The Panasonic Impulse came out on top at the end of a thrilling contest to win the Rice Bowl national championship game for the first time in eight years with a 22-19 victory over collegiate champion Ritsumeikan University at Tokyo Dome on Sunday.
Panasonic, which defeated the Fujitsu Frontiers in December’s Japan X Bowl, was victorious in the annual game for the fourth time.
Trailing 19-15 with 1 minute, 31 seconds left in the game, the X League squad took the lead on a spectacularly designed play.
Operating in their own territory, the Impulse ran a 55-yard scoring play that saw quarterback Tetsuo Takata sling a pass to wide receiver Koji Honda, who quickly lateraled the ball to wideout Taiji Koyama, who ran it into the end zone.
Ritsumeikan, which won the Koshien Bowl collegiate championship for the first time in seven years last month, tried to take the lead back in the waning moments but the Panasonic defense stood tall.
Ritsumeikan missed a 49-yard field goal that would’ve tied the game in the final seconds.
“There was no way I’d think this game would be like this, and it gave me a stomachache,” said veteran defensive lineman Yasuo Wakisaka, who has competed in all five IFAF World Championships. “(Ritsumeikan) had great chemistry and it’s been a while since we struggled like this. They were a really great team.”
Ritsumeikan, nicknamed the Panthers, was nearly the first collegiate team to win the Rice Bowl since 2009, when it beat Panasonic.
Quarterback Yuto Nishiyama completed a 54-yard pass to wide receiver Seiya Inokuma for a touchdown that gave the Panthers their first lead with 4:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But the more experienced Impulse weren’t rattled and capped the ensuing drive with their dazzling game-winning play.
“We still had time on the clock, so we just tried to play our kind of ball and retake the lead,” Panasonic head coach Nobuyoshi Araki said. “Things didn’t really go well for us today, but our players performed in the way they always do no matter what situation they face.”
The retiring Takata, a Ritsumeikan product who played the last game of his career, said he wasn’t able to play as well as he would’ve hoped, but was still happy to get the winning trophy in his hands because of the effort from the entire team.
“We played as a team, including our defense, today,” Takata said. “Indescribable emotions are pouring out of my heart right now.”
Takata completed 12 of 17 passes for 183 yards with one TD and an interception.
Panasonic running back Sho Yokota was named the Rice Bowl MVP. He finished with 88 yards rushing and scored a touchdown in the third quarter.
The Panthers’ Nishiyama threw for 207 yards, while Chuck Mills Trophy-winning running back Nanato Nishimura rushed for 97 yards and had a touchdown.
Dolphins, GM part ways
The Miami Dolphins didn’t wait for the end of the season to begin their latest organizational shakeup.
The departure of general manager Dennis Hickey after two years in Miami was announced Saturday on the eve of the season finale against New England. The move is part of an anticipated restructuring that will include a coaching search.
The Dolphins went 8-8 last year and are 5-10 this season, in part because of unproductive draft choices and other unsuccessful personnel moves during Hickey’s tenure.
In statements released by the team, Hickey and executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum both said the decision for the GM to leave was mutual.
“Over the past week, I have had a number of conversations with the Dolphins organization about my role in the team,” Hickey said. “Ultimately the Dolphins and I agreed that it would be best if we parted ways.”
Said Tannenbaum: “We talked about a number of different possibilities, but at the end we reached this agreement.”
The move wasn’t a surprise, and other changes are coming. Tannenbaum has been with Miami for only one year and will be retained, but the Dolphins are likely to hire their ninth head coach since 2004.