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TOP > Game Report > Japan X Bowl Preview: With role evolving, Obic newcomer Neuheisel gets 1st shot at Fujitsu

Game Report

Japan X Bowl Preview: With role evolving, Obic newcomer Neuheisel gets 1st shot at Fujitsu

’16.12.09

Obic quarterback Jerry Neuheisel (back row, right) will face Fujitsu for the first time when the two unbeaten powerhouses battle in the Japan X Bowl at Tokyo Dome on Monday night.

 

 

 

TOKYO—As he has done throughout Obic ‘s run to its first Japan X Bowl appearance in three years, quarterback Jerry Neuheisel will likely have to share some playing time when the Seagulls take on the Fujitsu Frontiers in a highly anticipated battle of unbeatens in Tokyo Dome on Monday night.

 

But Neuheisel is not only resigned to the fact that veteran Shun Sugawara and possibly scrambler Takushiro Hata could see action in his place, he sees it as a potential advantage for the Seagulls.

 

“I think it’s hard for Fujitsu, you have to prepare for three different quarterbacks,” said Neuheisel, who this season became Obic’s first-ever American quarterback. “It definitely makes them have to prepare a little bit more, you got to have a few more papers on the sidelines to deal with all three of us, and we’ll see what happens. I think we all have done our role real nicely.”

 

Fujitsu, led by quarterback Colby Cameron, will be making its fourth straight trip to the Japan X Bowl. This year’s game will be a rematch of the 2013 championship, which the Sugawara-led Seagulls won 24-16 for the last of their record four straight titles.

 

Under new head coach Naoki Kosho, the Seagulls revamped the offense this season by bringing in former Onward Skylarks coach Dan Lynds as offensive coordinator and Neuheisel as quarterback. At times, the game situation was more suited to Sugawara or Hata, and Neuheisel had to step aside.

 

That was the case in the semifinal against the defending champion Panasonic Impulse, where Neuheisel struggled in a steady downpour that turned the game into a scoreless defensive stalemate for 3-1/2 quarters. Sugawara came in to lead the Seagulls to a game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter, then threw the winning touchdown as Obic won 9-6 in an overtime tiebreaker.

 

“I was struggling a little bit in the rain and we were having a tough time getting things going, and Sugawara came in and played really well at the end of the game,” Neuheisel says. “Made a really good scramble to get us down to field goal range after we had one blocked earlier in the game. I think all three of us are capable quarterbacks, and so it’s hard to play us, because you have to prepare for all three.”

 

Neuheisel, the son of renowed collegiate coach Rick Neuheisel, had his moments in the sun, most notably in the Seagulls’ nail-biting 24-23 overtime victory over the IBM BigBlue in the fifth week of the regular season. Neuheisel completed 32 of 47 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns with one interception to outshine fellow UCLA alumnus Kevin Craft.

 

Ryoma Hagiyama, Obic’s leading receiver in the regular season with 25 receptions for 342 yards and three touchdowns, says the offense is confident no matter which quarterback is taking the snaps.

 

“Each one has his own characteristic,” Hagiyama says. “Sugawara and Hata have been here a long time, and Jerry and I have been able to communicate quite well. I know what each quarterback wants from me, and we talk about what I want from them. No matter which one plays, I have confidence.”

 

Whoever is at the helm, they will face one of the league’s top defenses, which features defensive end Trashaun Nixon, who has made a huge impact in his second season. The Frontiers allowed a league-low 9.0 points per game (Obic was second lowest with 11.7) in the regular season.

 

Neuheisel says he looks forward to his first clash with Fujitsu, whom he has been hearing about since day one with Obic.

 

“They’re big and they’re talented,” Neuheisel says. “They can get a rush with four guys, and they know how to bring pressure when they want to. It’s going to be a tough test for us.

 

“Thankfully we have two full weeks to prepare, and we’re going to need them when you play a team like Fujitsu. It’ll be a very interesting game and we’re going to do our best to shut down their offense and figure out a way to get past their great defense.”

 

Fujitsu cornerback Al-Rilwan Adeyami, an All X-League selection in all of his first three seasons, will return after suffering a concussion in the first quarter of the Frontiers’ 28-26 victory over Pearl Bowl champion IBM in the semifinals. He did not return to the game.

