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TOP > What’s New > Seagulls pull off thrilling comeback for 3rd straight Rice Bowl victory

What’s New

Seagulls pull off thrilling comeback for 3rd straight Rice Bowl victory

’13.01.05

Down by a point with just under three minutes to go, the Obic Seagulls were set up for yet another storybook comeback. But an interception changed the script, making their latest victory perhaps the most dramatic of all.

 

Takuya Furutani rushed for his second 1-yard touchdown of the game with 10 seconds left to cap a miraculous finish as Obic upended Kwansei Gakuin University in the Rice Bowl for the second straight year, pulling out a 21-15 victory on Thursday at Tokyo Dome.

 

Obic, which overcame four turnovers and several wonderfully successful trick plays by the Fighters, won its record sixth national championship and joined Nihon University (1989-91) as the only teams to have won three in a row.

 

“It was a really tough game,” Obic captain and linebacker Naoki Kosho said. “We were well prepared to beat our rival Kwansei Gakuin and we fought up to the end.”

 

Kwansei Gakuin not only used some impressive sleight of hand, but did so in extremely risky situations that only added to the excitement before the crowd of 26,656. On the drive that put them ahead 15-14 with 3:00 to play, the Fighters faked a punt on their own 18-yard line, then, after scoring, went for the two-point conversion instead of going for the extra point and a tie—and made it with some more trickery.

 

But the Seagulls have not won 36 straight games dating back to the spring of 2010 by giving up when the chips are down. Even after quarterback Shun Sugawara threw an interception with 1:39 left that appeared to herald the end of Obic’s reign.

 

Kwansei Gakuin, taking over at their own 30, only had to kill the clock to win its second title in a record ninth trip to the Rice Bowl. But, with Obic using up its remaining timeouts to conserve time, the defense held firm. Helped by Daisuke Horimoto’s short punt, the Seagulls got the ball back at the Fighters 49, albeit with all of 34 seconds left.

 

“Up to that point, the offense had held us back,” said Sugawara, who also had a second-quarter interception. “In that situation, we had to score and took the field ready to give everything we had to get it done.”

 

Shrugging off his miscue, Sugawara promptly hit Noriaki Kinoshita for a 19-yard gain, then Ryoma Hagiyama for 29 yards to put the ball on the 1. From there, Furutani took a pitch and sliced into the end zone.

 

“Even I can’t believe it,” said Sugawara, who earned the Paul Rusch Trophy as the game’s MVP for a record third time. He completed 24 of 33 passes for 286 yards and a touchdown.

 

Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi said he had faith in his players to pull off the impossible. “Right up to the end, we used up our timeouts to keep ourselves in the game,” he said. “If I showed doubt, the players wouldn’t have been able to do it.  I believed to the finish we could win.”

 

Defensive end Kevin Jackson said he was surprised that Kwansei Gakuin opted to try to run out the clock instead of taking more risks to get a first down and finish off the Seagulls.

 

“I was thinking we still had a chance, if we got a quick stop and get the ball back, and at least try for a field goal,” said Jackson, an All X-League selection for the eighth straight year this season. “It depended on their offensive strategy. They should have thrown the ball on their last series. But they didn’t want to risk it. They played extra conservative.”

 

With Obic’s win, the X-League teams and their predecessors have now won 18 times in the 30 years that the Rice Bowl has pitted the corporate league and collegiate champions for the national crown, including eight of the last nine.

 

“All I can say is the Seagulls really are strong,” said running back Asaki Mochizuki, who had a hand in 14 of the Fighters’ 15 points. “They tackle hard and are fast, they get into position to stop the play so well. Unlike in the Koshien Bowl, we couldn’t break away for a big play. That was the difference in level.”

 

Obic, which last lost in the final of the 2010 Pearl Bowl (15-13 to Fujitsu), started the game with a 13-play, 75-yard drive, capped by Furutani’s 1-yard plunge. Sugawara , who left the game for a play after taking a hard hit, connected with Yuki Ikei on a 19-yard pass on 3rd-and-11 to put the ball on the 1.

 

Sugawara looked even sharper on Obic’s next drive, completing all eight of his passes as the Seagulls marched to the Fighters 8. But in an usual twist, Sugawara misfired on a screen pass to Kinoshita that was ruled a backward pass and Kwansei Gakuin’s Daisuke Hoso alertly pounced on the loose ball for a fumble recovery.

