The Obic Seagulls made their long-awaited return to the X League summit Tuesday night, knocking off the league’s current dynasty.
The Seagulls, based in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, dethroned the four-time reigning champion Fujitsu Frontiers in a dramatic 13-7 victory in the Japan X Bowl at Tokyo Dome.
Obic’s victory gave the club its record ninth X League title and first since 2013. The Seagulls also prevented the Frontiers from breaking a tie between the two franchises for the most consecutive X Bowl victories — the Seagulls went 4-0 in the game from 2010-2013, while the Frontiers had been looking to extend their own streak to five.
Fujitsu was appearing in the X Bowl for the eighth consecutive season and dropped to 5-3 over that span.
Obic will face Kwansei Gakuin University in the Rice Bowl, the national championship, at the Big Egg on Jan. 3.
Tuesday’s game was a thriller that came down to the final play.
The Frontiers drove the ball near the Obic end zone in the waning moments and faced a fourth-and-6 with two seconds remaining.
Frontiers quarterback Michael Birdsong threw to receiver Junpei Yoshimoto in the right corner of the end zone, but Obic defensive back Hayate Kubo was able to get his arm up and knock the pass down to secure a hard-fought win.
“It was a do-or-die situation,” Seagulls head coach Makoto Ohashi said of the final play. “I just believed in my players. I thought they’d do it. Our players, staff and coaches have endured tough times over these seven years and I feel like it’s paid off.”
Obic defensive lineman Byron Beatty Jr. is one of several players remaining from the 2013 team. The 32-year-old Hawaii native said it’s been a long seven years.
Recalling the final play, Beatty Jr. said: “We took the timeout. (Defensive coordinator Naoki) Kosho gave the play call he was running and I liked it. I had all the confidence in the world in it and Kubo made a play.”
The Seagulls built a 13-0 first-half lead on a pair of rushing touchdowns by running back Taku Lee.
The Frontiers scored what would be their only points of the game on a TD reception by Riki Matsui and a successful extra-point conversion in the second quarter.
“It feels good,” Beatty Jr. said of taking down the Frontiers, who have built a Japanese football dynasty in recent years. “We’ve always been (down to) the last play in the end zone. We’ve been on the bad side of all those plays over years. We had the blocked field goal on us last year, (Fujitsu defensive back Al-Rilwan) Adeyemi picked us off at the end to seal it. … Just (to) finally be on the right side of a play like that just feels so good to stop their streak. They were on a four-year run, we’ve had a four-year run so we were kind of neck in neck. Each has a four-year run, so it just feels so good.”
Lee carried the ball 21 times for 111 yards and was named the game’s MVP. While the COVID-19 pandemic limited the activities for athletes in general this year, Lee entered the 2020 X League campaign with a great deal of focus.
The 25-year-old earned a ticket to March’s Canadian Football League Global Combine before it was called off. The CFL announced the cancellation of the entire 2020 season in August.
Lee managed to turn it into a positive, as winning his first X Bowl will give him momentum and confidence as he continues to seek success abroad.
“It was frustrating that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do because of the coronavirus,” Lee said. “But at the same time, I’ve wanted to make it overseas by becoming the best in Japan. Now I’ve accomplished that and can move forward to do that with my head up.”
Before the game, the league announced the award winners for the 2020 season, which was shortened due to the pandemic.
Birdsong was named MVP, with the former Marshall signal-caller finishing second in the league with 704 passing yards and sixth with 95 yards on the ground.
The all-league offensive team featured Fujitsu tackle Yutaro Kobayashi, who earned the honor for the ninth time, and IBM BigBlue tight end John Stanton among other recipients. Adeyemi was chosen for the defensive first team for the eighth straight year.
Obic kicker Takeru Yamasaki and two others made the all-league special teams squad.
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