/

Kwansei Gakuin reaches Rice Bowl

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Quarterback Kei Saito threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Takato Kido and Junya Miwa kicked three field goals, leading the Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters to a 23-9 triumph over the Nihon University Phoenix on Sunday at Koshien Stadium in the 68th Koshien Bowl.

The victory gave the Fighters their third straight collegiate national championship and 26th overall. The Fighters play the X League champion, which will be decided between the Fujitsu Frontiers and the Obic Seagulls in Monday’s Japan X Bowl, on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome in the Rice Bowl for the overall national crown.

“We abandoned our struggling running plays and turned to passing, and that worked out to score points,” Kwansei Gakuin head coach Hideaki Toriuchi said. “We have lost to the X League champion the past two seasons, and winning in the Rice Bowl has been our goal this year.”

This was the 27th matchup between the two schools, the most by far among the Koshien Bowl pairings, and the storied rivalry is called “The Blue (the Fighters) and Red (the Phoenix) Classic,” because of the jersey colors of the teams. The Phoenix lead 16-9 in the series that include a tie, but the Fighters have won the last three times.

The Fighters dominated defensively. Defensive end Kento Ikenaga sacked Phoenix freshman quarterback Ryohei Takahashi on the very first play from the scrimmage, and that set the tone for the west Japan champion. The Fighters held Takahashi, who completed 68.3 percent of passes in the Kanto League regular season, to 10-for-24 for only 36 yards. The Phoenix did not get a first down until midway through the second quarter.

The Fighters’ first possession was stopped at the Phoenix 1, but they managed to get on the scoreboard on a 19-yard field goal on the next possession to take an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter.

Saito hit Kido with a 7-yard touchdown pass and gave the Fighters a 10-0 lead with 11:12 left in the second quarter. The junior quarterback completed six of seven passes on a nine-play, 63-yard scoring drive.

The Phoenix countered with a 26-yard field goal 3:02 before halftime, but the Fighters then scored 13 unanswered points with two field goals and Saito hitting Kido midway through the final quarter.