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Rookie QB Skyler Howard guides Obic past Nojima Sagamihara in X League playoff quarterfinals

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Skyler Howard threw four touchdown passes and ran for another, leading the Obic Seagulls to a 42-25 victory over the Nojima Sagamihara Rise on Saturday at Yokohama Stadium in the quarterfinals of the X League playoffs.

The Seagulls face the defending X League champion Fujitsu Frontiers in the semifinals at Fujitsu Stadium Kawasaki on Nov. 25.

Howard, a former West Virginia University quarterback, completed only 9 of 18 pass attempts, but four of them got into the end zone. The 24-year-old rookie also rushed 11 times for 105 yards, both team-high totals.

“Our offensive players now understand what Howard sees (on) the field and how he thinks better than earlier in the season,” Obic head coach Naoki Kosho said. “We also used (quarterback Shun) Sugawara in the game. Both guys can set up their own rhythm to lead the offense.”

Howard’s best game of the season overshadowed a three-touchdown performance by Nojima quarterback Jimmy Laughrea, a first-year player out of University of California, Davis.

Laughrea threw for 337 yards, 232 more than Howard, but got a lot of pressure from the Seagulls defense, and failed to establish the passing game.

The eight-time national champion Seagulls avenged a 18-17 loss in September when the Rise dominated offensively.

“Some players regarded this game as a chance for revenge,” Kosho said. “That loss was kind of our turning point. We learned a lot of things from the loss, and our team has changed. The game gave us hints for today’s game plan.”

The most successful part of the game plan for the Seagulls was their defensive scheme, which stayed patient in the first half, then turned more aggressive in latter half when Laughrea saw more blitzes from everywhere.

“Our defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage well and we gave them more blitzes in the second half. That was one of the things we could not do well in the last meeting,” said Kosho, who was not happy about the team’s second-quarter performance, where the Seagulls allowed 18 points after taking a 14-0 first quarter lead en route to a 21-18 halftime score.

Kosho made adjustments on defense, instructing his players to be more aggressive. While the defense shut out the Rise in the third period, the Seagulls scored three unanswered TDs to pull away.

In other quarterfinals on Saturday, the top-seeded Frontiers beat the All Mitsubishi Lions 35-7 at Yokohama Stadium. At Oji Stadium in Kobe, the IBM BigBlue defeated the Elecom Kobe Finies 34-23 to set up a semifinal meeting against the No. 2 seed Panasonic Impulse, who won 45-0 over the Tokyo Gas Creators, at Expo Flash Field in Osaka on Nov. 25.