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TOP > Game Report > Silver Star less then shiny in 1st game since Mills’ departure

Game Report

Silver Star less then shiny in 1st game since Mills’ departure

’17.05.09

Asahi Beer wide receiver Yuta Hayashi dives to haul in a 28-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

 

 

 

KAWASAKI (May 7)—The post-Mason Mills era began in earnest for the Asahi Beer Silver Star, and first impressions are mixed on how the team will fare following the American quarterback’s departure.

 

On the positive side, Kazuma Ando, who had been mentored by Mills during his two-year stay to be his eventual replacement, threw for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns in Asahi Beer’s opening game of the Pearl Bowl tournament at Fujitsu Stadium Kawasaki.

 

On the downside, the Silver Star could only manage a dull 28-3 victory over a Meiji Yasuda PentaOcean Pirates team that was forced through injury to use a 173-centimeter, 115-kilogram tight end at quarterback, who did not attempt a pass until the second half.

 

The loss of Mills is only one part of a large transformation for Asahi Beer in both playing and coaching personnel, not the least of which is the promotion to head coach of Hayato Arima, a former QB himself. The Silver Star started four rookies on offense and one on defense.

 

“Today, we played with 12 rookies,” Arima said. “There are also 10 new faces among the coaches and coordinators. We didn’t know how it would go. We didn’t score much, but it became a game in which we made few mistakes. If we can keep going like this, we’ll raise our level.”

 

One player who thrived in the Mills-led offense, star wide receiver Yuta Hayashi, played a major role in Sunday’s win. He scored all four Silver Star touchdowns, catching the two from Ando, another on a fake field goal,  and then hauling in the fourth on the lone pass of the game from rookie backup quarterback Takafumi Suzuki.

 

“With Mason gone, as everyone who watched us could tell, the accuracy of the passes is clearly different,” said Hayashi, who finished with nine receptions for 155 yards. “But Ando, and later his replacement, the rookie Suzuki, have mobility.

 

“Conversely because Mason is not here, we worked in more run plays that were effective. So even without Mason, I think the offense is going well.”

 

Still, it seems significant that two of Asahi Beer scores were set up or directly resulted from trick plays. While those worked against a lower-ranked team like the Pirates, they incur a significant risk–as the Silver Star were shown in last year’s playoffs–against top-level teams such as the Obic Seagulls, the Silver Star’s next opponent.

 

After Meiji Yasuda took a 3-0 lead following a pass-less drive that took most of the first quarter, the Silver Star took advantage of a short punt to take the lead on Ando’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Hayashi 4:28 into the second quarter.

 

On the ensuing kickoff, the Silver Star caught the Pirates completely off guard with an onside kick, and recovered at midfield. They got down to the Pirates 11, where they lined up for a field goal. But holder Kazuki Kobayashi (a rookie wide receiver) stood up and threw the ball to Hayashi in the left corner for a 15-yard touchdown.

 

Asahi Beer again tried an onside kick, but this one was recovered by Meiji Yasuda. Getting the ball back, the Silver Star then used a fake punt that gained 16 yards to keep the next series going. With :27 left in the first half, Ando and Hayashi connected on their second touchdown pass, this one for 18 yards to give the Silver Star a 21-3 lead.

 

In the second half, Asahi Beer had two turnovers–Hayashi lost the ball after a reception and Ando was intercepted by defensive back Ryo Ishibashi–and had a second fake field goal attempt fall short of gaining a first down. Their lone touchdown of the half came in the fourth quarter, when Hayashi made a diving catch on a 28-yard pass from Suzuki on the first play after defensive back Sho Takaya picked off a pass from tight end-turned-QB Hiroyuki Akatsu.

 

Arima said he was encouraged by Ando, who completed 14 of 24 passes for 192 yards.

 

“For the two years that Mason was here, Ando hardly got into games,” Arima said. “But in practice, he absorbed Mason’s techniques and learned from him. From the standpoint of his putting that into practice, we have confidence in him. Ando himself has confidence. The whole team wants to get behind him.”

 

For pure entertainment value, not much could match seeing the portly Akatsu, who would seem just as much at home lining up on a sumo dohyo as a football line of scrimmage, taking the snaps in the wildcat formation.

 

Meiji Yasuda head coach David Powroznik explained that starting quarterback Ryosuke Nishizawa suffered a tailbone injury in the 65-0 loss to Obic on April 23 in their opening game of the group stage of the spring tournament, and the team did not have a viable backup.

 

“He’s the one who stepped up and said he could do it,” Powroznik said. “But he’s a great kid and a great athlete, for his size, and he was like, ‘I’ll try it.’ We practiced three days, and we ran, like you saw, six plays.”

 

In their opening drive of the game, Akatsu and running backs Shinpei Wakashima and Ryo Kimura took turns blasting through the line as the Pirates took 9:28 to plod 47 yards in 12 plays–all runs–to set up a 37-yard field goal by Akatsu (oh, he’s also the kicker). The Pirates kept the drive going despite being hit with 25 yards in penalties. They finished with 60 yards in penalties overall, including four false starts.

 

It would not be until their fourth play of the second half that Akatsu threw his first pass, a 3-yard completion of a flare pass to Shotaro Tanoue. Akatsu took to the air again in the fourth quarter and attempted two long passes, but was clearly out of sync with his receivers. He finished 5 of 11 for 40 yards.

 

“We were just going to run the ball, because he’s never read a defense in his life or thrown a ball,” Powroznik said. “If we wouldn’t have turned the ball over, gave them touchdowns on special teams, if it was close, then we could have mixed it in better. Basically at the end, I just called the plays that he practiced, just to let him throw.”

 

Asahi Beer was a former powerhouse in decline when Mills, out of the University of San Diego, arrived along with Princeton wide receiver Roman Wilson in 2015. The two combined to rewrite the league’s passing and receiving records, and led the Silver Star to a 4-1 record in the Central Division.

 

Wilson returned to the States after that season, but Mills overcame the loss by working with Hayashi, Yasuhiro Hashizume and the other wide receivers to forge an offense that led the Silver Star to a 3-3 record in the tougher revamped league format.

 

In the quarterfinals of the playoffs, the Silver Star lost to the Panasonic Impulse 21-14, with what proved to be the Impulse’s winning touchdown coming after Asahi Beer inexplicably tried an onside kick with more than eight minutes left in the game. The kick went to Panasonic’s fastest player, Tatsuya Tonka, who returned the ball to the Asahi Beer 2.

 

Through his leadership, Mills left his mark on the Silver Star.

 

“Mason left a legacy that has firmly remained,” Arima said. “That legacy he left after playing in Japan for two years has been passed on to No. 7 (Ando) and No. 12 (Suzuki). Our intention is to look at it as not returning the past, but taking a step toward the future.”

 

In the Pearl Bowl, the 12 Kanto region teams are divided into four groups of three teams each. After a round-robin stage, the four group winners are paired off in the semifinals on June 4. The championship game will be played at Tokyo Dome on June 19.

 

–Ken Marantz for the X-League

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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