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TOP > Game Report > Challengers, Finies notch wild-card victories

Game Report

Challengers, Finies notch wild-card victories


Asahi Soft Drinks defensive back Ryota Ikeda intercepts a pass in the fourth quarter against All Mitsubishi. (photo by MI Planning)






KOBE (Nov. 5)—The Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers and Elecom Kobe Finies both held off determined opponents to notch victories in the X-league’s inaugural wild-card playoffs and advance to the quarterfinals of the Japan X Bowl tournament.


The two Super 9 sides can both expect stiffer tests ahead when they face the league’s two remaining unbeaten teams.


Yuki Shiragami rushed for 117 yards on 18 carries, including a 23-yard touchdown run, as Asahi Soft Drinks defeated the All Mitsubishi Lions 20-6 in the second game of the wild-card doubleheader at Kobe’s Oji Stadium to gain a match-up against the unbeaten and top-seeded Fujitsu Frontiers.


In the first game, Elecom’s quarterback duo of Masato Kinoshita and Keijiro Kasuya each threw for a touchdown and ran for another as the Finies pulled away to a 34-7 victory over the As One Black Eagles in an all-West Division clash. The win earns Elecom a rematch on Nov. 5 in the quarterfinals with the unbeaten Obic Seagulls, who beat the Finies 20-14 on Oct. 30.


Asahi Soft Drinks had earned its place in the playoffs at the eighth and last seed from the Super 9 after losing to Elecom during the regular season, while All Mitsubishi topped the Battle 9 with a 5-1 record that included a victory over Elecom—the lone win by a Battle 9 team over a Super 9.


But the Challengers stepped up under the pressure, with Shiragami leading a running game that churned out 200 of 299 total yards, while the defense forced four turnovers which, while leading to just six points, played a vital role in limiting the Lions’ to a pair of field goals.


The Challengers held a tenuous 13-6 lead midway through the fourth quarter when they recovered a fumble by Lions quarterback Shoma Taniguchi at the All Mitsubishi 29. Shinji Kageyama, who was 2 of 4 in field goal attempts, then missed a 42-yarder, but a roughing-the-kicker penalty moved the ball up to the 13, and Ryosuke Yamanaka ran it in from there to make it 20-6 with 3:44 left.


Defensive backs Ryota Ikeda and Takeshi Masui then picked off Taniguchi passes on consecutive series to seal the victory.


The first half was notable for missed scoring opportunities by both teams, and the Challengers took a 10-0 lead into halftime by scoring all of their points in the final 1:17.


After Kageyama missed a 41-yard field goal attempt on the Challengers’ first possession, quarterback Daichi Haraguchi, starting in place of injured Yusuke Kano, engineered a drive from the 9 to the Lions 2. But the All Mitsubishi defense dug in and twice stopped Shiragami short of the goal line, between which Haraguchi had an incomplete pass. The Challengers then came away empty-handed when Kageyama missed a 23-yard field goal attempt.


Neither offense could get any traction in the second quarter. With just over four minutes left, the Challengers finally got something going and advanced to the Lions 23, with the big play 6-yard run by Taniguchi on a 3rd-and-4. On the next play, Shiragami, taking the snap out of a wildcat formation, broke free on his touchdown run for the first points of the game with 1:17 left on the clock.


All Mitsubishi, hoping to get on the board before halftime, instead gave the ball back when Taniguchi was intercepted by Moriyuki Maegawa with :51 remaining. That set up Kageyama for a 41-yard field goal, and this time he was good on the final play of the half to make it 10-0.


The Lions put together a drive to start the third quarter, but this one was hindered by a holding penalty and they had to settle for Hayato Tanizawa’s impressive 51-yard field goal. The Challengers offset that with Kageyama’s 23-yard field goal, which was set up by a 32-yard run by Shiragami, the longest gain from scrimmage of the game.


Tanizawa’s 35-yard field goal four minutes into the fourth quarter cut the Challengers’ lead to 13-7, but that was as close as the Lions would get.


“With Kano having to sit out, Haraguchi played with pride and did a good job,” Asahi Soft Drinks head coach Naohito Matsumoto. “There are still many things we have to adddress, but All Mitsubishi is a very good team and we gained something from this victory.”


Earlier, Elecom put on a goal-line stand to prevent As One from tying the game just before halftime, then got a 4-yard touchdown run from Kinoshita to start the third quarter to make it 21-7 and launch the rout.


Sean Draper set up two touchdowns with a long punt return and one of the Finies’ two interceptions, and rookie lineman Dai Ito had three sacks as the defense held As One to just 167 total yards—including just two rushing—and six first downs.


“I expected it to go as it did in the first half, so it was good that we opted to receive the kickoff in the second half,” Elecom head coach Ryota Kano said. “It was big that the defense didn’t allow a touchdown at the end of the first half. The offense has picked up from before the Obic game, and today it played well.”


Hideataka Nakano kicked a pair of second-half field goals and Teruhiro Inage rushed for 92 yards on 10 carries for Elecom, which  last season beat As One 20-0 in their West Division meeting.


Draper’s 29-yard punt return led to Elecom’s first score, with Kinoshita connecting with Kazuki Sakamoto on a 17-yard touchdown pass, but As One struck back when Kazuki Kawabata got behind the secondary and hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Kohei Tahara.


In the second quarter, Draper’s interception of a Hisao Tatsuma pass gave Elecom the ball at the Eagles 22, which led to a 5-yard touchdown pass from Kasuya to Kenji Tsunekane to make it 14-7.


A long punt return of their own, a 79-yarder by Hiroshi Yamagami, gave As One the ball on the Finies 12, and Tahara hit Masanori Yamamoto to move it to the 1. But the Finies defense stood firm and stopped three straight runs. With only enough time for one play before halftime, As One went for it on fourth down, but Tahara’s pass fell incomplete.


Kinoshita’s 4-yard touchdown run capped the opening drive of the third quarter, with Inage providing the big gain with a 34-yard run to the Eagles 12. Shota Tani’s interception of a Tahara pass set up a 34-yard field goal by Nakano, who then added a 28-yarder early in the fourth quarter.


Kasuya’s 30-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter capped the scoring.


—Compiled by Ken Marantz for the X-League