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TOP > Game Report > Defending champ IBM stops Gardner, Nojima to make Pearl Bowl final; to face Obic for title

Game Report

Defending champ IBM stops Gardner, Nojima to make Pearl Bowl final; to face Obic for title

’17.06.05

IBM quarterback Yuki Masamoto dives over the goal line on a 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

 

 

 

KAWASAKI (June 4)–The IBM BigBlue knew full well the challenge of trying to stop rambling quarterback Devin Gardner in the open field. They even implemented special tackling drills in practice, using their tallest players to simulate the Nojima Sagamihara Rise star.

 

While Gardner deked and stiff-armed his way to his usual big yardage, while also passing for a bunch more, the BigBlue found the lone–and most important–place where they could contain the ex-Michigan starter. Near the goal line, where the limited space worked in their favor.

 

IBM stopped Gardner on two goal line stands, and Yuki Masamoto threw for one touchdown and ran for another as the defending champion BigBlue defeated the Rise 27-19 in a thrilling semifinal of the Pearl Bowl tournament.

 

“We made crucial stops when we needed them,” said IBM defensive end James Brooks, who had five tackles for a loss, including one sack. “Our offense did a great job, and when they sputtered sometimes, our defense, we answered the bell.”

 

In the championship game on June 19 at Tokyo Dome, IBM will attempt to defend their crown against the Obic Seagulls, who rolled to a 35-7 victory over the Lixil Deers in the second semifinal at Fujitsu Stadium Kawasaki.

 

The 193-centimeter, 98-kilogram Gardner, the lone American currently on the Rise, became the talk of the spring tournament for the Kanto region teams when he led the team to a 38-20 victory over the Fujitsu Frontiers in their final group stage game.

 

Before the crowd of 2,184 against IBM, Gardner put on a similar display of speed, power and precision when he ran 17 times for 122 yards and a touchdown, and completed 2o of 36 passes for 279 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His 401 yards of total offense eclipsed IBM’s 302 for the game.

 

“He played a great game,” Brooks said. “I wish him the best of luck. He doesn’t have a lot of help right now. But he’s a good guy, he’s a great player, it was a great game. It was good that we contained him a little bit. We didn’t let him get too crazy. He made some great plays though.”

 

The Rise, looking to advance to their first-ever championship game, trailed by eight going into the fourth quarter when they blocked a field goal with just under nine minutes left. That kept it as a one-score game, and Gardner got them to the brink of tying it up.

 

A 56-yard pass to Yuhei Yagi gave the Rise a first down on the IBM 7. After gaining six yards on first down, Gardner took the ball again and, as he was hit, tried to stretch the ball over the line. The official, however, called him down at the 1. On top of that, he said he strained his right hamstring on the play.

 

“The first time when I reached across, I’m pretty sure I got in,” Gardner said. “They said I didn’t, and I kind of hurt my hamstring pretty good. So the next time, I could have gotten in, but I was unable to run. ”

 

Takashi Miyako was tackled for a 2-yard loss, and on fourth down, unable to run, Gardner attempted a pass under fierce pressure that fell incomplete.

 

“Once you get in the red zone, down to the goal line, it’s less field,” Brooks said. “And that’s an advantage for the defense. So it’s tough to score down there. We just have the mindset of bend, but don’t break. We always practice these situations. So it was good for us to make those stops.”

 

The first time the Rise were stopped within sniffing distance of the end zone, IBM only had to rise to the occasion once. With the first half winding down, Gardner scrambled 35 yards before going out of bounds on the IBM 2 with :03 left on the clock. But on the final play, he was stopped a yard short of the end zone, allowing IBM to take a 21-12 lead into halftime.

 

“That first one was huge,” Brooks said.  “It was really big for our momentum. We felt great afterwards, so we just kept building on that.”

 

The Rise’s biggest problems came in areas that Gardner calls “the natural football things,” in this case the kicking game and special teams.

 

After missing a 27-yard field goal attempt on Nojima’s first drive, rookie kicker Kohei Ichimori also shanked the extra point after Gardner ran 18 yards early in the second quarter for a touchdown that left the Rise behind 7-6.

 

Masamoto, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 135 yards with one interception, then scored on a 6-yard touchdown run to cap an 8-play, 86-yard drive to stretch IBM’s lead.

 

“He can run, he can pass, he can do everything,” IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada said of Masamoto. “And he has more experience from last year, so he can make plays, he can call plays with a fast tempo. I think he’s getting really, really good.”

 

Nojima responded with a 10-play, 85-yard drive that ended with Miyako bursting through the middle for a 20-yard touchdown to make it 14-12. Nojima went for the 2-point conversion, but like their other forays when near the goal line, this one proved fruitless with an incomplete pass.

