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Sugawara leads Seagulls to title

by Jason Coskrey

Shun Sugawara went from goat to hero within nine plays.

Redemption probably never tasted so sweet.

Sugawara threw two late interceptions before capping a nine-play, fourth-quarter drive with a 12-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Masatoshi Sugihara with 2:55 remaining to help the Obic Seagulls beat the Panasonic Impulse 20-16 in the Japan X Bowl on Monday at Tokyo Dome.

“We’ve had a lot of games like this, coming back from behind,” Sugawara said. “So we’re kind of used to it. We kept our concentration on every single play.

“If you lose in the final, you lose everything. I came into the game with that mindset.”

The game was a matchup of X League royalty and a rematch of the 2005 contest, which the Seagulls won 25-16. The two teams have combined to win 12 of the 24 Japan X Bowl titles. The Seagulls won for the first time since that 2005 matchup.

“It’s been a while,” Obic head coach Makoto Hashi said. “But this year’s team is a completely new team. Throughout the year our guys have been going all-out.”

Sugawara was the star of the 24th title game. He bought time time with his feet, was efficient with his passes and outplayed Panasonic’s All-X League quarterback Tetsuo Takada. He threw two touchdowns passes and was named the Japan X Bowl MVP.

Despite his two interceptions, after only throwing two all year, it ended up being one of the best night’s of the Obic signal-caller’s career. Which is special considering how close it came to being the worst.

With his team ahead 13-6 in the fourth, Sugawara was picked off by Impulse defensive back Yoshikuni Nakayama.

Takada then led the Impulse on a short drive that ended with a field goal and made the score 13-9.

The Impulse took the lead on the very next play from scrimmage, with Atsushi Tsuji jumping in front of receiver Takahito Anan and returning an interception for a go-ahead touchdown.

“I made some mistakes,” Sugawara said. “I need to eliminate those mistakes. But I didn’t give up and played all out until the end.”

Sugawara got the ball back on the Seagulls’ 37-yard line, trailing 16-13 with just under 8 minutes to play. Obic picked up a few yards on a running play to start the drive before Sugawara found Yoshiki Okada for an 18-yard gain.

The Seagulls ran the ball again for a two-yard gain, but a third-down sack by linebacker Kentaro Azuma left Obic facing a third-and-16 from the Panasonic 49.

Sugawara got them out of the hole with an 18-yard completion, then gained 11-yards on a quarterback keeper on the next play. The Seagulls worked their way down to the 12 and Sugawara found Sugihara near the end zone, and the fleet-footed running back did the rest.

“We were trying to run the ball anyway,” Sugawara said. “I was able to make the third-and-long play, but if it didn’t work we were going to gamble and go on fourth down.”

Takada got the ball back with just under three minutes left but a fourth-down interception by Seagulls linebacker Masatoshi Tsukada sealed the win.