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TOP > Game Report > Craft throws for 9 TDs as IBM wins shootout, advances to 1st Japan X Bowl

Game Report

Craft throws for 9 TDs as IBM wins shootout, advances to 1st Japan X Bowl


IBM defensive back Yuki Nakayama dives to make an interception in the fourth quarter.

























YOKOHAMA (Nov. 30)—Kevin Craft kept loading up the heavy artillery and scoring direct hits from both short and long range, only to see counterpart Shohei Kato respond with an almost equally lethal bombardment.


In the end, Craft’s eye-popping nine touchdown passes trumped Kato’s seven and the IBM BigBlue outlasted the Lixil Deers in the most explosive shootoot in league history, winning 69-54 to earn their first-ever trip to the Japan X Bowl.


Craft completed 35 of 44 passes for 567 yards as IBM repeated its victory over Lixil from two weeks ago on the same Yokohama Stadium field, a 38-10 win in the final game of the second stage that put the BigBlue into the semifinals for just the second time.


IBM will face the unbeaten Fujitsu Frontiers in the Japan X Bowl on Dec. 15 at Tokyo Dome. The two met in an East Division clash in October, which Fujitsu won 41-13.


On Sunday, the BigBlue looked like they would run away with the game when, helped by two Lixil turnovers, they stormed to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. But the inflappable Kato, who completed 41 of 61 passes for 501 yards, kept the Deers in the game down to the end, even though some overanxiouness resulted in five interceptions.


“I think they have a strong will, because it’s hard to get down three scores and still scrounge back in,” Craft said. “And we just kept scoring, and they kept scrounging their way back in it. That takes a really strong will, and their team is really resilient. I just have a lot of respect for them.”


IBM twice restored the 21-point lead, then opened up the biggest gap of the day with 7:46 left in the game when Takashi Kurihara caught his fourth touchdown pass, a 19-yarder to put the BigBlue up 62-38. That came after Craft and Kurihara had combined on a 43-yard TD pass, with both scores set up by interceptions.


The Deers were down but not out, and Kato touchdown passes to Naoki Maeda and Yasuhiro Miyamoto, sandwiched around a successful onside kick and both capped by 2-point conversions, suddenly made it 62-54 with 6:07 left.


One possession away from tying the game, the Deers came close to getting it had not been for a crucial play by IBM tight end John Stanton.


On 2nd-and-10 at the 35, Stanton and Lixil defensive back Shuhei Yamamoto  simultaneously grabbed a pass over the middle, then wrestled for the ball as they fell to the ground. An interception would give Lixil new life, but the referees could not distiguish which player had possession, in which case the judgement goes in favor of the offensive team.


“It was one of those plays where I knew that even if I was completely covered, the ball might be coming,” said Stanton, who caught nine passes for 82 yards and one touchdown. “At that point when I saw the ball in the air and I could feel where he was in proximity to me, it was kind of like instinct.


Stanton, in his third season with IBM, saw the culmination of the years of the BigBlue’s trying to break into the league elite represented in keeping hold of that ball.


“I felt like down in that pile, trying to rip the ball away, it was like the three years that we’ve been working up to this point. At that point, I wasn’t going to let the other team catch the ball. That’s what it came down to.”


Craft kept the drive going and after he converted a 3rd-and-11 with an 11-yard pass to Kurihara, Tomokazu Sueyoshi took the ball the remaining 15 yards for the lone rushing touchdown of the game to seal the victory.


“Our offense was able to score, and as long as we kept it to a two-possession game, we still had a chance,” Lixil head coach Kiyoyuki Mori said. “We don’t know what might happen. Anyway, we just needed to keep calm and not give up.”


Michihiro Ogawa caught two touchdown passes among his five receptions for 78 yards, while Kurihara finished with seven catches for 148 yards. He also had a 56-yard kickoff return, although that was negated when Stanton fumbled the ball after a pass reception for IBM’s lone turnover.


Craft’s other touchdown pass held special meaning, as it was a 1-yard toss to revered veteran Takanami Murakami, a former All-League offensive tackle converted to tight end in his twilight years.


“He’s the old offensive lineman and he’s never scored a touchdown, and he got it in this,” Craft said. “So everybody’s happy. It was a good night for everybody.”


Craft was just glad the Deers didn’t see the play coming.


“The weekend after we put it into the game plan, I saw the Green Bay Packers run the same play and Aaron Rodgers throw a touchdown to the tight end. I was like, ‘They ran our play. They ran the same play that we’re going to run.’ And I was like, ‘I hope [the Deers] don’t see it.’”


Craft, who said he had never before had a nine-TD game, came inches from adding a 10th. On the BigBlue’s first drive of the second half, Atsushi Uehiro had a 70-yard catch-and-run, the longest reception of the game, that put the ball on the Deers 3. After a 3-yard loss and an incompletion, Craft threw a pass to Kohei Kajikawa, who was stopped inches short of the goal line. Defensive back Tadanari Sano then broke up Craft’s 4th-down pass.


Miyamoto caught 10 passes for 90 yards and three touchdowns for the Deers, while Maeda also had 10 receptions for 156 yards with one score. Yasushi Nakagawa, Kento Suzuki and Katsuya Nakagawa each caught a touchdown pass.


“They were rolling offensively,” Stanton said. “They’re a great team. We talked about it a lot that they’re a great second-half team, and we were going to have to fight to the last series and, here we go, it turned out that way.”


On defense, rookie defensive back Shoto Nakatani had three of IBM’s five interceptions, while Mitsunori Kihira had two sacks and James Brooks and Tuika Tufaga had one each.


—Ken Marantz for the X-League

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