 

“If we were to go for it because we wanted to go for 2—maybe just because we want to test the waters or whatever—that’s fine,” Gardner said. “But when we have to, that’s not good. You don’t want to be chasing points the whole game.”

 

Takashi Kurihara’s 56-yard return of the ensuing kickoff set up IBM for their third touchdown, with Masamoto connecting with Ryo Takagi on a 5-yard touchdown pass. It was one of three drives that IBM started at midfield or in Rise territory.

 

“We just have to play better in all phases,” Gardner said. “We can’t give them (the ball) from the 50-yard-line every single drive. That’s big, and it makes it harder on the defense to stop them. We got to make field goals, we got to make extra points, we got to do the natural football things that are usual.”

 

The scoring in the second half was limited to the third quarter, when a Gardner 10-yard touchdown pass, when he threaded the needle between two defenders to hit Yagi, was sandwiched between a pair of field goals by IBM’s Genki Odakura.

 

At the end, Nojima got the ball on the 39 with 2:17 left and no timeouts. But Gardner did take the field. Instead, Yuiichiro Araki took the snaps, but after two incomplete passes, Gardner came out in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the game. Limited in mobility, he also threw two incompletions to seal the IBM victory.

 

Asked what he thought when Gardner did not come out to start the series, Brooks replied: “It was a surprise to me to not see him in there. We were like, What? But we’re not going to complain about it. We’re going to go out there and play D, whoever’s out there. We just wanted to get a win, and get back to the Pearl Bowl for the second year in a row.”

 

The only turnovers of the game came on back-to-back series in the first quarter. First, Nojima linebacker Junki Masuyama intercepted a Masamoto pass in the end zone. Taking over on the 20, a holding penalty and Brooks’ sack had the Rise facing a 3rd-and-28 when Gardner had a pass picked off by linebacker Kevin Coghlan, who returned it 15 yards to the Nojima 1.

 

From there, 90-kilogram Tomohiro Morishige, listed as a tight end/fullback, blasted over on his only carry of the game for the first score.

 

For Yamada, the game gave the BigBlue an important glimpse of an opponent they will face during the regular season in the fall.

 

“The whole purpose was we wanted to play the Rise with Devin Gardner, so that we won’t be surprised, because we didn’t play them last year,” Yamada said.  “They’re going to get better, but it was a good challenge for us. We practiced how we tackle (Gardner) and then we told (the players), even though we practiced, he’s going to make plays. So expect that he’s going to make a super play, and don’t let (it get you) down.

 

“We just have to focus on ourselves. I think the players stayed focused for the whole game. We made the plays.”

 

Gardner said he was encouraged, not least of which because of well the Rise did without other Americans, who he said will be added for the fall season.

 

“We’re significantly better than last year, and we only have just me as an American,” he said. “So that’s the one thing I like to look at. We have some guys we’re thinking of bringing in, and they’re going to be a problem for the other teams we play. I’m really encouraged.

 

“Obviously you want to win, I wanted to win bad and I wanted to play in a championship. But we should have been outmatched today. It should have been not a very good game, but the way we played and fought was exciting.”

 

In the second semifinal, Obic’s new quarterback Ikaika Woolsey stepped up in his third game of the spring by first against a formidible opponent, throwing two touchdown passes and running for two scores to lead the Seagulls into the championship game for the first time in three years.

 

Woolsey completed 16 of 24 passes for 281 yards with one interception, while rookie Keita Naruse broke free on a 70-yard touchdown run as Obic reversed the outcome of last year’s semifinal against Lixil.

 

“I’m definitely excited with the offense, how we’re playing. I think we’re a pretty even offense,” Woolsey said. “I think the running game did a tremendous job today, Naruse and Mochi (Asaki Mochizuki), they’re beasts.

 

“All the credit goes to the O-line, they work hard day in and day out, they’re a good group of guys, they communicate really well. And as you can see, they make my life tremendously easy back there.”

 

Woolsey threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Naruse in the first quarter, and hooked up with Taro Mizuno on a 58-yarder in the third period. He also scored on runs of 4 and 3 yards.

 

Lixil avoided a shutout when Shohei Kato threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Naoki Maeda with 2:03 left in the game. It was Maeda who, in last year’s semifinal, returned a punt for a touchdown with 38 seconds left to give Lixil a stunning 21-16 win over Obic. (The Seagulls avenged that loss by beating Lixil 27-13 in the fall.)

 

Sunday’s win came after Obic had swept into the final four by winning its two group games 65-0 and 50-7.

 

“The defense was playing well, as they have for the past three weeks,” Woolsey said. “Today, I think offensively we were a little up and down with some of those 3-and-outs that we had, putting the defense back on the field.

 

“But it’s kind of good thing that we faced adversity today, because we really haven’t in the past two games.”

 

—Ken Marantz for the X-League

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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