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TOP > Game Report > Cameron airs out dome as Fujitsu rolls in Rice Bowl to 2nd national title

Game Report

Cameron airs out dome as Fujitsu rolls in Rice Bowl to 2nd national title


Fujitsu wide receiver Teruaki Clark Nakamura hauls in a 51-yard touchdown pass in full stride late in the second quarter. (photo by MI Planning)


Fujitsu head coach Satoshi Fujita is given the traditional victory toss following the win. (photo by MI Planning)





TOKYO (Jan. 3)—The pass seemed to hang interminably in the pulsating air of the dome before settling into the waiting hands of the receiver in full stride.


Just as the Fujitsu Frontiers stayed a step ahead of their opponents all season, the defenders could not keep up with Teruaki Clark Nakamura as he latched onto a perfect throw launched half the distance of the field by Colby Cameron.


Cameron’s 51-yard bomb to Nakamura, one of his three long touchdown passes on the day, highlighted Fujitsu’s solid 30-13 victory over Kwansei Gakuin University in the Rice Bowl at Tokyo Dome, giving the Frontiers their second national championship in three years to cap an undefeated season.


“We did enough to win, and that’s the name of the game in football,” said Cameron, who was named the game’s MVP after completing 20 of 27 passes for 311 yards before sitting out the fourth quarter. “We can get better on offense, obviously, and we will. Our defense played lights out all year, our special teams played great, and so I think with Fujitsu, it’s more of a team thing.”


Nakamura caught six passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, and Hidetetsu Nishimura was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts—including a Rice Bowl record-tying 49-yarder-as Fujitsu repeated their win over the Fighters from two years ago which had given the Kawasaki-based team its first-ever national title.


With the victory, Fujitsu also extended the X-League’s winning streak to eight straight in the Rice Bowl, which has served as the national championship game since 1984. X-League teams have won 12 of the past 13 and lead the overall series 22-12. The Fighters have won only once in a record 11 appearances, back in 2002.


“KG, they’re a good team, you can tell they’re well coached,” Cameron said. “Obviously their coach [Hideaki Toriuchi] is one of the most famous coaches in Japan, so you would expect that. They play hard, they have a lot of talent on defense, where those guys, a lot of them have the opportunity to play in the X-League if they want. Offensively, [they're] just fun to watch.”


Before a crowd of 33,521 that expanded well into the upper deck, the Fujitsu defense that had been so dominant all season long did not force any turnovers, but kept the Kwansei Gakuin offense at bay until the Fighters finally got on the scoreboard on Seiji Hashimoto’s 3-yard run late in the third quarter.


That cut the Frontiers’ lead to 23-6, but just over a minute later, Cameron connected with Yuya Fukui on a 37-yard touchdown pass on the final play from scrimmage of the third quarter. The lone score of the fourth period came when Kwansei Gakuin’s Mitsuhiro Izu threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Akira Kameyama with :45 left in the game.


“I feel like we played good, we didn’t play our best defensive game, but we played Fujitsu defense,” said linebacker Trashaun Nixon, who had two of Fujitsu’s three sacks. “They’re always in the championship, so they’re a really well coached team, so they’re not going to give you turnovers, you have to take it. We just didn’t take any.”


For Cameron, the game had special meaning in that the former Louisiana Tech star had been forced to miss the 2015 game due to a shoulder injury suffered in the Japan X Bowl.


“It was fun just being part of the experience this time,” said Cameron, who said he will now shave off the bushy beard that he has allowed to grow since September. “It was cool, the upper rafters started to fill up. What a crowd.”


As has been common in the annual game, the collegians resorted to some sleight of hand to try to neutralize the X-Leaguers’ advantage in size and technique. But Fujitsu was in position to stop each flea flicker, and after being burned on a fake punt, stopped a second that the Fighters tried four plays later.


In the end, the Fighters’ best plays came on straight runs by their powerful backs Hashimoto and Ryosuke Nonogaki, who combined for 111 yards on 20 carries, while Izu made maximum use of his scrambling ability to complete 20 of 31 passes for 196 yards.


