Trashaun Nixon used to make plays as a linebacker by pressuring quarterbacks and tackling runners. One year later, he became the Japan X Bowl MVP as a running back.
Nixon carried 17 times for 196 yards and three touchdowns on Monday at Tokyo Dome, leading the Fujitsu Frontiers to their third straight X League championship with a 35-18 victory over IBM BigBlue.
“(A year ago) I didn’t imagine this, but I knew I could play good at running back,” said Nixon, who converted to the position this spring in the wake of former starter Gino Gordon’s retirement after the last season. “(The transition) took some time in the spring, but now it’s very smooth. Every game our offensive linemen do a good job and make my job easy. I just find a hole.”
The two-time defending X League champion Frontiers entered the season with a new quarterback in Michael Birdsong, who replaced four-year starter Colby Cameron, and a new running back in Nixon.
Birdsong made his debut as a Frontier this fall and was named Rookie of the Year.
“I feel great. Finishing off the season getting another championship and for these guys, a three peat for them. Couldn’t be happier,” Birdsong said.
“Just knowing we are just going to do something different. Thom Kaumeyer over there as (IBM’s) defensive coordinator, he’s schemed it up. He knows our players well. He knew what he needed to do to try to take things away. He did that in some aspects, but fortunately, we’ve got ’16’ (Nixon) in the backfield running the ball like that. It was too much; you can’t slow that boy down.”
Birdsong completed 10 of 17 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, running another score in himself on a 12-yard play.
It was a new season with a new team for the Frontiers, but the outcome was the same. Fujitsu are champions again and advanced to the Rice Bowl, where they will take on the collegiate champion Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome.
“I don’t feel like it’s real yet. (Despite winning a third straight championship) we’re just playing one game at a time,” Frontiers head coach Satoshi Fujita said. “We still have room to improve until the game day (until the Rice Bowl).”
Nixon scored on 67-, 16- and 8-yard runs. Fujitsu’s offensive linesmen made solid blocks, opening up huge holes for the nearly unstoppable running back.
The BigBlue offense, meanwhile, struggled in enemy territory. They advanced to the Frontiers’ red zone four times but managed only four field goals. IBM, who scored 32.9 points per game during the season, failed to score a touchdown until just 1:26 remained in the fourth quarter.
The Frontiers scored touchdowns on three of their first five possessions, while IBM had three field goals in the same number of offensive series, leaving the score 21-9 at halftime.
Fujitsu added touchdowns on the opening drive of the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter, taking the game out of the BigBlue’s reach. IBM replaced starting quarterback Yuki Masamoto midway through the third quarter with Kevin Craft, who also serves as head coach, but it was not enough to bring a spark to its offense.