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Seagulls stage comeback, defeat Rise in Pearl Bowl Tournament semifinals

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Shun Sugawara hit Ryoma Hagiyama with two touchdown passes as the Obic Seagulls came from behind to beat the Nojima Sagamihara Rise 21-10 in the Pearl Bowl Tournament semifinals on Saturday at Kawasaki Fujimi Stadium.

The Seagulls advanced to the Pearl Bowl Final for the first time in two seasons and play the Fujitsu Frontiers, who defeated the defending champion Lixil Deers 45-28 in the other semifinal game later on Saturday.

Under heavy rain, the Seagulls and the Rise played a mistake-prone game, seeing some drops, fumbles and erratic snaps. But mistakes proved to be more costly for the Rise.

The Rise took a 7-0 lead when Toru Sakuma intercepted Obic rookie quarterback Takushiro Hata’s pass on the second play of the Seagulls’ first possession, and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.

But the lead did not last long. The Rise forced the Seagulls to punt three possessions later, but returner Yu Nakada muffed the punt and Obic’s Yuta Terada recovered it to extend the Seagulls offensive series. Three plays later, Takuya Furutani rushed 8 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 4:30 left in the first quarter.

After the Rise led 10-7 with Shin Idezawa’s 25-yard field goal in the second quarter, the Seagulls replaced Hata with veteran Sugawara to establish an offensive rhythm. That worked as Sugawara threw a 24-yard scoring strike to Hagiyama with 0:16 remaining in the second quarter for a 14-10 halftime lead.

The Seagulls also made their share of mistakes. Midway through the third quarter, the Seagulls had the ball at the Rise 15 on fourth down. But their field-goal attempt failed when holder Yuki Hirano couldn’t catch the snap.

However, the crucial error occurred for the Rise on their next possession. Facing fourth-and-14 at their own 41, Rise punter Idezawa’s knee touched the ground when he caught a long snap that sailed too low. That gave the Seagulls the ball at the Rise 27 and Sugawara made the best of the opportunity, hitting Hagiwara again with a 3-yard touchdown toss with 2 minutes to play in the third period for the only score in the second half.

“We did not play well today. We did not make the plays with the high quality that it should have been,” Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi said. “We have to be able to play well constantly no matter what the weather, or no matter who we play.”

In the other game on Saturday, Colby Cameron threw three touchdown passes and Gino Gordon rushed for two scores in the Frontiers’ victory.

Cameron completed 21 of 36 passes for 247 yards while Gordon gained 78 yards on 18 carries. Keita Takanohashi rushed 13 times for 108 yards.

The Frontiers built a 17-0 lead in the first half. After a scoreless third quarter, the game turned into a shootout in the final period.

Lixil quarterback Shohei Kato hit Naoki Maeda with 77- and 54-yard touchdown passes on back-to-back possessions to break open a 56-point fourth quarter, cutting the Frontiers’ lead to 24-14.

The Frontiers countered with Cameron’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Sei Kyo two plays later. On the next Deers possession, Yasuhiro Maruta scored on a 1-yard rush.

The onside kick by the Deers was recovered by Junpei Yoshimoto of the Frontiers at their own 35. They needed only three plays to score another touchdown, making it 38-21.

Then Yuto Fujimori of the Deers returned the following kickoff 91 yards to the Frontiers 4, setting up Kato’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Yujiro Iwai. But the Deers comeback effort fell short when their onside kick was recovered by Yoshimoto again and the Frontiers scored an insurance touchdown on Gordon’s 5-yard run with 0:17 to play.

“We’re glad to be able to play another game in this spring season,” Fujitsu coach Satoshi Fujita said. “Cameron has been establishing the combination with the receivers game by game. It’s getting better. On defense, we have to figure out why we allowed that many touchdowns in the final quarter.”

The Pearl Bowl final is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. on June 23 at Tokyo Dome.