“They have enough power to run the ball,” Fujitsu head coach Satoshi Fujita said. “Their offense is good, their defense played well, too.”


“It wasn’t as tricky as I thought it would be, but they still did misdirection, so you really had to read the keys and then you could run,” Nixon said. “I think the offensive line was just cutting, and then the running back was hitting the hole in the right gap, so we just had to work on getting off the cut block. The running backs are good.”


Fujitsu took control of the game from the start by scoring on its first three drives, although it had to settle for field goals after the first two. Nishimura’s 49-yarder tied the record for longest set by Masahiro Ota of Matsushita Denko (now Panasonic) in 2008, and he booted a second from 28 yards out five minutes later. He would add a 29-yarder in the third quarter.


Fujitsu finally found the end zone on its third possession of the first quarter, when Cameron completed all seven of his passes in leading the Frontiers 87 yards in eight plays. He capped the drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Nakamura, who just got his feet down in the corner of the end zone on a flag pattern to make it 13-0.


The Fighters defense stepped up in the second quarter and forced Fujitsu to punt on consecutive possessions, and it looked like one big play could turn the game either way. Unfortunately for the collegians, it was Fujitsu and Cameron’s arm that struck the major blow.


After the defense stopped Kwansei Gakuin on a 4th-down gamble—one of five that would be unsuccessful for the Fighters—Fujitsu took over at midfield with 3:53 left in the half. After a run lost a yard, Cameron and Nakamura hooked up on their highlight-reel touchdown toss.


“It started off, our O-line blocked really well, I didn’t feel pressure,” Cameron said. “So I was able to move in the pocket a little and I knew many teams that played us don’t think we’re going to throw deep balls. But I saw Clark, he had a step on a guy. So from then, it’s just trying to give him a chance to catch it, and he did.”


Cameron acknowledged he had a moment of anxiety. “I was nervous, I thought I overthrew him, and I was like, Jeez. I kind of underthrew him, too, he came inside. I don’t have that strong enough of an arm.”


Instead of a 13-point gap, the score gave Fujitsu a 20-0 lead going into halftime, which was preserved when cornerback Al-Rilwan Adeyami broke up a Izu pass in the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the 6 with :42 left.


“It was just a momentum change,” Cameron said. “Football is all about ebbs and flows. And that put us at a good momentum going into the half up 20. We went into halftime feeling confident of what we were doing.”


Fujitsu had the lone turnover of the game, when running back Keita Takanohashi fumbled late in the fourth quarter and Fighters defensive lineman Daisuke Mikasa recovered near midfield. Kwansei Gakuin turned that into Izu’s late touchdown pass. The Frontiers were also hurt by penalties, as each of their other non-scoring drives had at least one.


Fujitsu running back Gino Gordon, the MVP of the 2015 game, said that while the offense had its troubles at times, putting up 30 points against a defense of that caliber was an accomplishment.


“I think they’re a good defense, they do some things well,” said Gordon, who rushed for 45 yards on 14 carries, while catching four passes for 37 yards. “I think our front line did really well, but they were able to do some things to disrupt us a little bit.


“We put up 30 points, so I feel like we still did a good job scoring. I feel we did a good job protecting and running the ball to some extent. We had a couple of penalties which put us in bad situations, and I think that was the biggest thing that I saw that we could probably do better in this game. Aside from that, I think we had a pretty decent game.”


While the large crowd reflects the popularity of the Rice Bowl, the difference in competitiveness between the two sides leads to speculation whether an X-League team will ever lose again. Cameron, for one, said it could happen.


“I think just because they practice everyday and they train everyday, that they have an advantage in these games. Our guys are out working. So they’re studying football, they’re practicing.


“There’ll be some upsets, I think football is on the rise in Japan, and the colleges even, their level is getting up. So sooner or later, there will be a Rice Bowl upset with the college winning,” he said, then added, “Hopefully not with Fujitsu.”


—Ken Marantz for the X-League