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TOP > Game Report > Anderson makes bigger splash as Impulse edge Rise, finish undefeated

Game Report

Anderson makes bigger splash as Impulse edge Rise, finish undefeated


Panasonic linebacker Hideto Nishioka stops Nojima fullback Sione Houma in the second quarter. (photo by MI Planning)




Anderson makes bigger splash as Impulse edge Rise, finish defeated

By Ken Marantz



YOKOHAMA (Oct. 29)—They splished and splashed through the rain, and when it was over and they dragged their soaked bodies off the field, the only thing that separated Ben Anderson and Devin Gardner and their respective teams was a couple of extra points.


Anderson accounted for all four Panasonic touchdowns, running for two and passing for two, as the Impulse finished the regular season as the lone undefeated team by edging the Gardner-led Nojima Sagamihara Rise 28-26 in a thriller at Yokohama Stadium.


Panasonic, looking to regain the league title it last won in 2015, earned the top seed in the Japan X Bowl tournament with a 6-0 record, and will face the winner of one of the wild card games in the quarterfinals starting Nov. 11.


The Rise, who could have finished on top of the Super 9 with a victory, ended up in third place at 4-2 and will face the Obic Seagulls in the playoffs. That will be a rematch of the Seagulls’ 14-0 win, also on a rainy day, in Week 2.


Anderson played for the Rise in 2015 and left after one season before returning to Japan to join Panasonic this year. Gardner, one of three former Michigan players on the Rise, was brought in to replace Anderson and has been instrumental in helping Nojima develop into one of the league’s top teams in his second season.


Before the crowd of 1,188 who braved the typhoon conditions, the game evolved into the Ben and Devin Show, with the former Rise quarterback and his successor providing mirror-like images of themselves with their all-round skills, matching each other with breakaway runs and, to a much lesser extent, some clutch passes.


Anderson said he harbored no ill will toward the Rise, and his sole motivation for beating his former team was to just add another win to the Impulse tally.


“Everybody’s asking that,” Anderson said. “But I owe Nojima a lot of gratitude, because without them, I wouldn’t even be on Panasonic. So I have no bad blood, nothing bad to say. With that being said, we had to win the game because it was the next game.”


Anderson rushed for 111 yards on 19 carries, including a 53-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and completed 9 of 13 passes for 96 yards.


Gardner had a long run of his own, a 36-yarder that pulled the Rise within two points with 1:43 left in the game, and finished with 125 yards on 15 carries. He went to the air a bit more than Anderson, but completed just 12 of 29 passes for 161 yards and one touchdown, with an interception.


Because of a missed extra point earlier, the Rise had to go for 2 after Gardner’s TD run in an attempt to tie the game. But his flip pass over the line was batted down by Panasonic defensive back Atsushi Tsuji, preserving the Impulse’s 28-26 lead.


But Gardner & Co. were not done just yet. They got the ball back with :43 on their own 39 and one timeout. Two Gardner passes, the second a 15-yarder on 3rd-and-1 to Takahide Dejima, put the ball on the Impulse 30, potentially within field goal range—although it was difficult to tell what the Rise’s range was, as they had not attempted any field goals this season.


The Rise rushed to line up to spike the ball and stop the clock with :19 left. Gardner, however, faked the spike, and threw a pass to Yuhei Yagi along the right sideline. Then the unthinkable happened.  Yagi was flagged for offensive pass interference, which pushed the Rise back to the 45. Three passes by Gardner, including a Hail Mary on the final play, all fell incomplete.


“It would just be an incomplete pass, so it’s the same thing, stop the clock,” Gardner said of the fake spike. “That was the last thing anybody in the world would have thought, offensive pass interference.”

Said Anderson: “I figured they would go do the fake spike, just too much time on the clock to spike. It was a good play by our corner to be in position to get the PI.”

The Impulse trailed 14-7 in the second quarter when they scored twice in the final two minutes, with Anderson throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to Shohei Kishimoto on the final play to take a 21-14 lead into halftime.


“That was pretty disappointing,” Gardner said. “They did good clock management, they caught a great play on the goalline. But those are things we can come back from. We responded well to that, and scored the same amount of touchdowns. They just got their extra points and we didn’t.”

Panasonic defensive end David Motu said playing against Anderson in practice provided a measure of preparedness for facing Gardner, given their similar styles.

“When you play against [Anderson] in practice, it kind of simulates it,” Motu said. “But that guy’s amazing. He did some great things on his feet. Just to come out with a win against an offense like that, I’m proud of our boys for playing to the finish. That’s what it’s all about.”

The play that changed the complexion of the game and put the Rise into a hole came in the third quarter, after Nojima’s bullish fullback Sione Houma scored his second touchdown of the game on a 3-yard run.

Kohei Ichimori sent his extra-point attempt wide right of the goal posts, leaving the Rise trailing 21-20. It was the lone miss of the day on point-afters for Ichimori, whose counterpart, the Impulse’s Eita Saeki, was off the mark on two field goal attempts in the first half.

“We got to find a way to pull that out,” Gardner said. “We got to do fundamental things, like make extra points. We fought too hard to lose that way. Left it in the referee’s hands and got an offensive pass interference.”

On Panasonic’s next series, Anderson was sacked by linebacker Yudai Urano on third down for a 14-yard loss, and a bad snap led to punter Shintaro Saeki being tackled at the Impulse 32.

A holding penalty left the Rise facing a 3rd-and-18, but Gardner connected with Yagi on a 20-yard pass for a first down. But then misfortune again hit the Rise. After being stopped for a 3-yard loss, Gardner set off on a scramble, but had the ball knocked out from behind and linebacker Shogo Matsunaga recovered for the Impulse.

The fact that the Impulse were not then able to capitalize on the turnover was less important than the Rise coming away without even getting a chance at a go-ahead field goal heading into the fourth quarter.

Panasonic padded its lead on its first drive of the final period, marching 69 yards in 13 plays. On 4th-and-1 at the Rise 4, Shun Yokota gained three yards for a first down, and on the next play, Anderson just got over the line on a quarterback sneak.

Nojima set up the dramatic finish with Gardner’s long touchdown run, in which he went off left tackle and raced untouched into the end zone. But the Rise, who lost five games in 2016 in which they were winning or tied going into the fourth quarter, were unable to pull off a thrilling comeback of their own.

“It’s just football, you never know what can happen,” Anderson said. “In college, I won a championship in the last two minutes. The Patriots went undefeated, then lost in the Super Bowl in the last two minutes. So it can happen to anybody. But our defense came through strong.”

With the passing game limited, it was significant that the Impulse were able to relatively contain the 105-kilogram Houma, who showed his awesome power when he bounced off a would-be tackler like a pinball during an 11-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He finished with 55 yards on 17 carries.

“They came in as the No. 1 offense, you have to give nothing but credit to them,” Motu said. “They do a lot of switch-offs, they move a lot of lineman, do different formations. It kind of gets you thinking—at the end of day, it’s all about the line play. And I think we controlled that for a little bit.”

For Gardner, a second loss in the rain, but one that was much closer, bodes well as the team looks ahead to the playoffs.

“They’re probably the best defense in the X-League,” he said, “and we put a lot of points up on a very good defense, especially given the circumstances. I feel like we executed pretty well.”























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