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Deers beat Frontiers to win Pearl Bowl title

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

In April, the Kajima Deers found out they were going to need to find a new sponsor at the end of the current X League season.

While that search is still ongoing, if any potential backers were watching them play Monday night, good news may be on the horizon.

Quarterback Takuya Yamashiro and the Deers offense put on a show through the air in the second half, scoring 17 unanswered points to earn a 17-10 victory over the Fujitsu Frontiers in Pearl Bowl XXXVI on Monday night at Tokyo Dome.

“We were able to move the chains in the first half,” Kajima head coach Kiyoyuki Mori said. “Our play wasn’t as bad as the halftime score (the Deers trailed 10-0). We knew Fujitsu would try to stop our running game, so we felt our passing would be effective in the second half.”

Yamashiro ended Kajima’s first two drives of the second half with touchdown passes to help his team overturn a 10-0 halftime deficit and win the Pearl Bowl title for the first time since 2009. He finished 16 of 22 for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

“We struggled to score in the first half, but believed we’d have a chance to catch up if we kept playing patiently,” Yamashiro said. “Our defense played great in the second half and gave us a chance to win.”

Receiver Yujiro Iwai caught three passes for 76 yards in the win and was named the game’s MVP. Iwai helped set up his team’s first score with a 48-yard reception in the third quarter and later scored the go-ahead touchdown.

“I’m happy that I took advantage of the few chances I had,” Iwai said.

Kajima receiver Naoki Maeda also had three receptions and finished with 45 yards and a touchdown.

The Pearl Bowl signals the end of the X League’s spring season and is a matchup of the final two teams remaining in the Pearl Bowl tournament.

The victory gives the Deers a bit of good news to fall back on after getting word that Japanese construction giant Kajima would be pulling its corporate backing after the season. Kajima cited financial reasons for the move. Meaning this was the team’s last Pearl Bowl under the Kajima banner.

“We have always had the mentality that every season could be our last even before this year,” Mori said. “We were not especially emotional for this game. We thank everyone who have supported the Kajima Deers.

The Deers reached the Pearl Bowl after playoff victories over the IBM Big Blue (32-26) and the Nojima Sagamihara Rise (27-12).

Fujitsu was playing for the title for the sixth time since 2003. The Frontiers edged Obic for the title in 2010, before the Seagulls returned the favor in 2011.

The rivals met in the semifinals of the Pearl Bowl tournament this season, with the Frontiers snapping the Seagulls’ 37-game winning streak, a run of over three years, with a 31-13 victory.

They looked primed to take home the title this season, grabbing an early 7-0 lead on running back Yusuke Shinji’s seven-yard scamper into the end zone in the first quarter. Fujitsu padded the lead with a 21-yard field goal at the 12:15 mark of the second quarter.

Kajima came out firing in the second half, with Yamashiro and Iwai connecting on a 48-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage. Yamashiro found receiver Naoki Maeda for a 29-yard touchdown pass on the Deers’ next play. Place kicker Daisuke Aoki converted the extra point to cut the Fujitsu lead to 10-7.

Yamashiro was at it again during the Deers’ second possession of the half. Facing a 2nd-and-8 from the 50, he found Yasuhiro Miyamoto for a 45-yard gain to the Fujitsu 5-yardline. Yamashiro was sacked on the next play, but bounced back on second down to find Iwai for a five-yard touchdown pass that put Kajima ahead.

“It wasn’t a designed play to be honest,” Iwai said. “It was a pass meant for (receiver Kento Suzuki), but the ball passed by him and I caught it. I knew I had caught, but I had to make sure I was in bounds.”

The Frontiers tried to mount a comeback, but had a drive stall on the Kajima 29 late in the fourth quarter.

The Deers took over and drove to the Frontiers’ 14, and Aoki added a field goal to make the score 17-10.

Staff writers Hiroshi Ikezawa and Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.