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TOP > Game Report > Seagulls ride massive wave of Rise turnovers into semifinals

Game Report

Seagulls ride massive wave of Rise turnovers into semifinals


Rise quarterback Devin Gardner is sacked by Seagulls defensive end Kevin Jackson in the third quarter.



Seagulls ride massive wave of Rise turnovers into semifinals

By Ken Marantz




YOKOHAMA (Nov. 11)—When the Nojima Sagamihara Rise committed four turnovers in a 14-0 loss to the Obic Seagulls back in September, a steady rain that day was cited as having an effect. After what happened Saturday in the rematch between the two, one might wonder whether the inclement weather limited the damage, not caused it.

On a clear day in Yokohama, the Seagulls’ defense and special teams forced a mind-boggling nine turnovers, including six interceptions of star quarterback Devin Gardner, in banging out a 41-22 victory over the Rise in the opening game of the Japan X Bowl Tournament quarterfinals.

Obic’s Shun Sugawara threw for two touchdowns, and two non-quarterbacks also had touchdown passes on an peculiar day that saw the Rise turn the ball over on five straight series in the first half, and yet still only trail by 14 points midway through the third quarter.

“They got pressure whenever they wanted,” Gardner said. “The thing that people might not even know—they didn’t blitz. They physically dominated. We couldn’t run the ball, so now we’re passing it the whole game. Jump off the bus, 14 down.”

With the victory, Obic advanced to a semifinal clash on Nov. 26 with the defending champion Fujitsu Frontiers, who overwhelmed the Elecom Kobe Finies 34-7 in the second game of the quarterfinal tripleheader at Yokohama Stadium. That game will be a rematch of their regular-season finale, which Fujitsu won 13-10 in overtime.

The Seagulls went into the postseason as the sixth seed after finishing the regular season with a 3-3 record, although all three of their losses were by four points or less. Nojima, which missed the playoffs last season, earned the third seed with a 4-2 record.

But it was the Seagulls who were the clearly dominant side, as their four-man rush continually harried and battered Gardner, who went into the game as the league’s leading passer and sixth-ranked rusher. While Gardner’s superior athleticism helped him escape a number of tight spots and also directly resulted in one touchdown, even that had its limits against a determined Seagulls defense.

Defensive end Kevin Jackson had two of five sacks and also gathered in an interception at the line for a Seagulls defense that stopped the Rise at the 1-yard line on the final play of the first half to take a 27-7 lead into halftime.

Asked about needing more protection, Gardner replied, “We tried to add more guys. When there’s only three rushing or four rushing, you shouldn’t need six guys. It’s already not enough [receivers] on the route.”

While they weren’t out of the game in terms of the score, it was apparent that the Rise became exceedingly demoralized by their miscues, particularly during a 4 1/2-minute span of the first half when they had three turnovers in four plays. Obic converted those into a pair of a field goals by Takatoshi Hoshino and a 54-yard touchdown run by Taku Lee.

“You try your best, but it’s kind of impossible,” Gardner said on trying to stay positive. “Going into halftime, we had a chance to cut it close, and coming out of halftime, we get one more stop and score again and we’re down seven.

“It’s like, whenever they wanted to make sure that we knew we weren’t good enough, they made sure of it. They got pressure even to the last. We drove down when they took a lot of their guys out, next drive they put their guys back in, they got pressure right away.”

Obic defensive end B.J. Beatty, who had one of the interceptions, said each turnover fired up the Seagulls to get even more.

“After the third one, it was kind of like, hey guys there’s kind of a pattern going on, let’s keep that going,” he said. “It was kind of a fun thing to get going. It was a little bit of a surprise, but once you felt that momentum, you wanted to keep riding the wave.

“Everytime we got to the sideline, we were like, guys, one more. It just kept happening for us. It’s easy to play when things are falling in line.”

The follies started on the Rise’s second series of the game, after Obic had taken the lead with some misdirection, as running back Tomoki Kimura took a lateral pass from Sugawara, then stepped up and connected with Aruto Nishimura on a 70-yard touchdown pass.

Starting at the 23, Gardner drove the Rise to the Obic 47, twice somehow managing to complete a pass while fully in the grasp of a defender and on his way to the turf. But he was not third time lucky, as Beatty had him locked up when he tossed up a pass that Obic linebacker Takuya Iwamoto hauled in.

“You gotta try to do something,” said Gardner, who completed 27 of 52 passes for 378 yards, while rushing 11 times for 30 yards. “You just got to chuck it and see what happens. They got everybody back, so there’s really nowhere to throw the ball. You got to hope your guys make a play for you.”

Although that drive ended in an interception, Beatty had praise for the 193-centimeter Gardner’s abilities. “The guy’s so long, you think you got him, but his arm’s like about eight feet up in the air, and he’s strong enough to just flick it with his wrist and it can get 15 yards downfield. It’s just a testament to how big and athletic that guy is.”

