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TOP > Game Report > Deers pull off miracle comeback, stun BigBlue with 21-point 4th quarter

Game Report

Deers pull off miracle comeback, stun BigBlue with 21-point 4th quarter

’17.10.22

Lixil’s Yuki Shirakami scores the winning touchdown with a 10-yard run with 1:09 left in the game. (photo by MI Planning)

 

 

Deers pull off miracle comeback, stun BigBlue with 21-point 4th quarter

By Ken Marantz

 

 

CHOFU, Tokyo (Oct. 21)—It was the spring of 2016 all over again for the Lixil Deers, but this time there was no need to go for two points. And they came out with a win.

 

Yuki Shirakami ran for a 10-yard touchdown with 1:09 left, and the extra point capped a 21-point fourth quarter as the Deers rallied for an improbable 27-26 victory over the IBM BigBlue on a wet day at Amino Vital Field.

 

The Deers set up the winning score by recovering an onside kick following the second of Shohei Kato’s two touchdown passes in the final period, which IBM went into leading 23-6.

 

“You’re always happy about any come-from-behind victory,” Lixil first-year head coach Hajime Tominaga said. “But more than being happy, my stronger feeling is that we’ve become better. We have said that’s the way we have to play, but we weren’t able to do it. We’re a team that can’t afford to make mistakes.”

 

IBM dominated much of the game, but was unable to make any lead insurmountable due largely to its own miscues. The BigBlue had four turnovers, while the Deers had none, and had to settle four times for field goals by Toshiki Sato, twice after reaching the Lixil 5. On all three Deers’ scoring drives in the fourth quarter, they were helped by an IBM penalty.

 

The Deers even lost Kato for a spell in the first half after he suffered a bruised hip from a vicious hit from hefty defensive tackle Charles Tuaau. But even so, IBM went into halftime with just a 10-3 lead.

 

Lixil’s victory left both teams at 3-2. It marked an incredible turn of events for the Deers, who went into the game with the prospect of finishing the regular season as the ninth team in the Super 9 standings and out of the playoffs. Now their spot is secure.

 

“Naturally, making it to the next stage was the main task for us,” Tominaga said. “That was our most immediate goal, so it was good that we could clear that.”

Under a steady rain that tapered off somewhat later in the game, it was a key point for both teams that they also established running games. For the Deers, that task fell on Shirakami, who finished with 68 yards on 16 carries.

 

The Deers’ reputation as a team that can rally out of the deepest of holes was one of the selling points for Shirakami when he transferred to Lixil after four seasons with the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers.

 

“What I came away with from this game was that no matter how far we were behind, 10-0, 23-13, no matter how tough things got, it was the Deers style that everyone focused on what they had to do,” Shirakami said.

 

“Everyone understands this, and with that feeling, that’s one of the reasons I joined the Deers. I’m happy that we were able to win because I did what I had to. I just need to improve my own performance.”

 

Shirakami’s ability was no surprise to IBM. Last season, he broke off a 42-yard touchdown run for the Challengers in a game the BigBlue won 13-7 on two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

 

“I was expecting that,” IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada said of Shirakami’s contribution on Saturday. “Because it’s raining and he’s a good running back. He hurt us last year when he was with the Challengers. So we know how he plays.”

 

IBM is also well familiar with Lixil’s penchant for a dramatic ending.

 

In the championship game of the spring Pearl Bowl tournament in 2016, the Deers trailed 21-14 when they scored with :48 left. But instead of kicking the extra point and sending the game into overtime, then-head coach Kiyoyuki Mori went for the win and a 2-point conversion. But defensive end James Brooks blocked a Kato pass, preserving a 21-20 win that gave IBM its first-ever major title.

 

In that tournament, the Deers also pulled off come-from-behind victories over the Fujitsu Frontiers and Obic Seagulls with touchdowns in the final minute.

 

So there were no doubts that the Deers were capable of coming back against IBM on Saturday, although the odds were certainly stacked against them. But while IBM spent the fourth quarter using a conservative game to run down the clock, Lixil went all out with its never-say-die attitude.

 

“They did everything possible that they could have done in that last quarter,” IBM quarterback Kevin Craft said. “You get an onside kick, they had a couple of drives down the field. Got some calls. Got the rain to magically stop. Had everything go their way, but they also made some good plays.”

 

Lixil started the comeback with Kato, who completed 23 of 44 passes for 243 yards, engineering a seven-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Naoki Maeda, cutting IBM’s lead to 23-13. The drive included a pass interference penalty that put the ball on the IBM 3, where Kato had two incompletions before hitting Maeda over the middle on a play-action pass.

 

With nine minutes still remaining, Lixil took a gamble and tried an onside kick, but IBM recovered the ball at the Lixil 49. That became significant as it set up Sato’s 41-yard field goal, his longest of the game, to increase the BigBlue’s lead to 13 points—Lixil now needed two touchdowns, and had just five minutes to do it.

 

Kato got to work and, although a bit inconsistent—he completed only half of his 12 passes—he moved the Deers from the 25 to the IBM 10. The Deers were facing a 4th-and-4, but an offside penalty on IBM gave them 1st-and-goal at the 5. From there, Kato connected with Satoshi Ishige for a touchdown with 2:29 left.

 

The dress rehearsal for the onside kick earlier in the quarter paid off on the second attempt, as Daisuke Aoki’s kick took a perfect bounce that Maeda batted forward and Ishige pounced on, giving Lixil the ball on the IBM 41.

 

On a 3rd-and-5, a pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 22, and Shirakami gained six yards each with a pass reception and a run to give Lixil 1st-and-goal at the 10. With four shots at victory, Lixil needed only two. After an incomplete pass, Shirakami knifed through the middle for a touchdown.

 

“More than me scoring in one big blast, we were near the goal line and it was second down, so I didn’t want to take a loss,” Shirakami said. “I had faith in my blockers. I made a point to keep tight behind the offensive line and accelerate straight ahead without hesitation.”

 

IBM still had a chance, and started a final drive on the 26 with 1:01 left and one timeout. But on the second play, Kraft lost his grip on the ball as he started to scramble and defensive lineman Toru Hirasawa recovered to clinch the victory.

 

Kraft, who finished 15 of 24 for 193 yards and a touchdown with one interception, rued the fact that IBM took its foot off the gas after building up what it felt should have been a secure lead.

 

“What you have is we’re up three scores and we’re slowing the clock down and we’re not attacking them like we usually we are, when it’s a tight game,” Kraft said. “If it’s a one-score game, you’re more aggressive.”

 

Kraft threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ryuki Suzuki in the second quarter, and Tomokazu Sueyoshi scored on a 3-yard run in the third to account for IBM’s other points. Sueyoshi rushed for a game-high 92 yards on 14 carries.

 

Through three quarters, Lixil was limited to a pair of field goals by Aoki, including a crowd-pleasing 49-yarder in the third quarter. Aoki, however, had one field goal attempt blocked by Brooks, and a muffed snap kept him from getting his foot on another.

 

“It is what it is,” lamented IBM’s Yamada. “In the fourth quarter, there was no offense, we were milking the clock. There were several opportunities that we should have scored [a touchdown] instead of a field goal. That was disappointing. They’re good. They’re always like this.”

 

Both Lixil and IBM travel to Osaka to finish up the regular season on Oct. 29. The Deers will face the Elecom Kobe and the BigBlue will take on Asahi Soft Drinks at Expo Flash Field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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