Quarterback Shun Sugawara is one tiny cookie. But he has a big heart, which helped him guide the Obic Seagulls to their first X League championship in five years.
The 172-cm Sugawara, who only threw two interceptions all year, was picked off twice in the Japan X Bowl against the Panasonic Electric Works Impulse on Monday.
Impulse head coach Hirokazu Murakami said afterward that he thought the 24-year-old quarterback would lose his rhythm after those errant throws.
But Sugawara overplayed Murakami’s assumption. He maintained his poise throughout the game and helped his team retake the lead with less than three minutes remaining.
“I tried to stay tough,” Sugawara said of his second interception, which allowed Panasonic to take a 16-13 lead in the final quarter of the Seagulls’ 20-16 win.
“It came from my immaturity. But I thought we’d still have a chance.”
Sugawara went 23-for-30 for 205 yards with two touchdowns and was selected the Most Valuable Player of the game.
Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi gave credit to the first-year Seagull for the big victory.
“He gave up interceptions, but didn’t lose his cool,” Ohashi said.
Many of the Seagulls players weren’t on the 2005 championship team. Yet perhaps Sugawara experienced the triumph differently than other members of the team.
After successful days at Hosei University, where he led the Tomahawks to two Koshien Bowl college national championships, Sugawara joined the Onward Oaks of the X League. But the top-division club disbanded after only a season due to financial reasons.
Sugawara next played for the Sagamihara Rise, which was established with former members of the Oaks. Initially, he was determined to help the then-third-division club rise to the top division and capture the X League championship along with his teammates.
After spending the 2009 season with the Rise, however, Sugawara made the decision to transfer to the Seagulls, a powerhouse team, seeking tougher competition and circumstances to make himself a better quarterback.
Sugawara said he had to earn credibility and respect with his new team, and he underwent a lot of tough times over the course of the season.
“This is my third team since Onward,” said Sugawara, who began playing football at Yokohama High School.
“I felt like I had to do it to improve as a quarterback.”
His decision and hard work throughout the season paid off and his team captured the X Bowl title. But there’s still some unfinished business ahead.
Sugawara is playing in his third Rice Bowl national championship game, which he has yet to win, against Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University Panthers on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome.
“I entered the industrial league to win in it,” Sugawara said. “The Rice Bowl title has been my dream, my goal.”