Obic quickly made it 14-0 when reserve QB Ikaika Woolsey, after taking a sack, threw a 53-yard pass to Nishimura that put the ball on the Nojima 5. Sugawara took over from there and found Noriaki Kinoshita in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

On the first play of Nojima’s next series, Jackson, who also stands 193 centimeters, managed to latch onto the ball as he blocked a Gardner pass, giving Obic possession at the Nojima 22. The Seagulls got down to the 7 but no further, and had to settle for Hoshino’s 25-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead.

Looking for some kind of spark, the Rise appeared to get it when Eisuke Tomatsu returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the Obic 37. But on the second play and the first of the second quarter, fullback Sione Houma coughed up the ball and defensive back Yuta Shimozuru recovered.

Three plays later, Lee was off and running from the 46, breaking an early tackle before picking up a key downfield block from Kinoshita to motor into the end zone.

One play later, Obic had the ball back when Nojima’s Toshio Maejima fumbled and defensive back Keizaburo Isagawa made the recovery. That resulted in a 30-yard field goal by Hoshino, putting Obic up 27-0 exactly 20 minutes into the game.

The fifth straight turnover came in the form of a Yu Kitamura interception, in which the defensive back grabbed the ball out of the intended receiver’s hands. Obic, however, went 3-and-out, and Gardner came back to lead an 8-play, 84-yard drive that he capped with a 2-yard run to finally put Nojima on the scoreboard.

Nojima had a chance to cut the lead before the half when, helped by a pair of pass interference penalties, they drove to the Obic 3. After Houma was stopped at the 1 with :02 left, Gardner faked a handoff to Houma up the middle, then pitched to Takashi Miyako–but he was nailed for loss by defensive back Takeshi Miyake to end the half.

“They were awesome, all the credit in the world to them,” Obic offensive coordinator Daniel Lynds said of the defensive unit. “I think the whole focus of this game was to get a lead on them, and let our defense pin their ears back.

“When you have to play the Rise when they’re close, and they have a run-pass threat, boy they’re tough. They’re maybe the best offense in the league, when it’s that type of game. If you can get up on them, make them one-dimensional, for our defense, there’s nothing better than that. And for the rest of the playoffs, that’s going to be our big concern.”

Gardner made it a two-possession game midway through the third quarter with another superhuman effort. Gaining 65 yards with three passes to give the Rise a first down at the Obic 9, Gardner had a pair of incomplete passes. It looked like he would never get off a third, but as he was wrapped up, he somehow managed to loft a pass to Takahide Dejima alone in the end zone. Obic blocked Kohei Ichimori’s extra point attempt, leaving the Seagulls with a 27-13 lead.

Beatty said the Obic defense was ready to bounce back from the lapse that allowed the Rise to pull closer.

“We just had to go back to what we were doing,” he said. “Pressuring him, playing tight coverage. They got a few deep passes, our pass rush let up a little bit. He wasn’t really scrambling, he was stepping up a lot inside. We just tried to adjust, getting our inside guys to not widen out so much.”

The Obic offense responded with Nishimura catching his second touchdown pass of the day, a 23-yarder from Sugawara. He finished with six receptions for 189 yards.

Then Nojima made perhaps its most costly blunder. The ensuing kickoff was well short of the goal line and Maejima, having misjudged it, had to quickly run forward to get it. The ball bounced once and Maejima never really got control of it before he was hit and lost possession, and Obic’s Kento Tojo pounced on the loose ball at the Rise 20.

Obic then went back to the trick playbook, with Kinoshita taking a lateral pass before throwing a strike to fellow veteran Ryoma Hagiyama in the end zone. With two touchdowns in 12 seconds, the Seagulls were now up 41-13.

Although the Seagulls did not score in the fourth quarter, they got interceptions from Beatty, Iwamoto and Tojo off Gardner, who had a 6-yard touchdown pass to Yuhei Yagi. The final points of the game came when a snap to Obic punter Takeshi Nagao sailed over his head and into the end zone, resulting in a Rise safety.

“Our offense and their offense were like totally opposite,” Gardner said. “No pressure [on them], you just drop back and throw it. Just all around, we did not play well today.”

The Rise defense recorded three sacks, but forced no turnovers. Sugawara completed 11 of 18 passes for 122 yards, while Woolsey was 3 of 7 for 67 yards.

As for the liberal use of his two QBs, Lynds explained: “We have two good quarterbacks and we want to use them both. And for certain teams in the league, when you do that, that starts to put their focus on who’s in the game, rather than what we’re doing with who’s in the game. I don’t think it worked that well today. I don’t think they really changed. But it was worth a shot.”







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