KAWASAKI – Devin Gardner’s X League debut turned out to be a bittersweet experience.
The former Michigan quarterback threw a touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon, another ex-Wolverine, and scored another, but failed to lead his Nojima Sagamihara Rise to a victory over the Obic Seagulls, who came from behind to win 14-13 on Sunday at Fujitsu Stadium Kawasaki.
“The game was OK. It wasn’t as good as I would’ve wanted because we didn’t win,” said Gardner, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 290 yards. “I expect to win every time. That is how we should take things.”
That is what the Rise expect after importing the Gardner-Gallon hotline, which produced a Big Ten-record 369 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana three years ago.
The duo played together from 2010-13 at Michigan, where Gallon set a single-season school record for receiving yards (1,373) in 2013. They were reunited on Sunday and connected 10 times for 87 yards and a score.
It was clear that Gardner relied on Gallon most when none of the other Rise receivers caught more than four times.
But their first game together in Japan did not go as they expected.
The Seagulls often used the blitz to put pressure on Gardner, who was sacked at least three times and was forced to hurry on several other occasions. One of the major differences he saw in the game was that he had less time in the pocket.
“We didn’t have much time to throw. (The Seagulls ) blitzed a lot. Their front seven are really good,” Gardner said. “(Pass protection) is the thing we have to work on in the practices. We have to protect better and find different ways to give more time.”
Gardner, however, did show his jaw-dropping skills to the 3,022 crowd. His passes had fine zip and velocity, which the Rise receivers will have to get used to. The 193-cm quarterback’s runs were almost unstoppable.
Naoki Kosho, the Seagulls coach, was one of the many who were impressed by Gardner.
“He is a different type of quarterback than we have seen here in Japan,” Kosho, a former linebacker, said. “He caused some things to happen that we have not seen before.”
But in the end, Kosho, a rookie head coach, stood on the winning side mainly thanks to his own American quarterback.
Obic’s Jerry Neuheisel, a UCLA product, threw two touchdown passes — the first a 56-yard bomb to Noriaki Kinoshita, and the second a 31-yarder to Aruto Nishimura with 3:26 remaining in the game that turned out to be the winner.
The Rise missed the extra-point kick after their second touchdown, a 2-yard run by Garder 6:10 into the final quarter, and that made the difference to the score.