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Obic routs Kwansei Gakuin for fourth straight Rice Bowl triumph

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

The Obic Seagulls rewrote the history book of American football in Japan again as they clinched their unprecedented fourth consecutive Rice Bowl title by defeating the college champion Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters 34-16 on Friday at Tokyo Dome.

The old record for consecutive Rice Bowl championships was three, set by the Seagulls in 2011-2013 and Nihon University in 1989-91.

The Seagulls, who won their fourth straight and eighth overall X League championship — both league records — last month, extended their record for the most overall national championships to seven.

“Our players improved game by game this season,” Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi said. “Now we’re the overall champion for the fourth straight year. The players can be proud of it.”

The X League representatives have won the Rice Bowl for the fifth year in a row and nine times out of the last 10 seasons.

It was the same matchup for the third straight Rice Bowl and the Seagulls beat the Fighters by the biggest margin. The Seagulls won by 10 and six points in the last two competitions.

Playing before a crowd of 29,564, the Seagulls showed a balanced attack on their first possession and took a 7-0 lead on Shun Sugawara’s 17-yard scoring pass to Ryoma Hagiyama just 3:46 into the game.

The Fighters, however, answered right back when Satoshi Sagino scored on a 6-yard touchdown run on the next possession. Junior quarterback Kei Saito’s 55-yard pass to Takato Kido set up the score.

The Fighters used a variety of trick plays, such as fake punts or a flea flicker play, to try to surprise the Seagulls, but the X League champion was well-prepared and never lost its rhythm.

In the second quarter, the Seagulls turned to a run-heavy offense against the Fighters’ 3-3-5 formation, which was effective against the pass but vulnerable against the run. Takuto Hara rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns and earned the game’s MVP award, while Takuya Furutani added a team-high 126 yards on the ground.

The running attack also helped the Seagulls eat up time off the clock. The Seagulls took four minutes off the clock on their eight-play, 81-yard scoring drive midway through the second quarter, and 3:30 on the last drive when they added three points on a 25-yard field goal before the half.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Fighters advanced to the Obic 4, but Saito was sacked by Kevin Jackson on third down and settled for a 31-yard field goal, making the score 17-10.

But the Seagulls wasted no time to widen their lead as they rushed six straight plays that covered 51 yards during the seven-play, 69-yard scoring drive. Hara’s 9-yard run capped the drive to give the Seagulls a 24-10 lead.

The Seagulls made it 31-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter on Sugawara’s 1-yard rush. His 52-yard strike to Hagiyama highlighted the drive.

The Fighters marched to the Seagulls’ red zone three times later in the game, but they wasted the first two opportunities with a missed field goal and an interception. Finally, they scored a touchdown with 1:19 remaining (two-point conversion failed), but it was too late. With no timeouts left, they just watched the opponents take a knee to wrap up the victory.

“We are trying to change Japanese football, in a lot of ways,” Jackson said. “So we are trying to break a lot of things that are considered to be normal. We just set new goals ourselves, doing things that other teams haven’t done, trying to raise the bar a little bit.”