When the bright lights are shining, no X League club rises to the occasion quite like the Obic Seagulls.
Quarterback Shun Sugawara threw three touchdown passes, including two in the second half, and the Obic defense forced three costly turnovers as the Seagulls soared to a third consecutive Japan X Bowl title with a 27-24 victory over the Kajima Deers in the 26th edition of the X League finale on Monday night at Tokyo Dome.
“We expected a tough game against Kajima,” Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi said. “I felt like we got better throughout the game. I’m so appreciative of the team.”
The Seagulls became the first team to win three straight X Bowl crowns, providing the perfect ending to a 9-0 2012 campaign. The Seagulls have now won seven X Bowls overall, the most in X League history.
Obic running back Takuto Hara was named the game’s MVP.
“I’m really excited,” Hara said. “This is something we won as a team.”
The Seagulls now move on to face collegiate champion Kwansei Gakuin in the Rice Bowl in January. Kwansei defeated Hosei, Hara’s alma mater, to earn its place in the game.
“I want to win for my school,” Hara said.
Sugawara was shaky early, but regained his footing as the game wore on and engineered three second-half scoring drives.
He got a lot of help from his defense, which forced one turnover in the third quarter and two more in the fourth.
Deers quarterback Takuya Yamashiro gave a valiant effort in defeat, throwing touchdown passes of 45 and 24 yards, but also had a pair of costly interceptions.
The Seagulls wasted little time getting on the board, with running back Takuya Yoshitani catching a pass out of the backfield and scampering 22 yards for a touchdown on their first possession of the game.
The teams traded punts to open the second quarter before the Deers’ star running back, Yasuhiro Murata, capped a grueling 90-yard, 13-play drive with a four-yard touchdown run.
Kajima defensive back Koki Kato stripped receiver Yuki Ikei of the ball during the Seagulls’ next drive and returned the ball to the Obic 23-yard line. The Deers would later take a 10-7 lead on a Daisuke Aoki’s 37-yard field goal.
The Deers’ first drive of the second half ended with an interception by Byron Beatty Jr., and Sugawara made Kajima pay by ending the ensuing Obic possession with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kentaro Mori that put the defending champions ahead 14-10.
The Deers responded with a quick three-play drive that was capped by Yamashiro’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Yasuhiro Miyamoto.
Sugawara hit back with a four-yard touchdown pass on the next drive, but a blocked extra point kept Kajima within three points.
Obic running back Tataeru Nakanishi put the Seagulls ahead 27-17 with a touchdown run late in the fourth, but a last gasp 24-yard touchdown pass from Yamashiro to Naoki Maeda again pulled Kajima within three points of a tie.
The Deers failed to convert the ensuing onside kick, however, and Obic was able to run out the clock and claim victory.
“It was a very tough game,” said Obic captain Naoki Kosho. “But we expected that coming in. So we tried to stay focused during every play.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.