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TOP > Game Report > IBM ends Lixil’s magical run, earns spot in semifinals

Game Report

IBM ends Lixil’s magical run, earns spot in semifinals


IBM quarterback Yuki Masamoto slips past a defender during a 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.





YOKOHAMA (Nov. 12)—This time there would be no magic show. No rabbit out of the hat in the form of an incredible comeback. Having seen the act before, the IBM BigBlue were ready to close the curtain on it, and the Lixil Deers’ season.


Kevin Craft threw four touchdown passes—all from inside the 10-yard-line—and the IBM defense limited the Lixil offense to 10 points as the BigBlue advanced to the semifinals of the Japan X Bowl tournament with a comprehensive 37-16 victory over the Deers at Yokohama Stadium.


With a three-touchdown lead heading into the fourth quarter, the BigBlue never got complacent, knowing first hand the Deers’ history of storming back from the brink of defeat. In their regular-season meeting on Oct. 9, the Deers turned a late interception into a game-winning touchdown pass by Shohei Kato with :42 left for a 52-48 victory.


“They get scrappy and they get back into games,” Craft said of being wary with the big lead. “We talked about that they weren’t going to be out of the game the whole time. So we had gone over a lot of that scenario, and it worked out.”


The BigBlue could start breathing easier when a Kato pass was intercepted by defensive back Daisuke Hoso in the end zone with 8:47 left in the game. IBM then put the game on ice on the chilly night when rookie Yuki Masamoto, who shared some of the quarterbacking duties with Craft, broke free on a 62-yard touchdown run to make it 37-9.


“We were running the clock out,” Craft said of Masamoto’s inadvertent touchdown. “He’s just a good athlete,” mentioning an earlier play on a third-down scramble when Masamoto hurdled a would-be tackler.


With the victory, the BigBlue, who finished the regular season 3-3, set up a semifinal clash on Nov. 27 in Kawasaki against the unbeaten Fujitsu Frontiers. That will be a rematch of the season-opener for both teams, which Fujitsu won 29-24.


Kato, who had a first-quarter touchdown pass nullified by a holding penalty, finally did find the end zone, but his 19-yarder to Katsuya Nakagawa with :29 left in the game only served to narrow the margin of defeat. He finished 23 of 35 for 262 yards with two interceptions.


Asked what was different from the previous game, IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada said, “Preparation. a lot of preparation time. And obviously, we learned a lot from mistakes that we made the last time we played them. Along with that, we learned from a lot mistakes against Fujitsu, against Seagulls. Three losses that we had, we learned a lot.”


One key to the win was that the IBM defense completely shut down the Lixil running game, holding the Deers to just 55 yards on 24 rushes. While IBM welcomed back All-League defensive end James Brooks from a leg injury, it was first-year defensive tackle Rykeem Yates who particulary stood out.


“The plays that I made were just the plays that I was supposed to make,” said Yates, who had a team-high seven tackles, including a sack and two others for losses. “It was my job. I read my keys and it took me right to those plays. It’s not like I did anything extra, or spectacular.”


Lixil head coach Kiyoyuki Mori acknowledged the game was lost in the trenches. “The play on the line wasn’t very good,” he said. “The blocking and tackling were not good. That was the reason we lost, I think.”


Tomokazu Sueyoshi caught two of Craft’s touchdown passes while Takeshi Kurihara and John Stanton had one each as the BigBlue, the league’s second-most productive offense after Lixil, piled up 514 total yards and had eight minutes more time of possession.


In contrast to their first meeting, it was IBM that made the most of turnovers. A fumble following a pass reception in the first quarter gave the BigBlue the ball on the Lixil 46. Craft and Kurihara connected on three straight passes, the last for a 5-yard touchdown for the first score of the game.


On the next drive, Craft engineered a six-play, 75-yard drive that he capped with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Sueyoshi.


But on the ensuing kickoff, the Deers’ Naoki Maeda broke three tackles en route to a 100-yard return for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked, leaving Lixil trailing 14-6 early in the second quarter.


It looked like that’s the way it would stand going into halftime. But IBM used almost the entire final three minutes to squeeze out another score. Starting at their own 34, Masamoto converted a 3rd-and-10 with a 22-yard run that included his imitation of an Olympic hurdler. Craft then came on and moved the BigBlue to the Lixil 6 with time running out. After two incomplete passes, Craft dumped off a pass to Sueyoshi, who took it in with :04 left in the half to put IBM up 21-6.


“That was great,” said Craft, who completed 20 of 29 passes for 232 yards. “They did the same thing to us the last time we played. That was a big swing in the score.”


IBM received the second-half kickoff and padded its lead when Craft found Stanton all alone in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown. Lixil blocked the extra point, but had trouble fielding the kickoff—IBM went with a chip kick to avoid a return by Maeda—and the BigBlue recovered at the Lixil 41. That led to a 32-yard field goal by Genki Odakura, who had earlier missed a 52-yard attempt.


Lixil threatened on their next drive, but a third-down sack by Yates stifled the march and the Deers had to settle for Daisuke Aoki’s 32-yard field goal.


Lixil had its greatest comeback in their regular-season finale against the Panasonic Impulse, in which Kato threw three touchdown passes over a 3:25 span to put the Deers up 31-30, only to lose 33-31 on a field goal as time expired. But they never came close to repeating that drama against an inspired IBM.


“It’s not something you can do so easily,” Mori said. “It takes a combination of many factors, as well as luck. We needed our line to put more pressure on [Craft]. In particular, they got the running game going in the second half. We had pretty much stopped it in the first half. Their runs in the second half made it tough for us.”


Sueyoshi finished with 60 yards rushing on 11 carries, while Ryo Takagi also rushed 11 times for 57 yards. Including his long run, Masamoto had 106 yards on five carries.


“Even though we were up at halftime, we knew we couldn’t let off the gas,” Yates said. “We had to keep going and keep mashing and that’s what we did. And I’m proud of my team for that.”


“At this point, in this system, if you lose you go home,” Craft said. “We know these guys are good, they’re good enough to beat anybody in the league-and they did, they beat everybody in the league, in the spring and this year. We have to take them one at a time at this point.”


—Ken Marantz for the X-League