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IBM Big Blue edge Lixil Deers for Pearl Bowl title

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

A controversial call cost the Lixil Deers a Pearl Bowl victory and gave the IBM BigBlue a first X League title.

Kevin Craft threw three touchdown passes as the BigBlue survived a late comeback by the Deers to wrap up a 21-20 victory in the Pearl Bowl Final on Monday night at Tokyo Dome. It was the first-ever title for the BigBlue in any season or tournaments in the X League.

“It took seven years from the time I took over,” IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada said. “Relieved? No. We still have three teams we have not beaten; Fujitsu, Obic and Panasonic. We are not satisfied.

“But winning this tournament gives my players confidence,” Yamada continued. “Once you feel the joy of the win, you don’t want to feel the toughness of a loss again. That is the mentality of winning.”

Now the Deers are the ones feeling the sting of defeat.

Trailing the BigBlue 21-14 in the final quarter, the Deers scored a touchdown when Shinichi Maekawa rushed for a 5-yard touchdown with 48 seconds to play.

A successful kick would have tied the score and might have sent the game to overtime.

The Deers, instead, opted to go for a 2-point conversion. But Shohei Kato’s pass was deflected by James Brooks and the BigBlue held on for the victory.

“There was the risk that our field goal attempt would be blocked by Brooks in the tiebreaker. His height (195 cm) was tough to overcome,” Lixil head coach Kiyoyuki Mori explained. “We also had several injured players and we did not want them to play beyond regulation. Those are the reasons we went for two. It could be my wrong judgement, though.”

Brooks had been anticipating a pass play.

“I knew it would be a short pass,” Brooks said of the play. “There is not much space in a two-point conversion, so I just got my hands up and it was luckily turned my way.”

He added: “It feels great (to win the first title),” Brooks said. “I’m so excited for my teammates. They work so hard and the whole organization of IBM. It was a great ride. Hopefully we’ll continue to the X Bowl (the X League championship in the fall) and the Rice Bowl (the national championship).”

The BigBlue took a 7-0 lead when Craft threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Yutaro Taki in the first quarter.

They never trailed, but also missed a couple of scoring opportunities. A holding penalty at the Lixil 20 in the second quarter pushed the BigBlue back 10 yards and eventually led to a missed field goal attempt. A fumble by Craft at the Lixil 29 in the third quarter ended another offensive series.

The Deers tied the game as Shohei Kato connected with Kengo Hasegawa with 1:04 remaining in the first half, but the BigBlue wasted no time in answering with John Stanton’s 7-yard scoring reception 1:02 later for a 14-7 halftime lead.

Lixil took advantage of Craft’s lost fumble in the third quarter, and tied the game at 14-14 when Tomoya Okabe ran 33 yards for a touchdown.

An interception by Keisuke Waki on the following drive quickly returned the ball to the Deers, but their 40-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Brooks.

Craft’s third and final touchdown pass went to the game’s MVP, Takashi Kurihara, who caught six passes for a team-high 90 yards, with 3:31 left in the third quarter.