/

Ritsumeikan prepared to go through former hero to win national title

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Quarterback Tetsuo Takata is talked about as if he’s a historical figure for Ritsumeikan University’s football program.

Takata led the perennial football powerhouse in Kyoto to two consecutive Rice Bowl titles in 2003 and ’04, representing the last time a collegiate representative defeated an industrial Japan X Bowl champion in the game.

Time has past and now the Ritsumeikan squad, who captured the Koshien Bowl title to become the collegiate national champions by beating Hosei University 19-8 on Dec. 21, is going to challenge their revered alumnus when they face the Panasonic Electric Impulse in the 62nd edition of the national championship at Tokyo Dome on Jan. 3.

“In the history of Ritsumeikan’s American football program, he counts as one of the top quarterbacks,” Ritsumeikan head coach Yuichiro Furuhashi said of Takata, who now plays for the Impulse as their ace signal-caller, at a Tokyo news conference last week.

“He’s smart and doesn’t overdo things. He’s quick, too. He is a rare player you don’t want to play against as an enemy.”

Takata, who helped the Impulse seize the Rice Bowl trophy with his MVP performance last season, led the X League West division with 980 passing yards (third in the league) in the 2008 regular season, during which they went 4-1 (second in the division). He completed 64 of 101 passes (63.4 percent) and threw 12 touchdowns with just three interceptions (101-for-176, 13 TDs and 4 INTs including the playoffs).

Furuhashi said he doesn’t have any doubt in Takata’s natural-born abilities such as his arm strength and quick feet. But he’s also keenly aware Takata’s brain has caused trouble for his opponents.

“He’s smarter than you’d think” Furuhashi said. “He doesn’t throw a pass that may be picked off. And he’s got animal-like intuition that you can’t really explain. So he’s unmanageable. “Even if you try to trap him (with defensive plays), he manages to get around.”

While listening to his ex-coach Furuhashi speaking highly of him, Takata, who had also guided his Osaka Sangyo High School to the Christmas Bowl (high school national championship) title in 1999, felt embarrassed because he was never given such compliments at Ritsumeikan.

“That’s his strategy,” the 27-year-old Takata grinned. “He’s trying to put my guard down by saying that.”

But Takata said that he intends to embarrass Ritsumeikan by making big plays at the Rice Bowl.

“I’m not going to cut corners in the game,” he said. “Even though they are my alma mater, they’re our counterparts and it’s not going to be any different from facing any other teams.”

For Impulse head coach Hirokazu Murakami, Takata is a playmaker he can have total confidence in on the gridiron.

“Frankly speaking, I don’t really know what kind of player he was during his college days,” Murakami laughed.

“But his situation-reading ability, understanding of plays and leadership . . . he makes no mistakes. I have a strong contemplation about this guy.”

However, the battle for the national championship will not just be played between Takata and his ex-team.

Both the Impulse and Panthers are known to play — and win — with their hard-nosed defenses, but the reigning Rice Bowl champion Impulse are believed to have the edge because they carry a better offense.

The Impulse, who crushed the Kajima Deers 44-17 in the X Bowl on Dec. 13, averaged 48.6 points per game in the regular season, while giving up just 6.8 points on the defensive side.

“Panasonic Electric is really a great team,” said Furuhashi, whose Panthers had 27.1 points per game on offense and allowed 4.3 on defense (Ritsumeikan posted three shutouts in the regular season). “If you look at the members, I think this team is particularly strong.”

Murakami, however, countered by flattering Furuhashi, saying Ritsumeikan is “the best collegiate champion in recent years.”

“Their offense is getting better game in and game out,” Murakami said. “Especially, they have high percentage to score in their first and second offensive series.”

Since the Bowl is played with the champions of two different leagues, it’s not easy to predict which side wins with what score or what kind of game will be seen.

At last, Murakami jokingly became suspicious a little bit.

“I ate deer meat before the game against Kajima. So this time if there is a place that I can eat the meat of a panther, I’d like to know.”

The Rice Bowl kicks off at 2 p.m.