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IBM Big Blue pound Lixil Deer, qualify for X League playoffs

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Kevin Craft threw three touchdown passes and scored two more on the ground, leading the IBM BigBlue to a 38-10 victory over the Lixil Deers on the final day of the X League regular season on Sunday at Yokohama Stadium.

Both the BigBlue and the Deers finished the season with 6-1 records and advanced to the four-team playoffs.

Also on Sunday, the Fujitsu Frontiers defeated the Panasonic Impulse 48-24 at Osaka’s Kincho Stadium to finish the regular season with a perfect 7-0 record and earn the top seed for the playoffs. In the later game at the same site, the Obic Seagulls beat the Elecom Kobe Finies 45-0 to get in the playoffs.

The Deers, the BigBlue and the Seagulls are tied at 6-1, but the BigBlue are the second seed for the playoffs because of the best strength of schedule (win total of the opponents they beat), followed by the Deers and the four-time defending national champion Seagulls.

In the first round of the playoffs, the BigBlue take on the Deers again while the Frontiers play the Seagulls, both on Nov. 30 at Yokohama Stadium. The winners face each other in the Japan X Bowl on Dec. 19 at Tokyo Dome for the X League championship.

The BigBlue, needing a victory to earn a playoff berth, played another high-scoring game, gaining 452 yards on offense. Craft completed 22 of 31 passes for 246 yards and three scores while throwing two interceptions. He also rushed 11 times for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

“Kevin ran more than usual today. He did not forced himself to throw in tough situations and got off to running,” IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada said. “This was a must-win game for us, and Kevin knew it well.”

The Big Blue defense also deserved credit. They allowed the Deers to get into the red zone only once in the first three quarters, and shut them out in the second half.

Yamada guessed that the two teams’ difference in motivation could affect the game’s outcome. The Deers had already earned a playoff berth before the game when Fujitsu won earlier on Sunday. If so, the next game against the Deers will be much tougher, Yamada said.

“It looked like the Deers only used basic plays in the second half. We used almost all plays we have because we had to win this game,” Yamada said. “The rematch is really important. It’s tough to play the same opponent in only a two-week span, especially against a good team like the Deers.”