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Fujitsu overcomes slow start, routs Kwansei Gakuin University in Rice Bowl

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

The X League champion was simply too much for the collegiate side — again.

Trashaun Nixson rushed for 206 yards and two touchdowns and earned game MVP honors, while Michael Birdsong threw two scoring passes, leading the Fujitsu Frontiers to a 52-17 rout of the Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters on Thursday at Tokyo Dome in the annual Rice Bowl.

The triumph gave the Frontiers, who clinched their third straight X League title last month, a third consecutive Rice Bowl triumph and fourth overall.

It also marked the 10th straight victory for the X League champion. A collegiate side has not captured the Rice Bowl championship since Ritsumeikan University beat Panasonic 17-13 in 2009.

The Frontiers’ 52-point total was one shy of the Rice Bowl record, which the Nihon University Phoenix recorded in 1985, and the 35-point margin was the event’s third-largest total.

“I feel more relieved to win this game than happy. As an X League team, you feel pressure to win this game. The X League champion can’t lose to the college team,” Frontiers head coach Satoshi Fujita said. “The Fighters played well. They had good tackles, especially at the beginning of the game. It is true that the X League team has won 10 straight years, but there were close games. I don’t think the results are everything.”

The Fighters played solid defensively in the first quarter, forcing the Frontiers to punt on their first three possessions. Nixson, however, had a 51-yard run on the second play of their fourth offensive series, which set up his 3-yard TD run.

The Frontiers wasted no time in widening the lead when Yuki Ishii had a pick-6 on the first play of the Fighters’ next possession.

The Fighters answered with a 10-play, 72-yard scoring drive early in the second quarter to make it 14-7, but they failed to reach the end zone again until quarterback Koya Mitsudo’s 10-yard TD run with 45 seconds left in the game.

Meanwhile, the Frontiers scored 35 unanswered points during a 24:13 span to put the game out of reach.

Rookie quarterback Michael Birdsong struggled against the Fighters’ blitz and finished 10-for-22, but tossed two touchdown passes in a 21-point third quarter.

“I feel great,” Birdsong said. “This is the goal the team set out to accomplish and we finished if off today. It was a great season and a great first year to win the national championship. KG (the Fighters) is a great college team. They showed tremendous effort and fought hard today. They had an incredible season and I’m glad to have a chance to play them.

“They gave us a lot of pressure. In the start of the game, they really came out fired up and they blitzed a lot to bring pressure. They did a great job on the first two or three series. Hats off to them,” Birdsong continued. “We knew they would do those kind of things. We expected things like that. We saw it and adjusted so that we can make plays. That’s what we did.”

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