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TOP > Game Report > Deers pull shocker, deal Seagulls 1st loss in fall since 2009

Game Report

Deers pull shocker, deal Seagulls 1st loss in fall since 2009

’14.10.20

Lixil linebacker Kensuke Amaya returns an interception in the third quarter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOKOHAMA (Oct. 19)—The stage was all set for Obic to pull off yet another late victory and prolong a winning streak that had stretched into a fifth season.

 

Down by six points, just over three minutes to go, and the Seagulls with the ball  on the Lixil 5-yard line. Then the script changed dramatically, as well as the landscape for the second stage.

 

Rookie quarterback Takushiro Hata never got a handle on the snap and Lixil defensive lineman Hiroyuki Shigechika recovered the loose ball, and the Deers ran out the clock to finish up a stunning 23-17 victory at Yokohama Stadium to capture the Central Division title.

 

Shohei Kato threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns to Naoki Maeda and Daisuke Aoki kicked three second-half field goals as the Deers handed the four-time defending league champion Seagulls their first loss in the fall season since 2009.

 

“If we did what we worked on, we knew we could make a game of it,” Kato said. “We don’t see our offense as being stopped and we believed we could drive on them. The defense stepped up at the end and that gave us the win.”

 

Few could have envisioned such an outcome early in the season, when the Deers needed a 17-point fourth quarter and a late field goal to get past the All Mitsubishi Lions 31-28, then struggled to hold off the Asahi Beer Silver Star 20-10. The sluggish start could be attributed to a delay in preparations for the season after having to make the transition to a new sponsor.

 

But before the crowd of 2,671, the Deers looked more like the team that made it to the Japan X Bowl in 2012 and won the Pearl Bowl in 2013.

 

“The defensive side of the football improved very much,” Lixil head coach Kiyoyuki Mori said. “Each practice they improved, day by day. I’m a little bit surprised, but I think we are not so bad.”

 

Obic’s last defeat in the fall came in the second stage of the 2009 season, when the Seagulls fell 23-20 to the Panasonic Impulse. That year they also lost to Asahi Beer 16-13 to decide the East Division title. Over the past four years, the Seagulls and Deers met in the playoffs, with Obic winning each time.

 

Going into Sunday’s game, Obic’s vaunted defense was aiming to become the first team in the 19-year history of the league to post shutouts in all five of its divisional games. But that ended when Kato threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Naoki Maeda on the first play of the second quarter.

 

“This game, the most important thing was the line battle, especially for the offensive line,” Mori said. “The pass protection was key. If we gave the quarterback time, we could move the ball and score. So the O-line was the MVP.”

 

Kato, who completed 24 of 32 passes with one interception, finished as the division’s passing leader, throwing for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes (68 of 98). He development this season has resulted from not having to share the quarterbacking duties with Takuya Yamashiro, who became a coach.

 

“Without Yamashiro, I’ve become the main quarterback,” Kato said. “I’m taking all the plays in practice in preparation for the next game.  It’s become easier for me to run the offense as I want.”

 

Hata played the full game for Obic, as regular QB Shun Sugawara, who has led innumerable last-minute scoring drives, was available only for emergency duty after getting banged up in the previous game against Asahi Beer.

 

Hata completed 17 of 27 passes for 187 yards. He threw two touchdown passes to Noriaki Kinoshita—although the second was ruled a lateral and Kinoshita credited with a rushing touchdown—and had one interception.

 

But the key play was the fumbled snap with Obic within sniffing distance of the end zone. On the previous drive, the defense had limited Lixil to Aoki’s 26-yard field goal to make it 23-17 with 5:37 left, setting up the Seagulls to go ahead with a touchdown and complete a storybook finish.

 

At one point, it looked like Obic would score too fast and leave too much time on the clock for Lixil. Starting at the 41, Hata connected with Ryoma Hagiyama on a 21-yard pass, then three running plays moved it to the Lixil 5. Then fate stepped in.

 

“We were just lucky,” Mori said. “I thought they would score in a very, very short time, and that would give us time [to score].”

 

Lixil’s inability to get into the end zone and having to settle for field goals in the second half left the door open for Obic in a game in which the Deers were decidedly the stronger team.

 

“We had a chance at the end, it was just a bad exchange [on the fumble],” Obic center Frank Fernandez said. “We didn’t put ourselves into a position to win all day.”

 

Lixil took advantage of an early miscue to strike first. Obic punter Takeshi Nagao dropped the snap and, scrambling to get his kick off, it was tipped by Shigechika, giving the Deers the ball on the 46.

 

Kato completed three straight passes, the last one a 30-yarder to Yasuhiro Miyamoto, who was pushed out at the Obic 1. Two running plays left the Deers at the same spot to end the first quarter, but on 3rd down, Kato flipped a pass to Maeda cutting over the middle for the score.

 

Kinoshita’s 41-yard kickoff return gave Obic the ball on the 47. Hata completed two passes of 8 yards each, then found Kinoshita behind the secondary for a 37-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-all.

 

Later in the second quarter, Obic turned an interception by linebacker and captain Naoki Kosho deep in Lixil territory into a 25-yard field goal by Yosuke Kanoya with 2:49 left.

 

But that lead was short-lived, as Kato engineered a 7-play, 77-yard drive, capped by his 13-yard touchdown pass to Maeda with :34 left, to send Lixil into halftime with a 14-10 lead.

 

On Obic’s first possession of the second half, linebacker Kensuke Amaya picked off a Hata pass to give Lixil the ball on the Seagulls 38. The Deers advanced as far as the 10, but got no further and had to settle for Aoki’s 27-yard field goal. He added a 45-yarder with :20 left in the third quarter to put Lixil up 20-10.

 

Obic responded with Hata passing for 29 yards and running for 26 in a 7-play, 75-yard drive, with Kinoshita taking Hata’s pass in the left flat and blowing past defensive back Riichi Hori for his second touchdown.

 

Despite the loss, Obic can still be considered a strong contender to make it through the second stage and into the semifinals. If nothing else, it served as a wakeup call that there are no easy games from this point on.

 

“We’ve won four years in a row,” Fernandez said. “The target has to be massive on our backs and we have to understand that. And to some extent, there’s pressure on us, too, to kind of meet that standard.

 

“For them to come out ready, rockin’ and rollin’, you have to expect that every time. To be honest, we were kind of flat coming out of practice. Not a complete shock.”

 

In the second stage, Lixil will be grouped with the Asahi Soft Drink Challengers and the second-place team from the East Division. Obic will face the West Division champion Elecom Kobe Finies and the East’s third-place team.

 

—Ken Marantz for the X-League

 

 

 

 

 

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