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TOP > NEWS 2023/03/01
Japan crushes South Korea for Asian title
2023/03/01 UP

By Ken Marantz

Japan left no doubt as to which was the superpower of American football in Asia, storming to a 76-0 rout of South Korea on Saturday at Kawasaki Stadium.

What was left unresolved was who will be Japan's top quarterback when the team heads to the World Championship of American Football this summer in Austria.

Three X-League quarterbacks combined for five touchdowns and 349 yards passing as Japan more than met expectations in what was billed as the 1st Asian Championship. With the victory before a crowd of 3,800, Japan earned the final berth in the eight-team World Championship to be held July 8-17.

Asahi Beer Silver Star veteran Minoru Tono, making his first national team appearance at 36, put on a sterling performance as the third string quarterback, closing the gap between him and Rice Bowl-winning Shun Sugawara of the Obic Seagulls and incumbent starter Tetsuo Takata of the Panasonic Electric Works Impulse.

"Any of the three can do the job for us," said Japan head coach Kiyoyuki Mori of the Kajima Deers.

Tono, who entered the game with 1:46 left in the first half, engineered a five-play, 76-yard drive, culminating with the first of two touchdown passes to Panasonic's Shohei Hasegawa to put Japan up 45-0 at halftime.

Tono, who spent the morning of the game at the hospital after coming down with a 39 C fever Friday night, completed 12 of 17 passes for 149 yards. He missed out on a third touchdown when a pass to the Fujitsu Frontiers' Koji Yoneyama hit off his hands in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.

"This is where we [Asahi Beer] practice, so everything was the same as always," said Tono, who had the best season of his career this past fall, leading the East Division in passing yards with 653. "But I think I can raise my level even more."

Mori is well familiar with how Tono performs under pressure. Tono nearly single-handedly beat Mori's Deers this past fall, throwing two fourth-quarter touchdowns before Kajima held on for a 24-23 win when the Silver Star failed to convert a two-point conversion.

"He responds well against the rush and finds the open man," Mori said. "He did that against Kajima this fall. He always stays calm."

Sugawara and Takata both showed they won't give up playing time without a fight. Sugawara went 5-for-5 for 50 yards and one touchdown, while Takata completed 9 of 13 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, although he was plagued with a touch of wildness at times.
 
Japan got a pair of touchdowns each from star running backs Takuya Furutani of Obic and Kajima's Yasuhiro Maruta, while the defense held South Korea to 126 total yards, intercepted four passes and recovered one fumble.

Obic's Ryoma Hagiyama led the receiving corps with six catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, while Hasegawa had four receptions for 83 yards. IBM's Michihiro Ogawa also caught four passes.

Obic defensive back Takeshi Miyake chipped in a special teams touchdown, blocking a punt and returning it 45 yards for a score on South Korea's first possession of the game.

Kajima kicker Daisuke Aoki had one of the busiest days of his career, kicking two field goals and converting all 10 extra points. Although he earned the MVP award, there was some concern over a blocked 23-yard field goal attempt late in the game and the shortness of his kickoffs.

Given Japan's total dominance of the game, it would be hard to find faults. Mori noted the blocked field goal, saying,  "Against bigger opponents [in Austria], that could be an issue. We have to work on protection."

Mori said he will look at other kickers in training camp prior to the World Championship, saying that adding a kickoff specialist will be an option.

Obic's Ken Shimizu gave a glimpse of things to come by doing what he does so well, returning the opening kickoff 65 yards to the South Korea 20. On the last of four straight running plays, Furutani blasted into the end zone from the 3 just two minutes into the game.

On its first possession, South Korea managed a first down before having to punt. The IBM BigBlue's Choi Kyung Ho, one of five X-Leaguers on the Korean roster, mishandled the snap and Miyake broke through and blocked the kick, then picked up the ball himself and sprinted for a touchdown.

Choi only handles the kicking duties for IBM and was not used to taking snaps. He has only limited punting experience, although he got plenty of practice Sunday.

South Korea's next series lasted all of one play, as Asahi Beer defensive lineman Takayuki Yoneda hammered quarterback Jeong Taeseong just as he was throwing and Fujitsu linebacker Shoichiro Suzuki picked off the wobbly pass.

Starting at the Korea 25, Sugawara completed three straight passes, the last for an 11-yard touchdown to Maeda to make it 21-0.

But Japan and Maeda weren't finished, as the Deers speedster returned a punt 68 yards to the 1-yard line, from which Maruta easily scored the first of his two touchdowns.

Aoki kicked a 27-yard field goal early in the second quarter to make it 31-0, after which a series of events occurred that showed that even when things went South Korea's way, Japan managed to turn it back in its favor.

Failing to make a first down after recovering a fumbled punt by Panasonic's Atsushi Tsuji, a perfectly executed fake punt, in which up-back Kim Baekkyu connected with IBM linebacker Jung Sugong, resulted in a 23-yard gain to the Japan 18.

But on the next play, California-based running back Kwon William Hyukjin fumbled and Fujitsu's Yuji Aoki recovered. Korea would never get that close to the end zone again.

Takata's second series of the game ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Hagiyama, capping an 8-play, 76-yard drive. Tono's first TD toss to Hasegawa made the margin 45 points at halftime.

Japan scored on its first four possessions of the second half, with Tono hitting Hasegawa from 15 yards out, Furutani breaking free on a 43-yard run, Takata and Shimizu connecting on a 5-yard pass and Maruta scoring again from the 1.

Aoki's 39-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter capped the scoring.

"Whatever the conditions, however the game develops, we had to secure the spot [in the world championship], so I'm relieved," Mori said.

The last time they met, Japan routed South Korea 88-0 in qualifying for the 2003 World Cup, now known as the World Championship.

Mori said he plans to call the national team together for practices over five weekends starting in June, again gathering about 70 players from whom the final roster of 45 will be made.

Given the lack of information on opponents for international games, Mori said he has stressed two factors in selecting players--those who are in good condition in what is usually the offseason, and those who can readily make necessary adjustments during a game.

In the World Championship, Japan has been grouped with host Austria, France and Canada. The other group consists of
the defending champion United States, Germany, Australia and Mexico.

As host in 2007, Japan lost in the final in overtime 23-20 to the United States. Japan won the first two editions, although the United States did not participate.

Ken Marantz is a sportswriter for The Daily Yomiuri in Tokyo.

 
前節試合結果
 
EAST
09/19 明治安田(7)
オール三菱(16)

09/18 富士通(73)
富士ゼロックスAFC(0)

09/08 富士通(61)
明治安田(13)

09/05 鹿島(85)
富士ゼロックスAFC(0)

09/04 オール三菱(10)
ブルザイズ(7)

CENTRAL
09/17 アサヒビール (24)
オール東京ガス(6)

09/17 オービック(75)
日本ユニシス(7)

09/16 IBM(24)
ノジマ相模原(31)

09/07 オービック(24)
ノジマ相模原(19)

09/06 オール東京ガス(20)
日本ユニシス(7)

09/03 IBM(13)
アサヒビール (27)

WEST
09/11 エレコム神戸(14)
富士ゼロックスJ-Stars(0)

09/11 パナソニック(32)
アズワン (0)

09/04 アサヒ飲料(46)
サイクロンズ(0)

 
試合日程
 
EAST
09/19 明治安田 vs オール三菱
09/19 鹿島 vs ブルザイズ
WEST
09/19 パナソニック vs 富士ゼロックスJ-Stars
09/19 アサヒ飲料 vs アズワン
09/19 エレコム神戸 vs サイクロンズ
 
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