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TOP > What’s New > Champion Seagulls soar back into Japan X Bowl

What’s New

Champion Seagulls soar back into Japan X Bowl

’13.12.01

YOKOHAMA (Dec. 1) —  In a season that might not be up to their previous dominant standards, the Obic Seagulls showed they could still come up with the big plays that mark a championship team. And could even have some fun doing it.

 

Takuya Furutani scored on a pair of short touchdown runs and ace wide receiver Noriaki Kinoshita threw a touchdown pass as three-time defending champion Obic earned a return trip to the Japan X Bowl by defeating the Kajima Deers 21-12 in their final stage clash on Sunday.

 

“No matter what game it is, we are focused only on winning,” Obic quarterback Shun Sugawara said. “In any situation, we keep our cool and aim for the victory. That comes from experience.”

 

Obic, which defeated Kajima in last year’s title game for an unprecedented third straight championship, will try to make it four in a row when they face the Fujitsu Frontiers on Dec. 16 at Tokyo Dome. Fujitsu knocked off the Panasonic Impulse 28-13 in the other semifinal in Osaka.

 

The clash of unbeatens at Tokyo Dome will give Obic a chance to avenge a 31-13 loss to Fujitsu in the semifinals of last spring’s Pearl Bowl tournament, a defeat that snapped the Seagulls’ 37-game winning streak. Obic’s last loss in the fall came in the 2009 second stage, when the Seagulls fell 23-20 to Panasonic.

 

That loss to East Division champion Fujitsu proved to be a wakeup call for the Central Division champion Seagulls.

 

“From the spring, when we dropped that one to Fujitsu, once we got to the fall, we made a conscious effort to really prepare,” said Obic defensive end Kevin Jackson, who had a late sack that helped preserve Sunday’s victory.

 

Before a crowd of 3,867 at Yokohama Stadium, Kajima pulled to within two points early in the fourth quarter when Yasuhiro Maruta scored on a 1-yard run and the Deers failed the two-point conversion.

 

Obic and Sugawara responded with a 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive, capped by Furutani’s 3-yard run. That not only made it 21-12 and a two-possession game, but ate up over five minutes on the clock to leave Kajima with just 5:21.

 

Shohei Kato was intercepted on the Deers’ next play and when they next got the ball back, there was only 3:09 left. Although Kato converted on fourth down twice, the Deers ran out of gas with 1:25 left and Obic ran out the clock to beat Kajima for the fourth straight year.

 

“Kajima is so strong and tough. They gave up three interceptions in the last game [against Panasonic], but they won,” Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi said. “We had to be tough.”

 

In contrast to a second stage swamped with explosive scores, this game saw the defenses dig in. Both teams had two interceptions, although only Kajima could convert one into a score — and just a field goal at that. Both teams scored three times, with the difference being that all three of Obic’s were touchdowns, while Kajima had to settle for two field goals.

 

“At some point in time, they’re going to get going,” Jackson said of Obic’s offense. “They’re going to break it at some point. On defense, if we keep doing our job and doing what we’re supposed to do, those guys will find a way to get it done.”

 

Nobody in the league in the past few years has been better at getting it done in so little time as Obic quarterback Shun Sugawara, who overcame two interceptions to finish 18 for 27 for 236 yards.

 

That included a 47-yard pass to Kinoshita that led to the speedster’s touchdown toss with 24 seconds left in the first half. That allowed Obic to take a 14-6 lead into halftime when less than a minute earlier, it looked like Kajima would go into the break ahead.

 

Earlier, Kajima trailed 7-6 and drove to the Obic 38, where it went for it on 4th-and-1. But Kato was stuffed on a sneak and Obic took over with 1:15 left on the clock and 72 yards of field ahead of them.

 

“It was lucky,” Ohashi said. “The timing was very good. If there was less time, maybe we couldn’t get a touchdown.”

 

After an incomplete when Kinoshita caught a pass but came down out of bounds, Sugawara went to him again. The former NFL Europe star, who finished with seven receptions for 106 yards, caught the pass at the Kajima 40, bounced off a would-be tackler, then rambled to the 15.

 

Three plays later on 1st-and-goal at the 5, Kinoshita took a flare pass in the right flat, then calmly lofted a pass to Ken Shimizu all alone in the back of the end zone. Shimizu finished with five receptions for 70 yards.

 

“We wanted to score points before halftime,” Sugawara said. “If we don’t score, the atmosphere is completely different. Everyone was like, let’s get this one. It came out just like we wanted.”

 

Ohashi said he took a lesson for the razzle-dazzle from Kwansei Gakuin University, who used a number of trick plays in the their 21-15 loss to the Seagulls in last year’s Rice Bowl.

 

“It was a kind of playing, not the standard play,” Ohashi said. “We prepared many trick plays for this game, but we used only one. I still have them, but it’s a secret.”

 

Kajima’s Daisuke Aoki kicked a pair of field goals in the first half, the first a 44-yarder after Tadanari Sano intercepted a Sugawara floater at the Obic 46-yard line.

 

Ohashi praised his players for putting their mistakes behind them, and Sugawara did that on the next drive. He completed all six of his passes in engineering a 12-play, 86-yard drive, with Furutani going over on his second attempt at the 1.

 

Kajima appeared to have retaken the lead on its next possession, but an 11-yard touchdown pass from Kato to Kento Suzuki was nullified because lineman Kohei Kasai was flagged for being inexplicably downfield. The Deers had to settle for Aoki’s 26-yard field goal.

 

The teams traded interceptions in a scoreless third quarter, with Koki Kato picking off a Sugawara pass and rookie Keizaburo Isazawa victiming Shohei Kato, who was 16 for 32 for 180 yards.

 

On Kajima’s scoring drive early in the fourth quarter, Kato converted on three straight third downs with passes to Naoki Maeda of 8, 14 and 10 yards. The last one put the ball on the Obic 6, where Maruta gained five yards before bulling over from the 1 to make it 14-12.

 

On the 2-point conversion that could have tied the game, Obic was flagged for pass interference, moving the ball up 1 1/2 yards. But on the retry, Isazawa was in the right place at the right time, although he never saw Kato’s pass hit him in the helmet and fall incomplete.

 

For Kajima, the loss marked the team’s final game under its current name. Earlier this year, the parent company Kajima Corp. announced it would no longer fund the squad, and it is currently in search of a new sponsor.

 

— Ken Marantz for the X-League

 

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