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TOP > Game Report > Obic issues storm warning with brusing backfield pair; defense thwarts Rise, Gardner

Game Report

Obic issues storm warning with brusing backfield pair; defense thwarts Rise, Gardner

’17.09.18

Obic running back Taku Lee runs for a first down in the third quarter as Nojima defensive end Mario Ojemudia (53) pursues. (photo by MIPlanning)

 

 

 

Obic issues storm warning with brusing backfield pair; defense thwarts Rise, Gardner

By Ken Marantz

 

KAWASAKI (Sept. 17)—It seemed only appropriate that on a miserable, rainy day when the running game had to step up, Taku Lee and Asaki Mochizuki lived up to their coach’s vision and emulated “Thunder & Lightning.”

 

The running back duo accounted for 60 percent of Obic’s total yardage and more than half of its offensive plays, and scored one of the two touchdowns that the Seagulls rode to a hard-fought 14-0 victory over the Nojima Sagahimara Rise at Fujitsu Stadium Kawasaki.

 

“We have a big stable of them,” Obic offensive coordinator Daniel Lynds said of the team’s group of capable running backs. “Two of them got highlighted today.”

 

Veteran quarterback Shun Sugawara scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter, and Mochizuki added the second by bulling in from the 11 in the third as Obic rebounded from its season-opening 38-34 loss to the IBM BigBlue.

 

The win would not have been possible without a sturdy effort from the defense that, while not being able to fully stop the Rise’s multi-threat quarterback Devin Gardner, forced him into making four costly turnovers, most notably a fumble at the goal line in the third quarter after Obic had made it a two-possession game.

 

“I think we closed the gap,” Gardner said. “The rain didn’t help us today. The thing is, no matter the circumstances—rain, protection, whatever—I can’t turn the ball over four times and expect to win. The fact that we were still in the game shows that we are a pretty good team. But that’s tough when you turn it over that many times.”

 

Lee, the highly touted rookie out of Keio University, was the workhorse of the Obic offense, rushing 18 times for 84 yards, many coming after deftly spinning away from or bouncing off tacklers.

 

The 182-centimeter Lee, who missed the spring season due to work commitments, seems to be adjusting well to the X-League, although he insists he still has much room for improvement.

 

“I carried a lot, but I’m not so good today,” Lee said. “My goal is so high, so I don’t want to be satisfied. I want to grow more. I need more patience and omoikiri (resolution). But today, I learned a lot of things, so maybe I can [show growth for] the next game.”

 

Mochizuki, a burly 94 kilograms, has developed into Obic’s go-to guy in short yardage situations, but also has the speed to break free on big runs.

 

Lynds sees the pair as a Japanese version of the backfield tandam of Reggie Bush and LenDale White, who starred for Southern Cal in the mid-2000s and are regarded as among the greatest running back pair in U.S. college history.

 

“They called them Thunder & Lightning,” Lynds said. “That’s kind of what we’re trying to make with Mochizuki and Lee. You have your home-run hitter and you just have your hammer. It’s hard to look up and know who’s in and know what to do against them. They did a nice job.”

 

Sugawara, getting the starting nod again as new American QB Ikaika Woolsey still recovers from a foot injury suffered in the spring, completed 9 of 13 passes for 78 yards. But under the conditions, running was the first option, as the Seagulls stayed on the ground for 37 of 50 plays.

 

“The rain, combined with all that wind…you just got to play smart. That’s what we wanted to do,” Lynds said.

 

The Rise, facing their first big test after opening the season by crushing the Bulls 84-0,  took to the air more, as Gardner threw 28 passes, completing 14 for 148 yards. The main problem, as it turned out, was trying to get the ball past Obic’s fierce pass rush.

 

Defensive end Kevin Jackson hit Gardner’s arm as he threw on the opening drive of the game, resulting in an interception. Then Jackson grabbed an interception himself in the second quarter, when defensive end B.J. Beatty tipped a screen pass at the line.

