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Yasumoto Sasaki recorded a game-high three quarterback sacks as the X League champion Asahi Beer Club Silver Star defeated the collegiate representative Kwansei Gakuin Fighters 33-17 in the Rice Bowl on Monday at the Tokyo Dome.

The Silver Star captured their first all-Japan national title since 1994 and third overall. Kwansei Gakuin dropped to an 0-4 record in the Rice Bowl, in which the company league representatives hold a 9-8 overall lead against the collegiate champions and are 7-1 in the last eight seasons.

“It was a long road to come over here,” said Asahi head coach Toshiaki Abe, who also coached the national team in last year’s World Cup victory. “This title is significant because I and some of my players sacrificed a lot of time to win the World Cup last year. My team still won the title and I’m very proud of that.”

Directed by Yoshitomo Kanaoka, who completed 11 of 15 for 157 yards and rushed for 72 yards in the game, the Silver Star had no problem getting on the scoreboard first against the nation’s stingiest college defense, which allowed only 13 points in the seven-game regular season this year. In their first possession, the Silver Star completed a 13-play, 83-yard TD drive for a 7-0 lead.

An interception by Shinichi Shirahama at Asahi’s 11-yard line killed a scoring chance for the Fighters early in the second quarter, and set up the Silver Star’s second TD drive, which was capped by Ryuichi Saito’s 27-yard scoring run with 8:56 to go in the first half.

The Fighters quickly responded on Hayato Arima’s 79-yard TD pass to Yusuke Tatomi two minutes later. However, Kwansei Gakuin’s comeback didn’t last long when Yu Nakamura rushed 35 yards for a score with 4:37 remaining in the second period.

The Silver Star displayed a strong running game in the second half to wear out the Fighters defense and control the game.

The Fighters managed to score a TD and a field goal in the second half, but also gave up a TD and two field goals to the opponent. With 44 seconds left, Asahi defensive tackle Taro Miyoshi forced a fumble by Arima to wrap up the title.

Namakura, who rushed a team-best 80 yards, was named the game’s MVP.

“We were more motivated this season than in the past,” captain Sasaki said. “Since we lost in the X League final last season, we’ve been in a must-win mode and that brought us over here.”

Before the game, the American Football Association of Japan announced that Hirotaro Higuchi, an honorary chairman of the Asahi Breweries, Ltd., was named the first-ever commissioner of the association. The AFAJ explained Higuchi will play a consulting role to the association. The AFAJ apparently hopes Higuchi can improve the economic condition of football because of his power in Japan’s economic field.

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