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TOP > Game Report > Deers down BigBlue, but fall short of division title

Game Report

Deers down BigBlue, but fall short of division title


Lixil running back Yasuhiro Maruta runs for a first down in the fourth quarter as IBM linebacker Yusuke Kishimoto joins the pursuit.




YOKOHAMA (Oct. 18)—For Lixil Deers head coach Kiyoyuki Mori, the victory was the only thing that mattered. He didn’t care about how much the team won by, even if it meant not only missing a division title, but gaining the one future opponent everyone had wanted to avoid.


Shohei Kato threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns as Lixil defeated previously unbeaten IBM 33-25, but the margin of victory before the crowd of 2,430 at Yokohama Stadium was not enough to keep the BigBlue from winning the Central Division title.


Lixil, which had lost to the Asahi Beer Silver Star in the season-opener, needed to win by 12 points to secure a second straight division title. Instead the Deers finished second behind IBM, with Asahi Beer placing third based on point differential in games between the three teams after they all ended with 4-1 records.


“It doesn’t matter, I don’t care,” Mori said. “The most important thing in football is to beat the opponent. The margin of victory basically is irrelevant to me. That’s my personal viewpoint of football.”


The Deers had a chance to score again when they got the ball at their own 35 with 1:03 left. But instead of using a hurry-up offense, they played it safe and took the win by running out the clock with a pair of running plays.


“Looking at the risk, the opponent would play back to prevent us from increasing the lead,” Mori said. “To push that and have the possibility of losing the ball and then losing the game, that’s not a football game to me.”


The second-place finish is significant, because it puts the Deers in the second-stage group with the defending champion Fujitsu Frontiers (along with the Elecom Kobe Finies, who placed third in the West Division). But that was never a factor for Mori, either.


“Regardless of who we play, even if we finished first, we would have to beat whoever the opponent is,” he said. “To get a favorable grouping by controlling the margin of victory isn’t my way of football.”


While winning the war, losing the battle was a big blow for IBM as it means taking a loss into the second stage, where the BigBlue will face West champion Panasonic and East third-place finisher Obic.  And it came against a team it defeated twice last year en route to a first-ever berth in the Japan X-Bowl, a 38-10 win in the second stage and then a wild 69-54 victory two weeks later in the semifinals.


“It makes it tough because you don’t have any room to lose [in the second stage],” said IBM quarterback Kevin Craft. “It’s tough when you’ve got a loss. And we’ve been in this situation every year. So we know the drill and we know how hard it is to advance when you do that to yourself.”


Craft led IBM to a touchdown on its opening drive, but was held to 176 yards on 16 of 26 passing with an interception as Lixil and penalties hampered the BigBlue in the red zone—they had to settle for four Genki Odakura field goals, none farther than 38 yards.


Offensively, Lixil was able to use its beefy line to penetrate inside with its rushing game, generally avoiding big American defensive ends James Brooks and Demetrius Eaton. Veteran running back Yasuhiro Maruta had his first 100-yard game of the season, hitting that mark exactly on 16 carries, including a 45-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that set up a 28-yard field goal by Daisuke Aoki to put Lixil up 33-22.


“Maybe IBM was more concerned with Kato’s passing and it spread the defense, and made it easier for us to run,” Mori said. “Even though they had the two foreign players on the ends, it was good that our offensive line did not falter and blocked well.”


IBM took the lead on Craft’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Takeshi Kurihara to start the game, but Lixil’s Tatsuya Nagakawa returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards to even the score. On its first offensive series, the Deers marched 76 yards in seven plays to go ahead on Shinichi Maekawa’s 8-yard touchdown run. During the drive, Maekawa broke loose on a 33-yard run.


The two teams traded field goals early in the second quarter before a shanked punt by the BigBlue’s Shosei Hara gave Lixil the ball at the IBM 29 with less than four minutes to go in the half.  The Deers needed five plays to go the distance, with Kato hitting Naoki Maeda streaking over the middle for a 10-yard touchdown with :56 left.


But that was enough for IBM to add to its tally, helped by Tomokazu Sueyoshi’s 30-yard return of a squib kick to pu the ball at the Lixil 43. The BigBlue got down to the 14, where Odakura kicked a 34-yard field as time expired to cut the Deers lead to 24-13 at halftime.


That score lasted all of two plays. On the first play of the second half, linebacker Yusuke Kishimoto intercepted a Kato pass to give IBM the ball on the Lixil 48. On the next play, Ryo Takagi went off left tackle, broke to the outside and took it all the way. Lixil blocked the extra point attempt, leaving its lead at five points.


Lixil responded with another solid drive. Mixed with runs by Maruta, Kato completed five of five passes, the last a 37-yard TD toss to Yasuhiro Miyamoto to put the Deers up 30-19, which is how it stayed when Lixil was stopped on its 2-point conversion attempt.


A 34-yard field goal by Odakura cut the lead to eight points before Craft and Kato were intercepted on successive series straddling the start of the fourth quarter. After Aoki’s second field goal restored the Deers’ 11-point lead, IBM opted to settle for Odakura’s 38-yard field goal with 1:07 left.


IBM had 1st-and-goal at the Lixil 4, but a penalty, a 5-yard loss on a Takagi run and a 17-yard loss on a sack, combined with a 10-yard pass, had the BigBlue facing 4th-and-21.


“We wanted to win obviously, so we tried to get that three points and try to make it a one-possesion game, an eight-point game,” said IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada. “The percentage of making that 4th-and-21, there’s no way, so we kicked a field goal and tried an onside [kick].”


Lixil recovered the onside kick, then ran out the clock instead of going for the touchdown that would give them the division title.


“Of course, if there was a chance to increase the lead, we would think about getting more points,” Mori said. “But more than anything, the priority was on winning the game.”


Craft said there was little difference between the two teams, which is backed up by the stats. IBM had 22 first downs to Lixil’s 19, while the Deers had a slight advantage in total yards, 401-390. There was only a 20-second difference in time of possession in Lixil’s favor.


“They had a big play early with the kickoff return. If you take that out of it, it’s a pretty even game,” Craft said. “We ran the ball pretty well. There’s a few plays we could have made in the passing game and just didn’t.


“But I think we all had a chance to make a play and missed our chances. It’s on us at the end of the day and we just have to watch the film and move on.”


—Ken Marantz for the X-League