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TOP > What’s New > Rice Bowl Preview: Seagulls not taking Fighters lightly in quest for record fourth straight title

What’s New

Rice Bowl Preview: Seagulls not taking Fighters lightly in quest for record fourth straight title

’13.12.28

Veteran Obic defensive end Kevin Jackson can certainly sympathize with the Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters. It wasn’t so long ago that the Seagulls, too, experienced the frustration of having their path to a championship repeatedly blocked by the same team.

 

Those defeats eventually spurred Obic to its current unprecedented run of titles, which the Fighters will be looking to end when they take on the three-time defending champion Seagulls for the third straight year in the Rice Bowl on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome.

 

“It’s similar to us before we started winning,” Jackson says. “[Before] the first year we won [in 2010], we previously lost to Panasonic three years in a row. And we were very hungry and we really did our homework.  We really wanted to win bad. I’m sure they’re in the same situation now and they’re going to give it their all.”

 

Obic will be aiming to become the first team in history to win a fourth straight Rice Bowl, the annual national championship pitting the X-League and collegiate winners. Since the matchup started in 1984, the corporate teams lead the series 18-12, with victories in eight of past nine years.

 

“I’m really happy to play against the Seagulls,” Kwansei Gakuin head coach Hideaki Toriuchi says. “After two years ‘rehearsing,’ this may be the last chance that we can beat them.”

 

The Fighters came desperately close to seizing the throne last year, only to see the Seagulls pull off a miracle comeback for a 21-15 win. Not that it was much easier for Obic the previous year, when it won 38-28 after trailing by six points going into the fourth quarter.

 

So by no means will the Seagulls be taking the collegians lightly as they aim to extend their record of overall titles to seven in their ninth trip to the championship game. The Seagulls also won in 1997, 1999 and 2006.

 

“Last year’s loss was big to me,” Fighters captain and defensive lineman Kento Ikenaga says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about this [game]….We’re not satisfied with the college No. 1, because we’ve been twice.”

 

Kwansei Gakuin earned its ninth ticket to the Rice Bowl with a convincing 23-9 victory over Nihon University in the Koshien Bowl for the national collegiate crown. The Fighters’ lone triumph came in 2002, when they beat the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers 30-27 to snap a five-year winning streak by X-League teams.

 

The consensus among the Fighters is that this year’s team is not as strong as the 2012 season squad, which lost last year’s Rice Bowl when Obic got the ball with 39 seconds left and drove 49 yards for the winning touchdown with :10 left.  In November, Kwansei Gakuin was held to a 0-0 tie by Ritsumeikan University in their Kansai League finale.

 

“Last year’s team had a lot of great players,” Ikenaga says. “A lot of the seniors were main [players]. We lost all of them. We had to make a new team. It was pretty hard, but we made it here.”

 

The Fighters offense is led by junior quarterback Kei Saito, the top passer in the Kansai League with a 172.05 rating and the Koshien Bowl MVP after throwing for 281 yards and two touchdowns.  Also leading the attack are running back Satoshi Sagino, who averaged 8.3 yards per carry this season, and speedy wide receiver Hiroyuki Umemoto.

 

Ironically, the 1.79-meter Saito started the sport while in elementary school  with the junior flag football team sponsored by the Fujitsu Frontiers — the team that Obic beat 24-16 in the Japan X Bowl to advance to the Rice Bowl for the fourth straight year.

 

Toriuchi said the key will be the offensive line’s ability to hold off Obic’s twin-tower defensive ends Jackson and B.J. Beatty, who both batted down passes against Fujitsu. The 1.93-meter Jackson also recovered two fumbles and Beatty, who stands 1.89 meters, had an interception.

 

“Their defensive ends are tall and speedy,” Toriuchi says. “We must think about the throwing point. Every time, we have to move.”

 

Toriuchi will also have to rely on his defense containing quarterback Shun Sugawara, the MVP of the last three Rice Bowls, and ever-dangerous wide receiver Noriaki Kinoshita, who also won two national titles while starring at Ritsumeikan.

 

“Those guys are really good,” Toriuchi says. “We have to use double coverage against Kinoshita. Also, Sugawara is not so [tall], we have to keep our hands up and close the throwing lanes.”

 

Last year, Kwansei Gakuin made good use of trick plays and fourth-down gambles to offset the imbalance in power, and it nearly paid off with a victory. Asked if he had more surprises in store for the Jan. 3 game, Toriuchi smiled and replied, “Many, many.”

 

So, what are the Seagulls expecting from a team they have burned twice in a row?

 

“I’m expecting to not be in the same situation we were in last year,” Jackson says. “Not taking anything away from them. They really did a good job of preparing. The plays that they scored on last year were pretty phenomenal trick plays.

 

“But I think we had a chance earlier in the game to put it away. Kind of similar to [the Japan X Bowl]. We started out strong, but we didn’t do a good job of finishing them off. ”

 

Obic’s last loss in the fall season was a 23-20 loss to the Panasonic Impulse in the second stage in 2009, ending the Seagulls’ season. The Impulse also beat the Seagulls in the semifinals the previous two years, winning 29-26 in overtime in 2007 and 44-17 in 2008.

 

The Seagulls finally vanquished their nemesis with a 20-16 win in the 2010 Japan X Bowl, setting off a run of four straight titles.

 

— Ken Marantz for the X-League

 

 

 

 

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