Things learned, observed in 3rd Tomodachi Bowl
When one sees a team win a high school football game by a margin of 55 points, one might think it was not worth watching, just another long, boring blowout.
Not so Sunday's third edition of the Tomodachi Bowl friendship game, which one observer, Senior Airman Kellen Car of AFN Tokyo called the "most entertaining 68-13 game I've ever seen," following the game which he called on Eagle 810.
The numbers were certainly gaudy enough, considering that this time around, the Japanese organizers put together, for the first time, teams that featured college freshmen. Some were big enough to be playing for small colleges in the States.
The players came from Rikkyo University and its high-school affiliate, St. Paul, and Keio University and its high-school affiliate for the Land of the Rising Sun.
So it became a matchup of Japanese brawn and power against Team USA's speed and quickness, in the form of fleet-footed running backs. That number included Dre Paylor of DODDS Japan champion Nile C. Kinnick, Jarrett Mitchell and Winston Maxwell of Far East Division I champion Kubasaki, Justin Sego of D-I runner-up Kadena, in a hybrid Wing-T offense triggered by quarterbacks David Hernandez of Kanto Plain champion American School In Japan and Kinnick's Dustin Wilson. ASIJ offensive coordinator and former Nuremburg coach Roy Tomlinson (1989) served as the attack's architect.
Speed won – handily – over brawn and power. And on both sides of the ball.
To wit: 409 yards on 52 rushes with six touchdowns. Hernandez and Wilson combined to go 11-for-18 for 245 yards and three TDs. That's 654 yards on 70 offensive plays and nine scores. And 706 total yards, figuring in 52 yards on five returns. Defensively, Team USA recovered two fumbles, picked off three passes and recorded eight sacks, three each by Kadena's David Padilla and Preston Harris.
It wasn't so much the numbers, but the way those players went about piling up the numbers. Big play after big play after big play, in what almost seemed like a football version of "Can you top this?"
"Unbelievable, and from so many different guys," Team USA head coach Tim Pujol of Yokota said. "Look at how many different playmakers we had on the field today. There weren't enough footballs to go around for everybody to do what they could do. So many big plays, offense, defense, special teams, all the way around."
To many who chatted about the contest afterward, several key moments stood out. A list, not necessarily in order of occurance:
-- Jarrett sets the tone: Mitchell (eight carries, 142 yards, three touchdowns) took a pitch from Hernandez on the first play of Team USA's second possession and promptly turned the corner for a 44-yard gain. That set up his 2-yard touchdown run that broke the scoring ice.
-- Noddin of approval: Perhaps the most understated play of Team USA's third possession was ASIJ senior Zach Noddin's 13-yard gain on a reverse play. That paved the way for an 8-yard TD by Sego (12 carries, 114 yards).
-- Winston plays good like a Dragon should: Maxwell (three carries, 97 yards, one touchdown; two catches, 30 yards, one touchdown) was used at running back and receiver, and less than four minutes into the second quarter, rewarded Tomlinson's faith in the latter. A quick post pattern left Team Rising Sun's secondary flat-footed. Touchdown. 19-0.
-- Dragon reversal No. 1: Following an onside kick covered by Noddin, Mitchell took a pitchout to the left and found nowhere to go. It seemed like a 5-yard loss, but Mitchell turned on his heel and bolted past Team Rising Sun defenders toward the right corner to make it 26-0.
-- Dustin's exit: Tomlinson employed Wilson, a senior, at both quarterback and receiver, and as such, Wilson rushed for a touchdown, passed for one and caught a pass for another. "What a way to end a career," Tomlinson said.
-- Hernandez channels inner Jameis Winston: In a manner reminiscent of Florida State's final drive against Auburn in the final BCS championship game, Team USA took over at its 22-yard line with 1:13 left in the half. Hernandez (9-for-16, 168 yards, three touchdowns)passed 29 yards to Kubasaki's Kareem Key for a first down, then found ASIJ teammate Brandon Rogers (two catches, 69 yards) on a crossing route to the left corner for a 49-yard touchdown. It was 40-0 at half.
-- Dragon reversal No. 2: See No. 1. This time, on a handoff to the left side, again, Mitchell reversed his field after being bottled up by Team Rising Sun's defense, cut back right, turned the corner and was off to the races. Team USA 54-0 halfway through the third quarter.
-- Dre's exit (maybe): The aforementioned touchdown pass by Wilson (2-for-2, 77 yards; five carries, 19 yards) went out of the backfield to Paylor (136 total yards, two touchdowns), for what appeared to be a nominal gain for perhaps a first down. But Paylor kept going and going. That made it 61-0, matching the biggest lead ever recorded in the history of Team USA playing Japanese teams, in the 2010 Camellia Bowl at Kawasaki.
-- Dragon reverse of a reversal: Maxwell took a handoff from Mitchell on an attempted reverse, and Maxwell found himself facing a full-color portrait of the right side of Team Rising Sun's defense. Like Mitchell, Maxwell reversed the reversal to the right side, and Mitchell provided an escort, blocking not just one, not two, but three Team Rising Sun defenders en route to a 73-yard touchdown. That capped Team USA's scoring at 68-7.
-- Bring forth the sacks: All game long, Kadena's Padilla, an outside linebacker, and Harris, an edge pass rusher, kept their ears pinned back and the pressure on Team Rising Sun's quarterbacks. But their onslaught on Team Rising Sun's final series was remarkable. Joined by Yokota sophomore Jamarvin Harvey and Zama junior Ryuji Vandeusen, Team USA recorded four of its eight sacks, back-to-back, on that final series.
Cold. Just cold. Temperatures were in the low 50s, but wind and the low pre-spring sun shone behind the bleachers at Naval Air Facility Atsugi's Reid Memorial Stadium, and fans could be seen sipping hot coffee and cocoa and adorned in blankets, scarves and gloves.
Tomlinson, 49, has a long history in Japan and Asia. A military brat who went to high school in Richmond, Va., he graduated from West Point in 1986 and played football under Jim Young from 1982-85. One of those games was the old Mirage Bowl in Tokyo in 1984, in which Army became the first team ever to have four running backs rush for 100 or more yards, including quarterback Nate Sassaman. The Cadets beat Montana 45-31, a Grizzlies team coached by the current coach of Hitachi in Japan's X-League, Larry Donovan. They were quarterbacked by current New York Jets offensive coordinator and former NFL head coach Marty Mornhinweg.
Perhaps the hardest-working man on the field on Sunday was Matt Manning, the Tomodachi Bowl's umpire. A former Navy sailor, he played for the old Atsugi Flyers of the U.S. Forces Japan league from 1989-91. He's lived in Japan for 27 years and has officiated USFJ-AFL and Kanto Plain high school games for eight years; he's ascended to the presidency of the United Services For Japan Officials Association. Not only did he officiate the marquee Tomodachi Bowl, he did two games involving youth teams priot to the main event.