Samajie Grant showed why he was named the X League’s MVP in his first season in Japan.
The former Arizona Wildcat, who rushed for a league-best 527 yards during the regular season, scored on a 75-yard sprint with 3 seconds remaining in the third quarter to help the Fujitsu Frontiers win their fourth straight Japan X Bowl in a 28-26 thriller over the Panasonic Impulse on Monday at Tokyo Dome.
After struggling in the first 35 minutes and seeing the Impulse take a 20-14 lead midway through the third quarter, Grant found open space on the left side of the field and rushed into the end zone untouched.
The heroic touchdown run did not turn out be the game-winner but was unquestionably a game-changer. After the score, Grant was unstoppable for most of the the final quarter and the Frontiers never fell behind.
“I did not play a good game tonight,” said Grant, who was named MVP of the X League finale. “At the halftime, my teammates came to me and said I’d be OK. My teammates did a great job. This is my first time becoming No. 1 in my football life.”
Grant touched the ball for five consecutive plays to open the game, but was not as effective as he was during the regular season. Then the defending champions turned to the passing game and Tsubasa Takagi, who replaced an injured Michael Birdsong during the season, threw two touchdown tosses to Teruaki Clark Nakamura in the first half.
The Impulse answered with Anthony Lawrence’s 38-yard strike to Tatsuya Tonka and a field goal to trail 14-10 at halftime.
The Impulse wasted no time in the third quarter as Naotaka Koike brought in a pick-6 just 1:42 into the second half, making the score 17-14 before Eita Saeki added his second field goal 10 minutes later to give Panasonic a 20-14 advantage.
But Grant’s touchdown ended the Impulse’s lead for good, and the Osaka Prefecture side’s hopes of regaining the lead were silenced when Koike’s field goal attempt sailed wide right with 9:27 to play.
The revived Grant helped the Frontiers consume time and gain the ground. He showcased an outstanding leap over a Panasonic defender in front of the goal line, fumbling the ball only for teammate Yoshimasa Iwamatsu to recover it in the end zone for the eventual winning score with 5:27 left.
Panasonic countered with Victor Jamal Michell’s 5-yard touchdown run five minutes later, but was unable to tie the game after a 2-point conversion failed.
Needing a field goal for a comeback win, the Impulse got the ball back with 89 seconds to play and marched to their own 48-yard line. But they committed two back-to-back false start fouls that moved the ball back 10 yards and were unable to recover the lost yardage, turning the ball over on downs with 32 seconds remaining.
“My players showed their concentration in crunch time,” Fujitsu’s first-year head coach Yo Yamamoto said. “We always work on playing our football in any possible situation. We had many injuries this season, but the backups stepped up to play well.”
The Frontiers will return to Tokyo Dome on Jan. 3 to face the university champion Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters in the Rice Bowl for a second straight year. The X League winners defeated the Fighters 52-17 last season in Japan’s national championship.