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TOP > What’s New > Vintage speedster: Obic veteran Kinoshita puts on another Pearl of a performance

What’s New

Vintage speedster: Obic veteran Kinoshita puts on another Pearl of a performance

’19.06.20

Obic’s Noriaki Kinoshita breaks free on a 66-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. (photo by MI Planning)

 

 

 

By Ken Marantz

 

TOKYO (June 17)—Noriaki Kinoshita showed there is still plenty of speed left in those 36-year-old legs of his. If the 66-yard touchdown reception wasn’t convincing enough, then the 70-yard one ended any doubt.

 

With Kinoshita turning on the jets, the Obic Seagulls soared past the IBM BigBlue for the third straight year in the championship game of the Pearl Bowl, rolling to a 31-15 victory before 12,936 at Tokyo Dome.

 

Kinoshita hauled in three touchdown passes among his six catches for 170 yards, with the 70-yarder midway through the third quarter in particular showing just what a deadly weapon he remains.

 

Taking a simpled flair pass in the flat from Skyler Howard, Kinoshita simply blasted through a small gap in the surrounding defenders and outraced everyone into the end zone.

 

“I only ran as fast as I could straight ahead,” Kinoshita said. “I didn’t need to cut back. I think I showed that the old man can still run.”

 

Howard, in his second year at Obic out of West Virginia University, has come to appreciate the attitude that Kinoshita displays as well as the skills that led him to spend time in the Atlanta Falcons training camp and gain notoriety in NFL Europe.

 

“He’s so saavy, he knows the game, and he knows the angles, and he’s going to get the job done,” said Howard, who completed 11 of 15 passes for 273 yards and all three touchdowns.

 

“I’ve learned so much from him, and I’m still learning, just because of all of his experiences of playing in other countries. The difficulties that come, language and everything, he understands. We talk a lot.”

 

While Kinoshita reveled in Obic’s record-tying eighth Pearl Bowl victory and receiving the third game MVP award of his career, he also regreted letting a potential touchdown catch get away in the first quarter.

 

On a 3rd-and-15 at the IBM 28, Howard scrambled to his right before throwing to Kinoshita, who had broken for the end zone. Kinoshita raced under the ball, but it bounced off his fingertips and fell incomplete. Obic came away empty-handed when Takatoshi Hoshino then missed a 35-yard field goal attempt.

 

“That’s a ball I can’t drop,” Kinoshita said. “It caused us to lose momentum. I’m being praised for scoring three touchdowns, but that one miss was a big thing.”

 

Said Howard: “I thought he had it. It was exactly the same play that we had in last year’s Pearl Bowl [a 30-yard touchdown pass in a 28-2 win]. The exact same play. Roll right, he’s in the flat, he turns it up. We just got to finish. He would have had four [TDs].”

 

Kinoshita had been sure-handed on the previous series, when a bad snap on the punt gave Obic the ball at the IBM 7, and two plays later Howard found Kinoshita on a slant over the middle for a 4-yard touchdown pass.

 

After the two teams traded field goals in the second quarter, Kinoshita made the first of his two big touchdown receptions, and he showed he had some power to go with his speed.

 

On the first play from the Obic 34, Howard connected with Kinoshita well down field. Defensive back Ryosuke Morioka had a clear shot at Kinoshita at the IBM 25, but he was brutally stiff-armed aside, allowing Kinoshita to cut back and race the rest of the way into the end zone.

 

For Kinoshita, there was nothing particularly special for the player who has been named to the All X-League team six times, three each as a wide receiver and as a kick returner—including both in 2014.

 

“I just played as usual, as I’ve always been doing,” said Kinoshita, who is the second-oldest player on the Obic roster (linebacker Hitoshi Sakata is one month older). “I think maybe the coverage was bit weak against me. I thought they would cover me better. Perhaps they were taking me lightly.”

 

According to IBM defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer, it was not that the BigBlue ignored Kinoshita’s game-breaking talent. The difference, he said, was in the philosophy of what each team wanted to get out of the spring tournament for the Kanto region teams.

 

“He’s great,” Kaumeyer said of Kinoshita. “But again, it’s the spring. We’re not going to game plan. We want to evaluate our players. Obviously if we’re in the fall, we’re going to game plan him and a couple of their other receivers, too.

 

“But I want to evaluate guys, I want them to understand that you got to play fundmentals. I talked to their coaches, and I know they take it more serious. Which is awesome. But I think it’s great that our guys competed in the semis and we compete here today and did a good job.

 

“We’re very thankful we didn’t get any injury, that’s the No. 1 thing. We need to be healthy, especially those first three games in the fall,” he added, referring to IBM’s fall schedule, in which it starts with games against the Fujitsu Frontiers, Nojima Sagamihara Rise and Panasonic Impulse.

 

Kaumeyer, however, said he was concerned about the mistakes that gave Kinoshita the room to break away on his big runs, particularly in the pass in the flat.

 

“I like Kinoshita, he’s a great player, but that’s just a bad play defensively,” he said. “If it’s to the field, he’s got some moves, he’s got some space, that’s a lot tougher. But in the boundary, you have the sideline, use it. And I think there’s a few times where we did not play smart fundamentals. Against a team like that, or Fujitsu, they make you pay, and that’s a sign of a good team.”

 

IBM, which trailed 17-3 at halftime, pulled to within eight in the third quarter when Yuki Masamoto threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Hirokazu Maeda (safety Bronson Beatty broke up a 2-point conversion pass).

 

But Kinoshita ripped off his 70-yard touchdown catch-and-run on the next play from scrimmage, and IBM was limited the rest of the way to Masamoto’s 4-yard touchdown run on the opening play of the fourth quarter.

 

Obic, which got a 5-yard touchdown run from Taku Lee later in the fourth quarter to put the game away, became the first team to three-peat since the now-defunct Onward Oaks did it from 1992-94. The eight overall titles ties the Seagulls with the Kashima (now Lixil) Deers.

 

The real payoff, however, will be whether Obic can keep the momentum going into the fall, where it hasn’t won a championship since winning an unprecedented fourth straight in 2013.

 

“This brings the spring season to a close,” Kinoshita said of the significance of the Pearl Bowl win. “In connection with the fall, the Pearl Bowl is a big thing. It becomes an indicator. Many fans came to watch, and it was good for our teammates to experience the tension of playing in a big game. It gives them an idea of the Japan X Bowl semifinals and final.”

 

Kaumeyer also looks at playing before a big crowd at Tokyo Dome as a positive experience, particularly for the younger players.

 

“To me, getting players to play in the dome, and have them experience it, it will help them in the future,” said the former NFL player and coach. “Obic’s got a great team, they’ve got good players, they’re kinda used to being in there. It’s a little bit easier for them.

 

“But for us, we have a lot more young players on defense. We’ve had some turnover over the years. I want to make sure those guys understand how to compete against a good team, because we definitely have to do that in the fall.”

 

Obic, whose 2018 fall season ended with a 13-10 loss to eventual champion Fujitsu, will look to spend the summer finding a way to become the first team to  achieve the Pearl Bowl-Japan X Bowl double since the Seagulls themselves did it in 2012.

 

“It’s the same situation as last season,” Howard said. “[Patriots coach] Bill Belichik says, ‘OK, we won the Super Bowl, but we’re five weeks behind everyone right now.’ I’m excited to get home to Texas to train. I’ve got Taku Lee and [wide receiver] Aruto [Nishimura] coming with me to Texas to train. We’re going to get to work there, and I’m really excited to get started.”

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