenge, another D-I title

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Kadena players gather round the championship banner along with coach Sergio Mendoza, far right, as parents and friends record the moment. Larry Torres/Special to Stars and Stripes
From Stripes.com
Kadena players gather round the championship banner along with coach Sergio Mendoza, far right, as parents and friends record the moment. Larry Torres/Special to Stars and Stripes

Kadena gets revenge, another D-I title

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: November 10, 2014

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Justin Sego took the handoff through the right side of the line.

Just more than a half-minute remained in Saturday’s Far East Division I football title game, and Kadena’s senior back was putting his final exclamation point on the victory, indeed his career.

As he crossed the goal line, which capped the scoring with Kadena up 41-27 over defending champion Kubasaki, a cool-of-the-evening feeling washed over Sego as bitter memories of seasons past were wiped away.

Enduring the freshman’s typical school of hard knocks. Playing as a sophomore on a team that lost several starters due to code-of-conduct violations. Losing in overtime to the same Dragons in last season’s championship contest as a junior.

Ah, redemption. No other feeling in the world like it, Sego said after the game.

“If you go through adversity, you just have to fight through it,” Sego said after accounting for 356 all-purpose yards and four second-half touchdowns. “That’s all we’ve been doing at Kadena. We’ve been working for this for four years and we finally got it. It feels great.”

“This is the best way we could have capped the season for him,” coach Sergio Mendoza of the Panthers (6-2) said of Sego, calling his last carry for Kadena – the touchdown – as “awesome. He’s the best football player I’ve ever coached in my life and I’ve had some good ones.”

The win, in the Panthers’ seventh D-I title-game appearance, helped Kadena match Daegu for the most championships in Far East title-game play regardless of division. Daegu reached four earlier Saturday when it won 60-50 at Matthew C. Perry.

And it came after the Panthers - which lost to Kubasaki twice during the season - fell behind 27-21 with 2:17 left in the third quarter. Kadena scored 20 unanswered points to put it away, 12 on touchdown runs by Sego.

“This is one of the most gratifying wins in my experience, in my tenure,” Mendoza said. “We were going to persist. If you want something badly enough, sometimes the universe helps you out to get it.”

“Both teams came prepared to play, they had great plans and executed those plans on both sides of the ball,” Kubasaki coach Fred Bales said. “They were the better team tonight.

They’re deserving champions. We certainly congratulate them.”

The Dragons (5-3) fired the first shot, a 26-yard DeCurtis Davis-to-Isaiah Johnson touchdown pass with 4:04 left in the first quarter. Jamario Harris and Kadena promptly replied with a 25-yard TD pass to Barry Mitchell, who accounted for 132 yards total offense and two TDs.

Winston Maxwell’s 6-yard scoring run put Kubasaki ahead 13-7 3:05 before halftime.

Then Sego went to work in the second half, scoring from 3 yards out to put the Panthers up 14-13 just over two minutes into the third period, then returning an interception 60 yards for a score with 7:58 left in the quarter.

Maxwell cut it to 21-19 on a 36-yard scoring run 2:09 later, then a fumble recovery by Preston Snyder – his eighth of the season – set up Davis’ 49-yard touchdown run, giving Kubasaki its last lead, 27-21.

Kadena scored twice in 37 seconds to go back up 35-27. Mitchell ran 23 yards for a touchdown, then kicker Stephen Black’s ensuing kickoff hit one of Kubasaki’s up men and he fell on it to keep the ball in the Panthers’ hands. Sego then rushed 40 yards for a score with 8:03 left.

Sego ran 30 times for 259 yards, finishing the season with 1,519 yards and 16 touchdowns on 162 carries. Karl Gerstner and Kortez Hixon recovered fumbles for Kadena.

Davis – the Pacific’s leader in total offense – was 8-for-12 for 70 yards and ran eight times for 40 yards. He exits the season 86-for-149 for 1,186 yards and 14 touchdowns and 357 yards and 13 TDs on 98 tries. Maxwell had 146 yards on 20 carries and finished with 884 on 138 attempts this season.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com