Underdog Waseda University threatened to end Kansai schools’ stranglehold on the Koshien Bowl national collegiate football championship on Sunday, but Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University came out on top in the end with a 28-27 win in the tournament’s 70th anniversary.

Ritsumeikan got off to a 21-0 lead, but Waseda, the Kanto champion, resiliently bounced back. The Big Bears scored 24 unanswered points to take a lead late in the third quarter.

Ritsumeikan scored a touchdown to retake the lead early in the final quarter, but Waseda made a field goal to make it a one-point game.

Ritsumeikan defensive back Kyohei Okuno picked off a pass with 4:15 minutes left, but Waseda wasn’t done yet.

Waseda advanced with a long rushing gain from Yuki Masamoto to give the team a chance for a walk-off win with a field goal. But a 53-yard effort by kicker Toshiki Sato launched with three seconds left ended up just short.

“I made a costly mistake in eating up the clock toward the end of the game, and I could do nothing but leave it to our players,” Ritsumeikan head coach Akira Yonekura said of the final moments of the game.

With the win, Ritsumeikan brought Kansai its ninth straight Koshien Bowl title. The last time a Kanto team won it was in 2006, when Hosei University defeated Kwansei Gakuin University.

Ritsumeikan running back Nanato Nishimura admitted that he didn’t anticipate Waseda making a comeback after his team took a 21-0 lead.

“I didn’t expect it would happen at all,” Nishimura said. “We took a big lead and thought we’d be able to keep the momentum.”

Nishimura, a sophomore rusher, carried the ball 30 times, running for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was given the Koshien Bowl Most Valuable Player award after the game, which drew 33,000 fans at Koshien Stadium.

Nishimura, who notched a Kansai collegiate league-high 900 yards with 13 TDs in the regular season, also earned the Chuck Mills Trophy, a Japanese version of the Heisman Trophy which is presented to the year’s best player. He was handed the trophy by the 87-year-old Mills, who was invited from Hawaii by the organizers.

For Waseda, the Kanto champions, Masamoto was the clear-cut hero. The left-handed signal-caller threw for 222 yards, scoring two TDs, and rushed for 109 yards.

Waseda outgained Ritsumeikan 439 yards to 358 yards offensively.

Ritsumeikan captured its first Koshien Bowl championship since 2010, and its eighth overall. Waseda is now 0-for-3 in the championship, losing all three to Ritsumeikan.

The Panthers have now advanced to the Jan. 3 Rice Bowl, where they will face the X League champions at Tokyo Dome. The Fujitsu Frontiers and Panasonic Impulse will play in Monday’s Japan X Bowl for the X League title.

Yonekura was more relieved than pleased with the Koshien win because he thought his team made way too many errors and could’ve easily lost the game.

“We made more mistakes in this game than any game we’ve played this year,” Yonekura said. “So we have to reflect on this game and we’ve got to play better in the Rice Bowl, otherwise we won’t beat (the X League champions).”

Defensive lineman Hiroaki Nakazato said: “We’ve just won the collegiate national championship. We came out on top today, but we feel something is still missing in ourselves. I’m a senior, so the Rice Bowl will be my one last chance to fulfill the feeling.”

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