The Obic Seagulls captain Tatsuro Shoji is uplifted by the opportunity to pay back for a humiliation.
“This is our last and biggest motivation of the season,” the 32-year-old defensive tackle said at a news conference on Dec. 6.
The Seagulls will take on the Matsushita Electric Ltd. Impulse in the Japan X Bowl, seeking to avenge a defeat in last season’s playoffs, when the Seagulls ended up with just 126 offensive yards and lost 10-7.
“We’ve been focusing on giving 100 percent from the spring, and the final opponent will be a team that beat us last season,” Shoji said. “So I can’t be more pleased than playing with them.”
But it will clearly not be an easy task for the Seagulls.
The defending champion Impulse, of the West Division, went undefeated in the five-game regular season and the Final 6 playoffs behind their solid defense. They allowed just 17 points in the regular season (3.4 points per game), and shut out the Kajima Deers 3-0 in the Final 6 semifinals.
On the other hand, the Seagulls were also undefeated in the season and playoffs. But they achieved the feat with their superb offensive power.
Obic opened the season with a 52-0 victory over the Tokyo Gas Creators, and maintained the offensive surge until the playoffs. The Seagulls scored at least 21 points each a game and amassed league-leading 202 points (40.4 per game) in the regular season.
They averaged 26 points per game last season, but they upgraded their attack further this season.
The biggest revelation for the Seagulls has been quarterback Manabu Tatsumura, who took over as the starter this past spring. The 24-year-old Tatsumura completed 58 passes in 83 attempts (69.9 percent) for 11 touchdowns, with no interceptions.
The young signal-caller, along with veteran versatile running back Takuya Furutani, who racked up 379 rushing yards this season, helped the Seagulls advance to the X Bowl game for the first time in three years.
But Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi worries whether his squad can handle the steel curtain-like Matsushita defense.
“The Impulse have quality talents and its team play is so great, too,” Ohashi said. “It is convincing that they are a champion team.”
Ohashi said if his team is on a roll, he knows the Seagulls will not have much problem to overwhelm the defending champs. But he also knows that his team tends to be capricious.
“When we aren’t on a roll, we are like a flock of lambs,” he said.
“Hopefully, we get on a roll and make some big plays.”
While the Seagulls will enter the gridiron with emotion and heart, the Impulse are humble and even timid. What the Impulse players and coaches expressed about their team is not about their signature defense but their unstable offense.
“I have mixed feelings,” Impulse offensive lineman and captain Shunji Kuraya said, asked how he feels about advancing to the championship game. “Because our offense has never worked out well this season.
“We’ve been like this since the spring. Every time we say to ourselves that we have next, but things haven’t turned around the way we wanted it to be.”
Apart from the questions of hearts and guts, the Japan X Bowl boils down to the Impulse’s solid defense versus the Seagulls’ fierce offense.
“They (Matsushita) will probably come against us with power,” Shoji said. “So we want to play with speed instead, and rob the ball from them.”
Matsushita is playing in the X League championship game for its 10th time, while Obic is playing for its fifth.
The two sides will face each other for the first time since 1995, when the Impulse crushed the Seagulls 54-20.
The 19th Japan X Bowl will kick off at 6:30 p.m., on Monday at Tokyo Dome.