MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The definitive showdown of 1st Tank Battalion’s football legacy this year took place Dec. 10 as they went head-to-head against Camp Pendleton’s top team for the regional “Best of the West” competition title.
Felix Field came alive as more than 200 screaming fans from both bases were on hand to cheer their teams to victory.
Although the Marine Air Group 39 “Mad Dawgs” of Camp Pendleton took an early lead in the game over Tanks, it was running back LeAaron “Diesel” Newsome’s three touchdown carries that led Tanks to their 19-7 win.
“The win feels great because of a few reasons, but one big one is that they came over here very cocky thinking they were going to run all over us,” said Newsome, who earned the game’s most valuable player award for his outstanding rushes. “It looked that way, too, after they scored that first touchdown, but we kept it together and kept driving and took it.”
The Mad Dawgs took their premature lead when they smoothly advanced up the field on their second possession and completed a short pass into the end zone. With a 7-0 lead after a successful field goal, the Mad Dawgs had Tanks clearly on edge as the first quarter ended.
“Tanks has always played as the underdog team,” said Tanks head coach Steven Santana, who has played football since 1992 and has also coached volleyball and softball teams to victory this year. “That is something we thrive off of and love to have. Defense has always been our strong point, and we feed off of the defense.”
That top-rated defense definitely made their mark as they caused Pendleton to fumble on the 5-yard line with a tanker recovery in the second quarter. Unfortunately for Tanks, their gains were not enough for a first down and they were soon forced to punt.
After a slew of penalties against the Mad Dawgs, the Tanks offense came back out and delivered the ball into Newsome’s capable hands, who ran more than 40 yards for a touchdown.
“I knew what our weaknesses and strengths were, and I started looking for another back to help support us,” said Santana, who recruited Newsome from the Headquarters Battalion team. “Picking up Newsome I knew would be very crucial to us because he is a very hard man to bring down,” said Santana. “He’s one of those players who it takes three people to take down.”
After tipping a few passes, Tanks defender Brandon Carrell picked a wayward ball out of the air, putting the Mad Dawgs on the defense. Another hand off to Newsome put more points for Tanks on the board, giving them the lead, 12-7, despite a failed two-point conversion.
As halftime came and went, the Mad Dawgs seemed rejuvenated, punching holes in the Tanks defense for short gains up the field. They were forced to punt, though, as a Tanks’ blitz leveled the Pendleton quarterback more than 10 yards behind the scrimmage line.
The Mad Dawgs were quick to return the favor, putting the Tanks quarterback on the ground, deep within their own territory. Tanks punted from their own end zone.
Again the Tanks’ defense was able to keep the Mad Dawgs at bay until they attempted a field goal that sailed short.
Soon the home crowd was on their feet as Newsome again plowed down the field, deflecting defenders left and right as he completed a 43-yard run for a touchdown.
As the fourth quarter began, Tanks seemed more assured of victory as the point deficit over Pendleton increased to 19-7.
“We had two dropped touchdown passes, four interceptions and a fumble,” said Gary C. Munford, head coach for MAG-39 Mad Dawgs. “You can’t win games like that. Hopefully when we play next year, our good plays will outweigh those bad plays.”
Although the score remained static, the action on the field during the fourth quarter did not slow down; another Tanks interception, a Pendleton fumble recovery and a few sacks made the Mad Dawgs scramble to regain a lead.
However, those twelve points were out of reach as Tanks’ fans and players cheered together triumphantly as the siren sounded the end of the game.
“For me, today was a personal victory because I’ve never beaten Camp Pendleton,” said Santana. “They have always come out strong and out-played us. So this is one of the personal demons you can put aside and not look back on.
“There was a lot of stuff we didn’t expect right off the bat, but once we hit halftime, we knew exactly how to play them,” said Santana, giving praise to the team he has led since August. “We changed the defense up and we were able to stop them cold every time. But they were a great team to play against, I can see why they won their championship, and I hope to see them next year.”
Munford said, although today’s game was not a victory, he is keeping his spirits up for next year.
“I felt that we did not play to the level that we could have,” said Munford. “I just think we didn’t stay in our element. We hope to see Tanks again next year, but it will be at Camp Pendleton, and they’ll be in our house,” he said.
Every player from both teams was awarded engraved wooden football trophies to commemorate their participation in the regional tournament.
Officials and coaches here said they are crossing their fingers for an upcoming Tanks match in Hawaii.