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TOP > Game Report > Finies pull off 2nd straight West shocker, hold off Challengers

Game Report

Finies pull off 2nd straight West shocker, hold off Challengers


KOBE (Sept 14)—The Elecom Kobe Finies continued their stunning upheaval of the West Division, following up their season-opening upset of the Panasonic Impulse by holding on to shock the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers as well.

Quarterback Inoke Funaki ran 61 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, then added a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ryohei Kaneshiro in the second as the Finies held on for a 16-12 win and their first victory over the Challengers since 1997.

The Elecom defense forced three turnovers, including two interceptions deep in its territory, and held the Challengers to 61 total yards and three first downs before the crowd of 1,160 at Kobe’s Oji Stadium.

It marks the first time since the start of the X-League in 1996 that a West Division team has beaten both Panasonic and Asahi Soft Drinks in the same season. And it puts Elecom on track to end those two teams’ stranglehold on the division title—the Impulse have won 15 titles in that span and the Challengers the other three.

“The Asahi defense has many strong players and we had to devise a game plan to handle that,” Elecom head coach Ryota Kano said. “Funaki was able to pull off the plays designed for him. Kaneshiro had decided to retire last season at one point, so I’m very glad he stayed with the team and was able to come through like he did today.”

Prior to the launch of the X-League, Elecom, then known as the Sunstar Finies, made it to the corporate league championship game twice, in 1991 and 1993, although they lost both times. The Finies posted 3-2 records in West Division in the first two years of the X-League—beating Asahi Soft Drinks both years—but have never won more than two games since then nor beaten the Challengers as the team went through several sponsorship changes and even spent one season in X2.

Coming off a sixth straight 2-3 season, the Finies pulled off their greatest victory in the season-opener on Aug. 30 by defeating the Impulse 24-21 in an overtime tiebreaker. Sunday’s win over the Challengers provided confirmation that that win was no fluke.

Jun Matsuoka, who kicked the game-winning field goal against Panasonic, booted a 23-yard field goal in the second quarter to put the Finies up 16-0.  The Challengers finally got on the scoreboard on Choi Kyung Ho’s 29-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in the first half.

It was the Challengers’ defense that provided the rest of their points. Rookie defensive back Keisuke Waki intercepted a Funaki pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown 1:12 into the third quarter.

After Matsuoka’s second missed field goal of the game, which could have made it a two-score game, the Finies took a safety when the punter took a knee in the end zone with 1:54 left on the clock. But the defense held on the Challengers’ final drive, clinching another historic win.

In the first quarter, the Challengers appeared to end an Elecom drive when Funaki was sacked, but they were flagged for a facemask on the play, giving the Finies the ball on the 39-yard line. On the next play, Funaki took off down the sidelines and went all the way. The extra point was missed, making it 6-0 .

“The play was designed that way,” Kano said.

On the Finies’ next series, they drove to the Challengers 20, but came up empty-handed when Matsuoka missed a field goal. But the defense provided a second scoring chance. Forcing the Challengers to punt, they put pressure on Shigehisa Miyazawa and he never got the kick off, giving the Finies the ball on the 16. That led to Funaka’s TD pass to Kaneshiro and a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Later in the quarter, behind a big run by Kaneshiro, the Finies drove to the Challengers 6, where they had to settle for Matsuoka’s field goal to take a 16-0 lead. It looked like it might stay that way going into halftime, but the Challengers made a last-ditch effort to get on the scoreboard.

The Challengers got down to Finies 10 in the waning seconds, but an incomplete pass and a stopped run left them short of the end zone and they came away with Choi’s field goal.

In the second half, the Challengers appeared to get the spark they needed to change the tide on Waki’s interception return for a touchdown. And it looked even better when Hironobu Hoshida blocked a Kenjiro Kasuya punt, giving Asahi Soft Drinks the ball on the Finies 35.

Masayoshi Hayashi, who did not start after suffering an injury in practice, moved the Challengers to the 13, only to have a pass intercepted by Yuki Nakatani in the end zone to end the threat. The Finies failed on a fourth-down gamble to give the Challengers the ball back on the 30, only to have Hayashi return it with another interception, this one by Nobuhiro Shigeta.

“We said there was still time so there was no need to go for a touchdown,” Challengers head coach Tatsuhide Fukuda said of the interceptions. “Those were wasted plays.”

Despite the win, Kano said the Finies have room for improvement.

“The kicking game was a mess,” he said. “We won’t go anywhere in the second stage like that. We have to fix this.”









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