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TOP > What’s New > Seagulls hold on to deny Frontiers, win 4th straight Japan X Bowl

What’s New

Seagulls hold on to deny Frontiers, win 4th straight Japan X Bowl

’13.12.17

TOKYO (Dec. 16) — The Obic Seagulls had a 17-point lead at halftime that they stretched to 24 points early in third quarter. And yet it was not until a Hail Mary pass fell incomplete in their end zone on the final play that a fourth consecutive league title was theirs. It was that kind of game.

 

Shun Sugawara threw two touchdown passes and Obic withstood the Fujitsu Frontiers’ furious fourth-quarter rally to hold on for a wild 24-16 victory in a turnover-filled Japan X Bowl on Monday night at Tokyo Dome.

 

“Today was kind of lucky, especially in the first half,” Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi said. “We had almost the same [number of] turnovers, but their turnovers could not get [them] into scoring position. Ours put us in scoring position.”

 

After becoming the first team in X-League history to win three straight titles last year, Obic extended its record to four while denying Fujitsu a first-ever crown in its fifth trip to the championship game. Fujitsu, which had ended Obic’s 37-game winning streak with a 30-13 victory in the semifinals of last spring’s Pearl Bowl tournament, also lost to the Seagulls in 2002 and 2011.

 

With the win before the crowd of 22,488, unbeaten Obic gets a shot at an unprecedented fourth straight national championship when it faces the collegiate champion Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters in the Rice Bowl on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome. The Seagulls defeated the Fighters each of the past two years.

 

The way Obic earned a return trip to the Dome was in line with how its season has gone. No matter what the circumstances, the Seagulls have found a way to win, and Monday’s game was no different against a Fujitsu team that had looked particularly dominant this season. The Seagulls were at times their own worst enemy — while forcing four turnovers, they also gave up three themselves, including two inside the Fujitsu 10-yard line.

 

“I think the big difference this year is they’re really improved and I think a lot of people didn’t give us a chance coming into this game,” said Obic defensive end Kevin Jackson, who was named the game’s MVP after recovering two fumbles, batting down a pass and helping to limit Fujitsu’s formidable running game to just 52 yards.  “They were looking really good. It feels good knowing that we pulled it out.”

 

Fellow defensive end B.J. Beatty also wreaked havoc on the Frontiers’ offense. He knocked starting quarterback Keiya Hiramoto out of the game with an acrobatic sack on the first series, also batted down a pass, and had an interception that set up what would prove to be the winning touchdown.

 

Backup Fujitsu quarterback Akihiro Izuhara, who filled in for Hiramoto, was as brilliant in the second half as he was ineffective in the first. After completing just 4 of 12 passes for 38 yards with one interception in the first half, he led two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, passing for one touchdown and running for the other, and almost pulled off a miraculous third score. He finished 14 of 26 for 160 yards.

 

“Our stance is that Izuhara and Hiramoto are the same, both quarterbacks are good,” Ohashi said. “Especially in [Fujitsu's] last game against Panasonic [a 28-13 win], he played very good in the second half. It was not such a surprise. He is a good quarterback.”

 

Hiramoto returned to the game for the first two series of the third quarter and led Fujitsu to its first score, a 37-yard field goal by Hidetetsu Nishimura that made it 24-3. But after Al-Rilwan Adeyami intercepted a pass by Obic backup QB Manabu Tatsumura early in the fourth quarter, Fujitsu coach Satoshi Fujita opted for Izuhara in hopes of an improbable comeback that was made possible by a stifling defense.

 

Fujitsu, starting at its own 38, drove to the Obic 4, where they faced 4th-and-2. Faking a run to the right, Izuhara turned and tossed a pass to Eiji Shiraki alone in the end zone on the left. Fujita then made the bold decision to try for two points, but Izuhara’s pass fell incomplete, leaving the Frontiers 15 points behind with 9:23 left.

 

After holding Obic to 3-and-out, Fujitsu got the ball back on its 45 with 6:38 remaining. Izuhara completed three passes for 46 yards, the last a 14-yarder to Teruaki Clark Nakamura that gave the Frontiers 1st-and-goal on the 2. Fujitsu needed two plays to advance one yard, then Izuhara took it in himself, with Nishimura’s PAT making it 24-16 with 2:23 left.

