NISHINOMIYA, HYOGO PREFECTURE - Kosei Okuno, the victim in the illegal tackle scandal which rocked Japan in May, made history for himself on Sunday.
The Kwansei Gakuin University sophomore quarterback completed 12 of 15 passes for 149 yards to guide the Fighters to a 37-20 triumph over the Waseda University Big Bears in the Koshien Bowl, Japan’s American football collegiate national championship game.
Playing before a crowd of 34,000 at Koshien Stadium, Okuno was named the game’s MVP and won the Chuck Mills Trophy, given to the best college football player of the year. He became the first sophomore to win the award for Kwansei, which clinched its 29th title.
“There were a lot of things that happened this year and you rarely experience a year like this,” said Okuno, who was sidelined for three weeks after an illegal hit from behind by Nihon University defender Taisuke Miyagawa in a May 6 exhibition game.
“I learned a lot of things through the incident. A lot of people helped me when I had a hard time because of the incident and I appreciate them a lot.”
Despite failing to throw a TD pass, Okuno led four touchdown drives and three others that ended in field goals. Against an aggressive Big Bears pass rush, Okuno often scrambled to escape sacks and moved out of the pocket to extend plays. He rushed six times for 49 yards.
“Through our scouting, I knew Waseda’s linebackers would drop into coverage and give me some space to run,” reflected Okuno.
“Okuno made good decisions to not force passes and run to escape the rush,” Fighters head coach Hideaki Toriuchi said. “I expected a close game, but our defensive line played well to stop Waseda’s offense.
“During the spring, I could not imagine this team would reach this game. But through tough games against Kyoto University, Kansai University and two games against Ritsumeikan University, my players stepped up.”
The Fighters took a 7-0 lead when Kosuke Nakamura ran one yard for a score on the opening drive. The Big Bears wasted no time in striking back, tying the score on the following possession on Iori Motoyama’s seven-yard touchdown run.
Kwansei responded with 27 unanswered points, a run that lasted until midway through the third quarter, while its defense forced four punts, a turnover on downs, and made two interceptions.
Waseda quarterback Teppei Shibasaki threw two touchdown passes — 66- and 25-yarders — to Tsuyoshi Endo in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to shift the momentum to Waseda, which was making its first Koshien Bowl appearance in two seasons and fifth overall.
With the win, the Fighters advance to the Rice Bowl against the X League champion on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome. Their opponent will be decided when the defending X League champion Fujitsu Frontiers take on IBM BigBlue on Monday at Tokyo Dome.