 

Obic’s defense effectively contained the Fighters’ scrambling quarterback Takuro Hata and neither team was able to put together a drive through much of the remainder of the first half, even after trading interceptions.

 

Kwansei Gakuin finally broke the stalemate on the final drive of the half to send the game into the intermission tied 7-7 with its first act of deception.

 

Starting at its own 37 with 1:44 left, Hata completed four passes for 48 yards to put the ball on the Obic 29. Lining up for a field goal on 4th-and-6 at the 25, the Fighters pulled off a surprise.

 

Holder Kosuke Sakurama took the snap, stood up and floated a pass to Takeshi Minamimoto, who was all alone on the right sideline. A better throw and Minamimoto could have waltzed into the end zone, but he lost his balance a little and stepped on the sideline at the 3.

 

After two incomplete passes, running back Satoshi Sagino took the snap and headed to the left on a sweep. As the defense converged on the ball carrier,  Mochizuki, the lead blocker on the play, broke into the end zone and Sagino dumped a pass to him for a touchdown with :19 left in the half.

 

The tie didn’t last long. On the first play of the third quarter, Obic’s Teruhisa Takizawa intercepted a Hata pass, returning it to the Fighters 35. Four plays later, Sugawara threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Kinoshita, who finished the day with eight receptions for 107 yards.

 

The two teams then made another trade—this time missed field goals, with Obic’s Yosuke Kaneoya falling short from 45 yards out and Kwansei Gakuin’s Horimoto going wide right on a 34-yard attempt. The Fighters’ drive was kept alive when an Obic interception was nullified by an offside penalty.

 

Obic had a chance to extend its lead early in the fourth quarter when it drove to the Fighters 4, but were again thwarted by a turnover. Kinoshita fumbled on an end around and Rui Nakanishi recovered for Kwansei Gakuin at the 11.

 

“We had so many chances to put the game away, but stuff that normally doesn’t happen, the turnovers deep in their territory, really hurt,” Jackson said.

 

That’s when things really got interesting.

 

Kwansei Gakuin, having only advanced to the 18, threw caution to the wind and faked the punt, with Horimoto flipping the ball to nearby Kazuya Okada, who ran 11 yards for a first down.  From there, Hata passed and ran the Fighters to the Obic 16.

 

Facing 4th-and-7 with 4:07 left in the game, Kwansei Gakuin rolled the dice again and once again it paid off, as Hata ran 11 yards for the first down. Mochizuki gained three yards to put the ball on the 2, then bulled in himself for his second touchdown with 3:00 left.

 

Forgoing the extra point and the possibility of the first tie in the 66-year history of the Rice Bowl, Kwansei Gakuin head coach Hideaki Toriuchi decided to go for the 2-point conversion and the win. And, staying in character, he used an unorthodox play.

 

Hata threw a lateral pass to Mochizuki, who headed for the left end. Just as he was met near the line of scrimmage by Kosho, Mochizuki looped a pass over the defenders to Taiji Koyama, who hauled it in to put the Fighters up 15-14.

 

“It went just as we practiced, where I can either toss it to Koyama or keep the ball and run,” said the 1.75-meter, 93-kilogram Mochizuki, who will join Obic next season. “The pressure came so I tossed it to Koyama.”

 

Asked his reaction when the play was called, the power back said, “Coach [Kazuki] Omura told us to focus on each play. Whether we win or lose, anyway, just focus on that play. More than being happy, my thinking was, ‘Let’s do it.’”

 

Obic started the ensuing drive on the 23 and, helped by a defensive holding penalty, advanced to the 44. But then Sugawara overthrew Ken Shimizu on a deep route and Masaki Toriuchi intercepted at the Fighters 30, seemingly to end the Seagulls’ chances.

 

After Obic got the ball back with 34 seconds left, Sugawara worked his magic and the rest is history.

 

Just to be sure the game didn’t end on a dull note, Sagino returned the ensuing kickoff 34 yards to the Obic 48. With time for one last play, Hata’s Hail Mary pass found a crowd in the end zone, but fell uncaught to the ground.

 

—Ken Marantz for the X-League

 

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