Manny’s monster game powers Dragons to first Torii Bowl title

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Kadena RB Ralphael Jones tries to outrun Hansen DE Morgan Grant. (Marie Obsuna/Special to Stars and Stripes)
From Stripes.com
Kadena RB Ralphael Jones tries to outrun Hansen DE Morgan Grant. (Marie Obsuna/Special to Stars and Stripes)

Manny’s monster game powers Dragons to first Torii Bowl title

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: June 16, 2015

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Emmmanuel Griffin powered Kadena to its first Torii Bowl title, rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown in a 26-16 victory over Hansen in a steamy conditions at Ryuku Middle School’s Habu Field.

Griffen also helped turn the game around with a 74-yard catch and run in the third quarter as the Dragons’ rallied from a 10-7 halftime deficit.

“I would call certain things and (quarterback Sean Finnegan) said, ‘Keep feeding Manny. They can’t stop him. Keep feeding Manny,’” coach Jermaine Baker said of Griffin, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. “And that’s what I did. The (offensive) line was awesome. They were telling me what holes were open and all we did was say, ‘Manny, hit the hole. Hit that hole.’ He’s a truck.”

The third time was the charm for the Dragons, who finished the season 7-1 overall and were finally successful in their third straight trip to the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League title game. They lost at Misawa 20-13 in 2013 and 36-0 to Kinser in last year’s game.

“All these guys put it on the line. They played very hard. The coaches set up a good game plan, we watched a lot of film this week, our defensive coaches did an outstanding job.”

Baker was a receiver and Griffin a third-string running back when the Dragons won titles in the old Marine Corps Community Services-sponsored OFL in 2004 and 2005.

“From third string to MVP of the championship game. That’s amazing,” Baker said.

The Wolf Pack (5-3), meanwhile, came up short in its second Torii Bowl bid. Playing as Joint Task Force, the Wolf Pack lost 26-21 at Yokota in 2010.

This was a Hansen team playing without nine of its regulars, six deployed, three injured, “and they were all key players. That was a big blow to us. We just didn’t have the depth, but they played their hearts out,” outgoing Hansen coach Cortez Pree said.

He also had to recruit receivers and other players off the camp’s rugby team, many of whom Pree said had never played football before. “They came out and just actually put forth the effort.”

It looked early on as if a pickup Wolf Pack team just might give the Dragons a run for their money.

Kadena struck first, on Finnegan’s 60-yard TD pass to Alvin Stewart, but Hansen QB Jesse Swanson replied with an 11-yard scoring pass to Fred Williams and Brian Marquez ended the first half with a 24-yard field goal to put the Wolf Pack up by three.

But three plays in the third quarter turned things around for Kadena … and the first didn’t even count.

Brandon Avery took a punt and broke through seemingly every Hansen tackler, losing his jersey on the way to the end zone for an 80-yard scoring play, but it was called back on a holding penalty.

The play, however, seemed to light a spark under the Dragons. Griffin caught his lengthy pass and rushed 5 yards for a score two plays later.

On the next series, Dro Black sacked Swanson, who fumbled and it was returned 22 yards by Troy Evans to the Hansen 14. Two plays later, Ralphael Jones scored from the 5 to make it 19-10 Kadena.

Blake Robinson then made a one-handed interception grab of a Swanson pass on the ensuing series.

“Three amazing plays,” Baker said.

Williams made it a tighter game for Hansen, intercepting a pass which set up his 28-yard TD grab from Swanson. But then Griffin took over, rushing five times for 39 yards on Kadena’s ensuing 68-yard drive.

Keenan Prince’s late interception of Swanson sealed it for the Dragons.

Jones added 70 yards on 13 carries, Finnegan was 8-for-18 for 202 yards and Kadena’s offense outgained the Wolf Pack’s 381-265.

For Hansen, Swanson was 17-for-29 for 191 yards, Williams had six catches for 71 yards, Dom Gillett had four catches for 79 yards and Clinton Ranson, playing backfield and returner, had 181 all-purpose yards on 15 touches.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com