 

“At this point in the season, you know that you’re not going to be as you were when the season first started,” Adeyami says. “So, at this point it’s about not how hurt or how injured you are. It’s just about, alright, you have a good opportunity ahead of you and now you just have to finish. So for us as a team, not just me, it’s about finishing.”

 

Asked about the Seagulls’ quarterback trio, Adeyami replied, “They have two throwing quarterbacks and a running quarterback. So you’re preparing for two schemes, but within your own scheme. We’ll have to make sure that we’re able to adapt whenever they change personnel. For us, it’s about doing our assignment.”

 

In looking at results against common opponents, the teams have little to separate them. Fujitsu defeated IBM 29-24 in the opening game of the season, then won the rematch in the semifinals on a Hidetetsu Nishimura field goal as time expired. In Obic’s victory over the BigBlue, the game was decided when IBM had a bad snap on its extra point attempt in the tiebreaker and never got the kick off.

 

Obic opened its season with a 14-13 win over the Nojima Sagamihara Rise, with Neuheisel throwing the winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. Fujitsu edged Nojima 17-10 in their regular-season finale when Gino Gordon ran for a touchdown with :22 left.

 

Both teams also faced the Elecom Kobe Finies, with Obic posting a sloppy 20-14 win in their regular-season finale before whipping them 35-7 in the quarterfinals, while Fujitsu rolled to a 34-0 win in a regular-season clash. And before Obic knocked Panasonic out of the playoffs, Fujitsu avenged a loss in last year’s Japan X Bowl with a 20-13 win in the regular season, with the winning touchdown coming on a fourth-quarter fumble return by Nixon.

 

Obic not only had to get over the bumps of installing a new offense, with a new quarterback who does not speak the language, but do it within a new scheduling format that had teams facing tough opponents almost every week of the season.

 

“If you go back to football in America, any team that gets a first-year offense is going to go through some growing pains,” Neuheisel says. “There’s a lot of stuff that you gotta learn that’s new. And so for us to be where we are right now is an unbelievable testament to the great teammates we have and how unbelievably welcoming they’ve been to a new system under Coach Dan [Lynds].

 

“I am blown away by the progress we’ve made, but it’s like everyone says, you kind of go through growing pains. Every week, you got to get a little bit better, you have to learn a little bit more, you have to figure out which piece has got to go where and how to make your team the best it can be.

 

“Every week’s been hard—I don’t think we wanted it to be that hard—but it’s good practice for us to win close games. We’ve been in three really tight games now, and it’s invaluable for us to have that going into such a tough game like the Japan X Bowl.”

 

After losing to Obic in the 2013 Japan X Bowl, Fujitsu came back and captured its first-ever title in 2014 with a 44-10 rout of IBM, only to lose its crown the following year to Panasonic with a heart-breaking 24-21 loss in which the Impulse scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes.

 

“Obviously any time you lose, you’re not shocked, but you go back to the drawing board and you make some adjustments,” Adeyami says. “For us, what we didn’t do well as the end of the Panasonic game was finish. So for us it’s about finishing this year, and making sure we do our jobs.”

 

What separates this year’s Fujitsu team from past ones, Adeyami says, was the way it overcame adversity en route to a perfect record.

 

“If you watch the way that we played and won games this year, we won in different ways. Whether it was defensively, special teams, or offensively. So this year I think we really found a way to win, whereas in previous years, if we were in some of the games we were in [this season], we wouldn’t have come out on the winning side. Adapting and making adjustments and dealing better with adversity has always been the thing that has carried us this season.”

 

Asked if he imagined himself being in the league championship when he first arrived in the spring, Neuheisel replied in the affirmative. And the opponent, naturally, was no surprise.

 

“You don’t go into a season ever thinking you’re not going to be in the championship,” he says. “I had a feeling it would end up with us against Fujitsu, and for some reason it worked out that way and I just couldn’t be more excited.

 

“I’m a huge fan of Colby and a huge fan of Fujitsu, so it will be an unbelievable opportunity to play them. Just so thankful to be part of the Seagulls, and I have such great teammates. It will be a very fun game against a very good team, and hopefully it will be a lot of fun for the fans.”

 

And regardless of how much he’s on the field, the only thing that matters to him will be the final score.

 

—Ken Marantz for the X-League

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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