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Seagulls outlast Frontiers in wild Pearl Bowl

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Nogizaka 46 fans might have enjoyed the halftime show in which their lovely idols performed. But they missed one of the most exciting thrillers in Pearl Bowl history as most of them left the game with the departure of the popular girls before the second half started.

Shun Sugawara outperformed former Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron when he threw a game-tying touchdown pass as time expired in regulation and scored the decisive touchdown in the second tiebreaker, leading the Obic Seagulls to a 37-34 victory over the Fujitsu Frontiers Monday night at Tokyo Dome.

The Seagulls clinched the Pearl Bowl championship for the first time in two years and their fifth overall.

Noriaki Kinoshita, who caught eight passes for 236 yards and two scores, was named the game’s MVP.

“To be honest with you, I’m so exhausted,” said Obic coach Makoto Ohashi, drawing laughter from the media after the game that lasted 3 hours and 34 minutes and saw seven lead changes. “Sugawara can control the game in the clutch moments. The throw (on the game-tying touchdown) was outstanding.”

With the Frontiers up 28-22 in the fourth quarter, the Seagulls started the drive on their 19 with 2:03 to play in regulation. Sugawara hit his reliable targets, Kinoshita, Ryoma Hagiyama and Yuki Ikei while escaping the Frontiers pass rush with scrambles to keep the drive alive.

The Seagulls advanced to the Frontiers 9 with 0:27 left in regulation. But a sack on third-and-6 pushed the Seagulls back 10 yards. With no timeouts remaining, Sugawara quickly set up and started the play, bought time for receivers to get open by avoiding a couple of tackles, and finally hit Takuya Furutani in the end zone with a 19-yard pass, tying the game at 28-28.

Excessive celebration on the Seagulls sideline after the score drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that put the ball on the 18-yard line for the extra point play. Yosuke Kaneoya’s kick sailed wide left and the game went to the tiebreaker, where teams start offense on the opponent’s 25, have alternating possessions and keep playing until the tie is broken.

After a 3-3 tie in the first tiebreaker, the Frontiers scored on a field goal by Hidetetsu Nishimura on their second possession. But the Seagulls marched to the 8-yard line on three plays and Sugawara capped the go-ahead drive with a 6-yard scoring rush.

Before a crowd of 16,869, the rivals competed in an exciting see-saw battle. The Seagulls kept pressure on Cameron, who had thrown eight touchdown passes over three games this spring.

The Frontiers countered with a quick passing attack and run featuring fellow American Geno Gordon but struggled to keep drives alive in the first half.

The Seagulls scored first as Sugawara threw a 81-yard touchdown pass with 6:38 into the game for a 6-0 lead (extra-point kick failed). The Frontiers quickly answered with Gordon’s 35-yard scoring run 70 seconds later, taking a 7-6 lead.

Kaneoya’s 20-yard field goal in closing second of the first quarter gave the Seagulls 9-7 lead, but it didn’t last long.

Fujitsu defensive back Yuki Ishii intercepted a pass and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter, giving the Frontiers a 14-9 lead at halftime.

Seagulls rookie quarterback Takushiro Hata appeared in the second half and threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Kinoshita with 9:36 left in the third quarter. After a missed two-point conversion by Seagulls made the score 15-14, Gordon’ second touchdown run of the game once again gave the lead to the Frontiers.

Sugawara returned on the final play of the third period to replace injured Hata and threw another scoring pass to Hagiyama, making it 22-21.

In the fourth quarter, Cameron finally found his rhythm and connected with Sei Kyo on a 10-yard touchdown pass that capped a 10-play, 77-yard drive, the longest of the game for the Frontiers. That put his team in front 28-22.

But the margin soon proved to be not enough to give the Frontiers their first Pearl Bowl title since 2010 and allowed the Seagulls to have the game-tying touchdown drive.