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Four-time defending champion Obic Seagulls eliminated from X League title chase

Fujitsu Frontiers, IBM BigBlue advance to Japan X Bowl

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

A new era has come to the X League.

For the first time in five years, the X League will have a new champion. And for the first time in league history, the X League title will be contested by the two teams whose starting quarterbacks are former NCAA American QBs.

For the Obic Seagulls, their championship run for a fifth straight X League title came to an end as the four-time defending national champion suffered a 27-17 loss to their archrival Fujitsu Frontiers on Sunday in the X League semifinals at Yokohama Stadium.

In the other semifinal at the same venue later Sunday, former UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft threw 567 yards and nine touchdown passes to lead the IBM BigBlue to 69-54 win over the Lixil Deers. The BigBlue advanced to the Japan X Bowl for the first time and will take on the Frontiers on Dec. 15 at Tokyo Dome for the X League championship. For either team, it will be its first league title.

Frontiers quarterback Colby Cameron completed 28 of 40 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns while scoring another rushing to guide his team to its first win over the Seagulls in the fall season since 2007.

The two teams battled each other in last year’s Japan X Bowl and the Pearl Bowl Final in June, and the Seagulls won both.

Former Louisiana Tech quarterback Cameron connected with wide receiver Sei Kyo for pair of scoring passes in the first half en route to a 17-3 halftime lead.

The Seagulls replaced ineffective starting quarterback Shun Sugawara with rookie Takushiro Hata in the second half.

A lost fumble by Frontiers punter Motoki Yoshida, who caught a bad snap but got tackled before punting, gave the Seagulls the ball on the Frontiers 34 with 8:57 left in the third quarter. Ten plays later, Hata hit Noriaki Kinoshita with a 9-yard strike for the Seagulls’ first touchdown of the game.

The Frontiers widened their lead to 20-10 on a 43-yard field goal by Hidetetsu Nishimura with 5:51 remaining in the final period. But the Seagulls wasted no time to make it a three-point margin, then Kinoshita returned the following kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.

Now it was the time for the Frontiers to turn to clock-control mode. Starting on their own 8, Cameron completed 5 of 6 passes while Geno Gordon rushed six times to move the chain and run 5:11 off the clock before advancing to the Seagulls 16 with 33 seconds to play. On fourth-and 1, Cameron found a running lane on the right side and rushed for a touchdown, making it a two-possession game again as they held hold on for the victory.

“We could not predict how this game would go on. We decided to take the chances to score as many as possible, because the Seagulls can score quickly. The three-point lead was never enough,” Frontiers head coach Satoshi Fujita said. “My players have played with confidence this season. They keep focused even after giving up a big play to the opponent. It appeared in today’s game, too.”

Cameron said, “(The Seagulls) are the team to beat. We got them early and our team executed very well. The last drive was awesome. I think it started up front, our O-line did great. Our receivers and running backs made big plays. And that’s what good teams do. The touchdown was just kind of like a gut feeling. I’m not much of a running back, but it worked out.”

The BigBlue-Deers game turned out to be an outstanding shootout. Lixil quarterback Shohei Kato almost matched Craft’s performance, completing 41of 61 passes for 501 yards and seven scores, but seven interceptions were costly. Craft, who threw a league-high 11 interceptions during the season, did not get picked off once in the game.

The Deers trailed 21-0 but cut it to 21-14 in the second quarter, then to 62-54 with 6:07 left in the fourth quarter. But BigBlue running back Tomokazu Sueyoshi’s 15-yard touchdown rush with 3:06 to play took the game away.