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TOP > Game Report > Game Preview: Fujitsu-IBM clash features shootout between star QBs

Game Report

Game Preview: Fujitsu-IBM clash features shootout between star QBs


The long-anticipated shootout between the league’s two high-profile American quarterbacks makes the East Division clash between the Fujitsu Frontiers and IBM BigBlue on Saturday alluring enough.


The BigBlue’s recent win over the Nojima Sagimihara Rise has taken it to another level.


“It shows that they’re a very talented team,” Fujitsu quarterback Colby Cameron said of IBM’s 30-21 win last Saturday. “I think this game will be fun for both teams and we’re just excited for the competition.”


Fujitsu and IBM both take 3-0 records into the game at Kawasaki Fujimi Stadium, where Cameron and IBM counterpart Kevin Craft will face their toughest tests so far, each having to take on one of the staunchest defenses in the league.


Craft, the former UCLA starter who shattered every passing record in his first two seasons here, enters the game as the league’s leading passer, having completed 69 of 102 attempts for 919 yards and 12 touchdowns, with four interceptions.


Cameron’s stats are not as imposing, but only because he has yet to play anything close to a full game, as the Frontiers have stormed to three straight victories by a combined score of 200-17. The first-year player, who starred at Louisiana Tech, is 36 for 51 for 686 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception.


Cameron says he understands the hype centering on the duel between the two QBs. “I think it will be a great show. It’s always fun when you have quarterbacks who like to throw the ball. So I think it will be fun for the fans to watch and I hope that it will be a competitive game that people will enjoy.”


But, as Craft points out, like starting pitchers in baseball for the most part, the two will not be directly facing each other on the field.


“[I look at it] the same way as I look at everything,” Craft says. “I’m not playing against their quarterback, I’m playing against their defense. So it doesn’t matter. It’s our team against their team. I never even think about playing against the other team’s quarterback.”


Craft, who also does the play-calling, will have his hands full with a Fujitsu defense that made a big addition—both literally and figuratively—this season in former Arkansas defensive Austin Flynn, who had been at the Oakland Raiders’ training camp before coming to Japan.


“He’s strong and he’s quick,” Craft said. “He’s a good player. I know he was a really good player in junior college; he played against my dad’s team. And he played in the SEC [Southeast Conference], so he can play.”


Craft will also have to contend with defensive back Adeyami Al-Rilwan, who has recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of the spring. But Craft knows that’s not all.


“Not just their American guys. Their Japanese guys are really good. So I think they have a really good team to beat. They’re not weak at any position. They have depth. It’s a tough team.”


IBM did not stand idly by and watch as the other teams bolstered their lineups. The BigBlue filled a big gap on the defensive line with the addition of ends James Brooks, a former opponent of Craft’s when he played at Arizona State, and Tuika Tufaga from the Rise.


“They’re both talented players and they obviously create some mismatches on the edge,” Cameron says. “But I think this week we just have to stick to our fundamentals and I’m confident in our guys’ abilities to do their jobs.”


Brooks, who is also an accomplished hip-hop artist, is ready for the challenge.


“I think their O-line is great,” he says. “Obviously they have a great quarterback in Mr. Cameron. I think we’re just going to have to come in with the same type of attitude as, we just have to do what we do. Study our butts off in the film room, and come out with a great attitude and a great game plan, high energy and just do what we do.”


“I think the league should know by now that this is a different BigBlue team,” he adds. “Our offense is still high powered, and most importantly, our defense is high powered. We have great playmakers.”


Quarterbacks are only as good as the players catching their passes, and both have excellent, sure-handed receivers who can break a game open.


Teruaki Clark Nakamura has been the main target for Cameron, catching a league-leading 17 passes for 309 yards and eight touchdowns.


“He’s just a great receiver,” Cameron says. “He adds a lot. He can run so many routes, that he’s very dynamic. It’s nice to have. But what’s good about us is, even if teams wanted to double him or they wanted to pay more attention to him, everyone else is picking up the slack.”


Craft has divided nearly half his passes between speedster Takashi Kurihara and veteran Michihiro Ogawa. Kurihara has caught 16 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown, while Ogawa has scored four times on 14 receptions for 196 yards.


Neither team, however, can ignore the other’s running game, which both have used effectively to keep opposing defenses honest.


As prolific as Craft is, brutish running back Tomokazu Sueyoshi has been putting up impressive numbers himself, leading the league with 320 yards on 38 carries with two touchdowns. Fourth in the league is Fujitsu’s Kei Goto, who has rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, while Cameron himself is seventh, having scrambled for 158 yards on just seven carries with three touchdowns.


Another point of intrigue is that, playing just a week after their last games, both teams will have little time to prepare.


“Rise is a good team, Fujitsu is a good team. Everybody knows that,” Craft says. “We have a short week and we just have to come up with some game plan and come at those guys. I know it’s going to be a tough game.”


Fujitsu, the losing finalist in the Japan X Bowl in two of the past three seasons, will go in as favorite. IBM, which would almost assure itself of a first-ever unbeaten season in divisional play with a victory, is poised to shake up the status quo.


“We’re fighting for that top spot,” says IBM tight end John Stanton. “We know they’re a great team, but we’re going to come at them with everything we got in terms of preparation and effort.”


IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada has already envisioned a scenario for success.


“They have all the weapons,” he says. “We just have figure out some way, some how, to hold them to around 20, 24, 28 [points]. Then hopefully, we’ll get like 35 points. Something like that.”


—Ken Marantz for the X-League