 

“The guy’s an athlete, you can’t let that guy have the ball and sit back there too long, give him open lanes,” Beatty said of pressuring Gardner. “The guy’s a freak, he can run, he can sling it deep. We’re just trying to get pressure on him and get him to move him around, and hopefully we can get to the ball.”

 

Gardner’s fumble at the goal line in the third quarter kept it a two-possession game, and it remained that way when defensive back Keizaburo Isokawa had Obic’s third pick of the game early in the fourth quarter. The Rise’s fate was finally sealed when Gardner engineered a drive to the Obic 11, but his pass on 4th-and-3 with 3:17 left fell incomplete.

 

Gardner said he needs to be more aware of the pass rush and when to eat the ball, rather than trying to force a pass and risk an interception.

 

“Sometimes I have to take some more sacks,” he said. “Because getting hit while you throw is always a disaster. We have to flip the field, because when we’re playing in our end the whole time, it’s tough to win.”

 

Last season, the Rise gave up a fourth-quarter touchdown and lost to Obic 14-13, one of five close losses they were dealt. Gardner said that while the score was worse, the Rise played a better game this time.

 

“They didn’t really stop us much,” he said. “They had a good plan, but I think we had a better plan. Had it not been for the rain, we had an even better plan. We adjusted really well and we moved the ball, but we just didn’t finish much.”

 

The game provided the first true look at the Rise’s new American imports, burly fullback Sione Houma and defensive end Mario Ojemudia, both former teammates of Gardner’s at Michigan. The 105-kilogram Houma gained 57 yards on 12 carries, while Ojemudia had two of Nojima’s three sacks.

 

Ojemudia had praise for Obic’s running backs. “[Lee], he’s a good running back, he’s pretty shifty,” he said. “[Mochizuki], he’s a big power back. They definitely showed up today.”

 

On the third play of the game, Jackson’s hit on Gardner’s arm caused his pass to float  straight to defensive back Takeshi Miyake. That gave Obic the ball at the Nojima 25, but the Rise came out unscathed when a Takatoshi Hoshino field goal was nullified by a personal foul and the Seagulls ended up punting.

 

On Obic’s next drive, Sugawara completed four of four passes in taking the Seagulls 57 yards in eight plays, which he capped by seeing an opening as he looked for a receiver and scrambling into the end zone from eight yards out.

 

The Seagulls doubled their lead at the start of the second half, going 62 yards in 11 plays in a drive that Mochizuki kept going with a 6-yard gain on a 4th-and-1 gamble and ended with an 11-yard touchdown run that included bouncing off two tacklers.

 

Gardner showed his athleticism on the ensuing drive. Just as he was about to be brought down after a scramble in the backfield, he used a basketball-like chest pass to connect on a 15-yard gain to Takahide Dejima. He eventually moved the Rise to the Obic 6, but as he took the ball up the middle and approached the goal line, the ball was pried loose and linebacker Yuta Terada recovered at the 1.

 

“I feel like I stretched it over, but they said I didn’t,” Gardner said. “And then I got hit as I was reaching. I thought I had it back, it was kind of wrestled underneath the pile. Just got to do better, try to hold onto it when I’m getting hit.”

 

Beatty said he was confident the defense could make sure that 14 points would be enough for the victory.

 

“Defensively, we’re always going for the shutout, so we think 14 points will get it done,” he said. “I hate giving up points, so once we get points, I feel we can win.”

 

Both teams will have “home” games next. Obic will host the All Mitsubishi Lions at Frontier Soccer Field in its hometown of Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, on Sept. 24, while Nojima takes on IBM at Sagamihara Gion Stadium in Kanagawa Prefecture on Oct. 1.

 

The Nojima-IBM game will be a rematch of the semifinal from the spring Pearl Bowl, which the BigBlue won 27-16.

 

 

 

 

 

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