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Seagulls capture fourth straight X League title

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

The Obic Seagulls remain the longest-reigning champion in X League history after winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive title by defeating the Fujitsu Frontiers 24-16 in the Japan X Bowl at Tokyo Dome on Monday.

The Seagulls will play collegiate champion Kwansei Gakuin University for the third straight year for the overall national championship in the Rice Bowl on Jan. 3.

The game was not as easy as it looked for the defending champs despite the Seagulls taking a 24-0 lead midway through the third quarter.

The Frontiers, the only team to beat the Seagulls in last four seasons, came back to cut the margin to eight points with 16 unanswered point. On the final drive, the Frontiers moved the ball to the Seagulls 36 with 0:01 to play, Obic defensive back Takeshi Miyake batted down Akihiro Izuhara’s “Hail Mary” pass in the end zone to wrap up the victory.

“We played well defensively in the first half, and that enabled us to escape the Frontiers’ comeback effort in the end,” Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi said. “Actually we had a lead in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t feel like that. We just focused on having the lead when the game is over no matter how the process went.”

The Seagulls opened the game with a big defensive play. Byron Beatty Jr. sacked Frontiers starting quarterback Keiya Hiramoto on the fifth play of the game. Hiramoto got injured and left the game for a while. He came back in the second half, but lasted only for three possessions and then left the game for good.

Another big defensive play by the Seagulls came on the next Fujitsu possession as Keizaburo Isagawa sacked Izuhara and forced a fumble, which was recovered by defensive end Kevin Jackson. Three plays later, Shun Sugawara hit wide receiver Noriaki Kinoshita with a 14-yard touchdown pass. The extra point kick was blocked.

The Seagulls made the score 14-0 on running back Takuya Furutani’s 5-yard scoring strike to tight end Akimitsu Mori and a successful two-point conversion with 2:05 into the second quarter. They added a field goal for a 17-0 halftime lead.

The Seagulls took advantage of the Frontiers’ turnover again when Beaty Jr. picked off Hiramoto’s pass and returned it to the Frontiers 4. Sugawara hit Ryoma Hagiyama with a 4-yard touchdown pass with 8:21 in the third quarter.

But the Seagulls failed to score again and allowed the Frontiers to rally. With the Seagulls up 24-3 in the fourth quarter, Fujitsu cornerback Al-Rilwan Adeyami intercepted Sugawara to set up Izuhara’s 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eiji Shiraki with 9:23 left. The two-point conversion failed.

After forcing the Seagulls into a three-and-out, the Frontiers came within one possession of tying it when Izuhara’s 1-yard scoring run capped a nine-play 55-yard drive that made the score 24-16.

The Frontiers got the ball back with 0:27 to play, but the comeback effort fell short.

“I think we had a lot of opportunities to put the game away early. But we kind of let them hang around,” said Jackson, who was named the game’s MVP. “(The Frontiers) were really high talented. Everyone across the league was talking about how good Fujitsu was, we probably weren’t going to win. So it feels good to prove a lot of people wrong.”