Usually, IBM BigBlue quarterback Kevin Craft is not the type of a guy who has emotional outbursts once a game is over.
But when his team beat the Lixil Deers 69-54 and punched a ticket to the Japan X Bowl late last month, he was a little different. Perhaps he couldn’t conceal his excitement about finally getting a chance to compete in an X League championship game in his third year in Japan.
“The last three years since I got here, we’ve done a lot of hard work,” said Craft, a former UCLA signal-caller, after the Lixil game in the playoff semifinals at Yokohama Stadium.
“The guys that have been here, even the guys that were on our team before, there was a lot of hard work to get in this position.”
The Fujitsu Frontiers, IBM’s opponent in the Dec. 15 title game that is slated to kick off at 7 p.m. at Tokyo Dome, are undefeated (8-0, including the playoffs). The Frontiers are considered the favorites to win the title, because, by acquiring some Americans on both ends of the ball, they have upgraded their team in all phases of the game.
IBM (7-1), meanwhile, has had to overcome some challenges that Fujitsu, one of the few corporate-owned teams in the league, didn’t really have to deal with. Despite its name, IBM is a private club team, and not the essence of stability.
Craft said that every offseason the team has had to secure enough players for the next campaign.
“It was a scramble last year, coming in this year to find all these guys, and the year before even,” Craft said. “So it’s been tough, but I think the guys are hanging in there. They deserve to have a little success here.”
But the core members of the team have stayed the same since Craft landed, and maybe that’s one of the advantages for the BigBlue against the Frontiers, who are led by first-year American quarterback Colby Cameron.
Tight end John Stanton, who’s also in his third year with the BigBlue, said that the team has developed stronger chemistry in the last three years.
And that is especially the case between Craft and Stanton himself. The passer-receiver tandem is the team’s signature hotline that’s helped its offensive attack become one of the best in the league.
For Craft, who led the X League with 2,492 yards passing and 31 touchdowns in eight contests this season, Stanton is his favorite target, someone he can rely on in short- and middle-range passing situations. Of the seven games they’ve played together, Craft completed 41 passes to Stanton, and in four games, Stanton posted team-high totals in receptions.
“The chemistry we’ve been building in the last three years is evident in the games,” said Stanton, who racked up 511 receiving yards and eight TD receptions in the 2014 fall season. “Sometimes I feel like I know he was going to throw me the ball, even when I’m covered.”
Stanton added that the team, including Craft and himself, have had struggles, but feels they’ve finally earned the opportunity to show what they can do in the championship game.
“We are going to make the best of it for sure,” he said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.