The Fujitsu Frontiers had no intention of spoiling the last game for Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters head coach Hideaki Toriuchi. The defending champions, however, were not ready to become the first X League title holder since 2009 to give away the Rice Bowl crown to its collegiate opponent.
Tsubasa Takagi threw three touchdown passes to lead the Frontiers to a 38-14 rout of the Fighters on Friday at Tokyo Dome.
The Frontiers matched the Obic Seagulls’ Rice Bowl record (2010-13 seasons) with their fourth straight championship. Meanwhile, the Fighters extended the collegiate champions’ losing streak to 11 and 15 defeats in 16 years.
“Under the current system where the X League champion plays the collegiate champion in the Rice Bowl, we just play our role. I know there are discussions on the Rice Bowl, but I have nothing to say now in my position,” said Fujitsu head coach Yo Yamamoto when asked about the meaning of the Rice Bowl, where X League teams have dominated the student squads for about the past three decades.
Toriuchi, who announced he is retiring after the season, has often described it as an unfair matchup between the X League and college teams.
“This game is too tough for the students physically,” said Toriuchi, who guided the Fighters to 12 college titles and one Rice Bowl crown during his tenure since 1992. He is Japan’s winningest collegiate coach during the span by far. “You have very little room to make mistakes against the X League champions. They are better coached and more experienced.”
The Frontiers’ dominance was apparent from the beginning. Takagi tossed three touchdown passes on the team’s first four possessions as Fujitsu established a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Sei Kyo, Teruaki Clark Nakamura and Yoshimasa Iwamatsu each caught a scoring reception from Takagi, who won the Paul Rush Trophy for the MVP award.
“My teammates did a great job today and I just did my part,” said Takagi, who took over for the injured Michael Birdsong as starting quarterback in September. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I wanted to make it.”
The Fighters fought back in the second quarter as Koki Miyake rushed 64 yards for a score with 1:10 to play in the first half, but the Frontiers added two rushing touchdowns — Samaji Grant’s 41-yard play and Yuichi Kon’s 5-yard carry — and a field goal to put the game out of reach.
“We have been working on a one-game-at-a-time mentality all season,” Yamamoto said. “We have been making the bottom-up approach since the spring and it brought us this championship today.”
The announced crowd of 31,752, however, got excited by the Fighters’ comeback effort in the closing minutes. Kosei Okuno hit Kaito Suzuki with a 4-yard scoring strike to make the score 38-14 with 38 seconds remaining in the game.
The Fighters had another shot after a successful onside kick and advanced to the Fujitsu 1 with 5 seconds to go. Miyake’s rush was stopped on the final play, and even a touchdown would not have affected the game’s result. But it was enough at least to give the Fighters fans something to be proud of in Toriuchi’s last game.
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