 

Obic recovered the ensuing onside kick and, with Fujitsu only having two timeouts left to stop the clock, was able to run off enough time to give the Frontiers the ball back at their own 31 with all of :27 remaining. It was almost enough.

 

Izuhara connected with Junpei Yoshimoto for 22 yards, had an incompletion, then again hit Yoshimoto, who wisely went down at the Obic 36 with four seconds left. Izuhara spiked the ball, leaving one second on the clock. The miracle, however, was not to be, as his Hail Mary pass was well defended in a large crowd in the end zone.

 

“The last play, we practiced after the K.G. game,” Ohashi said, referring to Kwansei Gakuin’s similar game-ending play in last year’s Rice Bowl, which Obic won 21-15. “It was almost the same situation as the K.G. game. We put Nori [Kinoshita] and the receivers in.”

 

There was little indication of the foibles to come when Fujitsu opened the game by gaining 30 yards on its first two plays. But the mood changed when, facing 3rd-and-3 at the Obic 47, Hiramoto was sacked by Beatty — or more appropriately pounced upon, as the Hawaii native leaped over a would-be blocker and landed on top of the quarterback, who suffered a knee injury on the play.

 

“That definitely set the tone,” said Jackson, who insisted that the boxing-like belt he received as MVP should have gone to Beatty. “This belt should have been his. It’s crazy. I don’t know why. I feel so bad, seriously.”

 

On Fujitsu’s next series, Jackson batted down a pass by Izuhara, then recovered Izuhara’s fumble at the Fujitsu 34 when the quarterback was hit by blitzing defensive back Keizaburo Isagawa. Four plays later, Sugawara hit Noriaki Kinoshita in stride for a 14-yard touchdown. The point-after kick was blocked leaving Obic with a 6-0 lead.

 

The Frontiers followed that with another turnover that put the Seagulls in scoring position, but Obic failed to take advantage. Isazawa intercepted an Izuhara pass and returned it to the Fujitsu 13, and a face mask penalty on the play moved the ball to the 6. After a 3-yard gain, Tatsumura was blindsided by linebacker Shuhei Takeuchi as he was about the throw, and the ball popped into the air and was hauled in by defensive lineman Yo Okamoto, who returned it to the 40.

 

But Fujitsu made no headway, and Obic came back with an 11-play, 82-yard drive that finished early in the second quarter with halfback Takuya Furutani taking a pitch and then throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Akimitsu Mori.  Sugawara connected with Kinoshita on the 2-point conversion to make it 14-0.

 

On Fujitsu’s next play from scrimmage, Yusuke Shinshi lost a fumble and Jackson recovered at the Frontiers 22. Two plays later on 2nd-and-goal on the 9, Sugawara evaded a sack and ran toward the goal line, only to have the ball pried out of his hands at the 2 by Adeyami, who recovered the ball himself in the end zone.

 

“Football, as in life, you’re going to face adversity,” Adeyami said. “We had our back up against the wall, our quarterback went down in the first series. And in life you’re going to get thrown down and you just have to get back up. I’m proud of the way we fought in the second half. We just ran out of time.”

 

Obic concluded the scoring in the first half on Yosuke Kaneoya’s 20-yard field goal with 3:20 left. The drive was kept alive by a mindless roughing-the-passer penalty on Yuji Aoki, and Fujitsu was lucky to hold Obic to three points. On the play preceding the field goal, Kentaro Mori dropped a sure touchdown pass from Sugawara.

 

On Fujitsu’s first drive of the second half, Hiramoto returned to action, only to have a pass picked off by Beatty, who returned it 28 yards to the Fujitsu 4. On the next play, Sugawara hit Ryoma Hagiyama all alone in the end zone for a 24-0 lead.

 

Sugawara finished 18 of 24 for 175 yards, with Hagiyama hauling in six passes for 74 yards and Kinoshita making five catches for 52 yards.

 

Asked about the contrast between the two halves, Jackson replied, “I can’t put my finger on one certain thing. They’re a good team, you can’t take anything away from them. Those guys got clicking, and once they get clicking they’re hard to stop.”

 

— Ken Marantz for the X-League

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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