Nishinomiya, Hyogo Pref. – It’s been a while since western Japan was regarded as having better American football schools than eastern Japan.
The Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters, based in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Pref., proved that is now the case by clinching their fourth consecutive collegiate football championship by defeating Tokyo’s Nihon University Phoenix 55-10 on Sunday in the annual Koshien Bowl.
The Fighters extended the winning streak of Kansai representatives in the Koshien Bowl to seven. Kansai schools have won the national collegiate title 23 times over the last three decades.
Playing before 32,000 fans at Koshien Stadium, the Fighters overpowered the Kanto champion Phoenix, outgaining their archrival 516-246 on offense to score seven touchdowns. The 45-point margin was the third highest in their 28 meetings at the Koshien Bowl and Sunday’s outcome was the most lopsided victory by the Fighters since a 51-20 win in 1977.
“We didn’t expect this much of a one-sided game,” Fighters head coach Hideaki Toriuchi said. “We scored on our first drive and we got some turnovers. That was big for us.”
Operating a no-huddle offense, the Fighters used an up-tempo, high-scoring attack to score a touchdown in their first three possessions for a 21-0 early lead. In the second drive, the Fighters were force to punt but the unexpectedly short kick hit a Phoenix player and the Fighters recovered the ball to maintain possession. Five plays later, sophomore running back Seiji Hashimoto rushed 22 yards for a touchdown.
In total, Hashimoto rushed for a team-high 98 yards on 15 carries and scored three times en route to being named the game’s MVP.
The Fighters offensive line overwhelmed the Phoenix at the line of scrimmage and opened the running lane for Hashimoto and fellow running back Satoshi Sagino, who also scored three touchdowns. For Sagino, senior captain, a 39-yard scoring run with 14:26 left in the second quarter was his first touchdown at Koshien in the fourth appearance. Sagino won the Chuck Mills Trophy, the Japanese version of the Heisman Trophy, as the best collegiate player of the year.
The Phoenix surprised the Fighters by starting Ryosuke Nishizawa, a junior quarterback who was used sparingly during the regular season. Despite being known for his running ability, Nishizawa went for a passing attack, which was not effective and ended in the first two possessions.
After dropping 0-21, the Phoenix replaced Nishizawa with sophomore Ryohei Takahashi, who usually starts for the Phoenix.
“As the challengers, we tried to do some unusual things in this game. Starting Nishizawa was one of them,” Phoenix manager Masato Uchida explained. “We knew we would have to take some risks and they were costly. There could’ve been another approach to the game.”
The Phoenix also used a different style of play defensively, using three down linemen instead of the familiar 4-3 alignment. But the Fighters offensive line wasted no time adjusting it and succeeded in delaying the strong-running attack.
Trailing 28-3 in the second quarter, Takahashi rushed 1 yard for the Phoenix’s only touchdown with 1:51 remaining in the first half, but the Phoenix were shut out in the other three periods.
The Fighters were also dominant on the other side of the ball, intercepting three times and recording three sacks in the game. They didn’t allowed a first down in the third quarter.
Starting quarterback Kei Saito completed 14 of 21 passes for 173 yards before leaving the game to give his backups playing opportunities late in the third quarter. Reserve quarterbacks Mitsuhiro Izu and Ryuji Maeda combined for a mop-up job.
The Fighters advanced to the Rice Bowl to play the X League champion on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome for the overall national championship. The X League championship will be contested between the Fujitsu Frontiers and the IBM BigBlue in the Japan X Bowl at Tokyo Dome on Monday.
“We have lost for the last three years,” Saito said. “Our goal is not just winning a collegiate championship, but beating the X League champion to become the overall champion. That is what we have worked hard for.”
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