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Obic, Fujitsu advance to final

Winning teams have two weeks to get ready for Japan X Bowl

by Hiroshi Ikezawa and Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writers

Shun Sugawara threw three touchdown passes and scored another on the ground as the Obic Seagulls took advantage of six turnovers to rout the Kajima Deers 45-20 on Sunday in the semifinals of the X League playoffs.

The defending X League and national champion Seagulls will play the Fujitsu Frontiers, who defeated the Nojima Sagamihara Rise 38-3 in the other semifinal game on Sunday, in the Japan X Bowl on Dec. 19 at Tokyo Dome for the X League championship.

Playing before a crowd of 3,200 at Yokohama Stadium, the Seagulls dominated offensively against the archrival Deers. They scored on four of their first five possessions to build a 24-13 halftime lead before outscoring Kajima 21-7 in the second half.

Sugawara was 16 of 25 passing for 203 yards and threw an interception. Running back Takuya Furutani rushed for 110 yards on 18 carries while wide receiver Noriaki Kinoshita, former international practice squad player with the Atlanta Falcons, caught four passes for 77 yards including a spectacular 38-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.

“We haven’t played well offensively this season, so we decided to win this game with our side of the ball today,” Sugawara said.

“During the two weeks since the last game (against Asahi Soft Drinks on Nov. 20), we have improved a lot. Now we got another two weeks before the Japan X Bowl, and I expect this team to step up more.”

Obic’s defense also played a significant role by forcing a number of turnovers. Two of the Seagulls’ six takeaways led to touchdowns and each of the Deers’ final three possessions ended on interceptions.

“I always tell my defensive players that when you have a plus-three turnover ratio, you’ll win the game no matter what the stats are,” said Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi, whose team was plus-five in the turnover battle in the game. “Turnovers are the major reason we had a big score today.”

The first turnover was timely for the Seagulls. After the Deers cut the Seagulls’ lead to 17-7 in the second quarter, Obic defensive end Kevin Jackson batted a pass by Kajima’s Yosuke Ozaki at the line of scrimmage and defensive line Mitsunori Kihira picked it off at Kajima’s 20-yard line. Two plays later, Sugawara rushed 15 yards for a score and the Seagulls maintained at least an 11-point lead the rest of the way.

“We’re in a good spot right now. We’re picking things up both on offense and defense,, said Jackson who also recorded a sack. “(The Japan X Bowl) is a chance to win the championship back to back. I don’t think it’s been done for a while. So this is a big opportunity for us. We really want to win.”

In the second game of the X League final stage, Fujitsu powerful offense overwhelmed the Rise both in the air and on the ground as the Frontiers routed Nojima Sagamihara.

Running back Kosuke Kamiyama led Fujitsu’s 257-yard rushing attack with a 117-yard, two-touchdown performance. Yuichi Kon rushed for 101 yards as well.

The Frontiers racked up 415 total yards on offense, while Nojima Sagamihara had 222.

The Rise, who were promoted from the second division this season, reached the playoffs.

Trailing 3-0, the Frontiers quickly responded, capitalizing on their no-huddle offense, and made it 14-3 by the end of the first quarter.

Fujitsu extended its lead by scoring 24 points in the second half, while its defense did not give the Rise many chances to reach the end zone throughout the game.

“Our lines played patiently and our backs played well, too,” Frontiers head coach Satoshi Fujita said after the game. “They made our game easier in the second half.”

Now the Frontiers have advanced to the Japan X Bowl for the first time in two years. They earned the spot in the X League championship game three times in the past but never grabbed the title.

“It doesn’t mean (expletive) if you don’t win the game,” said Fujitsu wide receiver Brad Brennan, whose touchdown catch gave his team a 7-3 lead, referring to the Japan X Bowl title. “So no one remembers who came second or third or fourth. If you win it, people will remember.

“So hopefully this year we can get it done, and if we concentrate on ourselves and get better every single day, we’ve got a great chance.”