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TOP > Game Report > IBM takes down unbeaten Panasonic in seesaw semifinal thriller

Game Report

IBM takes down unbeaten Panasonic in seesaw semifinal thriller


IBM defensive back Kengo Teranaka, center, celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter. (photo by MI Planning)




OSAKA (Nov. 26)—The IBM BigBlue not only became the first team this season to intercept a pass by Panasonic quarterback Ben Anderson, they did it twice. Those picks played a key role in the BigBlue ending the Impulse’s season by handing them their only loss.


Kevin Craft’s third touchdown pass of the second half gave IBM the lead for the third and final time, and interceptions on Panasonic’s last two drives made it hold up as the BigBlue edged the Impulse 31-24 in a seesaw battle to advance to the Japan X Bowl for the second time in their history.


Ryuki Suzuki caught two of Craft’s TD tosses, including a 7-yarder midway through the fourth quarter that broke a 24-24 tie in a thrilling Japan X Bowl Tournament semifinal before a crowd of 1,991 at Osaka’s Kincho Stadium.


IBM will face the defending champion Fujitsu Frontiers in the Japan X Bowl on Dec. 18 at Tokyo Dome. It was the Frontiers who beat the BigBlue in their only other appearance in the championship game, a 44-10 defeat in 2014. In their most recent meeting, in last year’s semifinals, Fujitsu won 28-26 on a last-second field goal.


On Sunday, IBM scored on its first drive, only to fall behind and go into halftime trailing 17-10. But the BigBlue regained the lead with two touchdowns over a 2 1/2-minute span of the third quarter after recovering an onside kick. Panasonic came back to tie the game early in the fourth quarter on Ben Anderson’s third touchdown pass of the afternoon.


While Panasonic finished the regular season 6-0, including consecutive victories over Fujitsu, the Obic Seagulls and the Nojima Sagamihara Rise, IBM took a 4-2 record into the postseason, having suffered close losses to the Rise and Lixil Deers.


But IBM looked sharp in avenging the loss to Lixil in the quarterfinals by storming to a 51-31 win. Conversely, Panasonic had a surprisingly tough time forging out 20-3 victory over the Battle 9 side All Mitsubishi Lions.


Yuki Masamoto got the start at QB for IBM, and immediately led a 7-play, 57-yard drive that he capped with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Takashi Kurihara. During the drive, Masamoto ran for 31 yards on two carries.


Panasonic responded by scoring on three consecutive possessions. The first, a 10-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to Daiji Koyama, came after a 67-yard touchdown run by Shun Yokota was nullified by an illegal block penalty.


Anderson then connected with Shohei Kishimoto on a 24-yard TD pass early in the second quarter, and Eita Saeki booted a 43-yard field goal to make it 17-7.


The BigBlue, looking to cut the gap, advanced as far as the Impulse 19, but a 9-yard loss on defensive end Carlton Jones’ second sack of the game left them having to settle for Toshiki Sato’s 46-yard field goal with :06 left in the half.


IBM quickly tied the game to open the second half, with some help from Panasonic. On the first play, the Impulse’s Makoto Kajiwara was flagged for roughing the passer for a hit on Masamoto. Two plays later, Kurihara took an innocuous pass from Craft on the left side, then bounced off a tackle attempt by cornerback Emory Polley and turned it into a 48-yard gain to the Impulse 16.


From there, Suzuki caught a pass over the middle from Craft, spun out of a tackle and bulled over the goal line to tie the game at 17-17.


“In the third quarter, on IBM’s first series, we had a penalty and missed tackles and they scored in just four plays, which greatly changed the momentum,” Panasonic head coach Nobuyoshi Araki said.


But Panasonic’s problems were not over. Genki Odakura, who handles the kickoffs, surprised the Impulse with a well-executed onside kick that teammate Shogo Nakatani snared at midfield near the right sideline.


Craft, who finished 14 of 19 for 198 yards, then completed four passes in a six-play series, capping the drive with a 28-yard touchdown toss to John Stanton to put IBM up for the first time since early in first quarter.


Panasonic got its first turnover of the game when linebacker Shogo Matsunaga picked off a Masamoto pass and returned it 18 yards to the IBM 40. But the opportunity yielded nothing when the IBM defense stopped Anderson on a 4th-and-1 run.


The Impulse, however, were not to be denied on the next series, which extended into the fourth quarter. A 32-yard Anderson pass to Takato Kido gave Panasonic a first down on the IBM 8, and two plays later, Anderson threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Takuya Tonka to tie the game with 10:50 left.


An interference penalty on Panasonic on a punt gave IBM the ball on its own 43. Craft then hit Kurihara for 17 yards and, after an incompletion, connected with running back Tomokazu Sueyoshi for a 33-yard gain to the Impulse 7. From there, he lofted a pass to the left side of the end zone that Suzuki chased down and stretched high to snare, just keeping a foot in bounds for the touchdown.


With just over six minutes remaining, Panasonic had plenty of time and, helped by a face mask penalty on the ensuing kickoff, started from the IBM 44. After converting on a 4th-and-2, the Impulse were facing a 3rd-and-long after Anderson was sacked for a second time in the drive. It was then that defensive back Kengo Teranaka become the first player this season to intercept an Anderson pass.


A fumble by IBM running back Ryo Takagi gave Panasonic a final chance, starting at the IBM 47 with 1:27 remaining. But the BigBlue defense pressured Anderson into two incompletions, then forced him to scramble on third down and throw a desperate pass that was picked off by defensive back Tatsuma Kobayashi.


“We put it on the line with the onside kick and because it was successful, it changed the momentum,” IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada said. “By using Masamoto, it gave Craft a chance to more clearly decide what he wanted to do. Of the Big 3, we’ve now beaten Obic and Panasonic. The only one left is Fujitsu. We will go all out on the biggest stage of all.”


Anderson, who joined Panasonic this season after a stint with Nojima in 2015, completed 12 of 20 passes for 137 yards. He also ran 16 times for 40 yards.


“We didn’t win in the key places, like coming up a yard short on third down or the defense not stepping up in the red zone,” Araki said. “We got taken in by a kick. It was amazingly precise.”


Said Panasonic defensive back and team captain Atsushi Tsuji: “We beat Fujitsu, Nojima and Obic, and we knew we couldn’t let our guard down. But I suppose we were weaker mentally than our opponent. I still can’t believe we lost.”


—Translated from West Division report.