Toshiki Sato kicked a 25-yard field goal with 7 minutes remaining in the final quarter as the Waseda University Big Bears defeated the Meiji University Griffins 16-15 on Saturday at Amino Vital Field in the Kanto Collegiate Football League season opener.
The league began its 80th season with a new divisional format, dividing the old two-block, 16-school first division into the “Top 8” and the “Big 8.”
The top eight colleges last year, based on their won-loss records — Nihon, Hosei, Waseda, Keio, Meiji, Chuo, Rikkyo and Nippon Sport Science — are now in the Top 8, whose champion will earn a berth to the national championship tournament.
The Big 8 is comprised of Yokohama National, Kanagawa, Senshu, Tokyo, Takushoku, Sophia, Komazawa and Tokyo Institute of Technology.
The purpose of the new arrangement is to make the league competitive enough to win the national championship, which no Kanto college has done since 2006. The champion of the Kansai League has won the last seven national championships.
The Big Bears scored the first touchdown of the inaugural season when senior quarterback Yuta Uchimura threw a 23-yard scoring pass to Yoshihiro Okada with 6:54 left in the opening quarter. Uchimura hit Kazuhiro Sugai with a 15-yard touchdown pass five minutes later (the extra-point kick failed).
The Griffins struggled against the Big Bears’ tight defense and were held to three field goals by Hiroyuki Akatsu in the first half.
With the Big Bears up 13-9 in the third quarter, however, the Griffins found their offensive rhythm in the ground game and freshman running back Taku Kangawa scored on a 13-yard run with 1:08 remaining in the third quarter, giving the Griffins a 15-13 lead. A blocked kick on the extra-point attempt killed the Griffins’ chances to have a three-point lead, which proved costly.
The Big Bears’ defense kept the Griffins away from the red zone and helped score the go-ahead points on Sato’s kick.
The other game scheduled for Saturday between Hosei University and Chuo University was suspended with Hosei leading 26-6 with 4:56 to play at Amino Vital Field because of a thunderstorm. The game resumes at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday at the same venue.