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TOP > Game Report > Rice Bowl preview: Star QB Cameron doubtful for Fujitsu clash with Kwansei Gakuin

Game Report

Rice Bowl preview: Star QB Cameron doubtful for Fujitsu clash with Kwansei Gakuin





































Having lost in each of the last three Rice Bowls, Kwansei Gakuin head coach Hideaki Toriuchi joked that it would be nice if the Fujitsu Frontiers limited the play of their foreign players in this year’s game.


He might just get his wish, and not because of any generosity on Fujitsu’s part.


Quarterback Colby Cameron, who led the Frontiers’ march to a first-ever X-League championship, is questionable for the game on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome due to a right shoulder injury.


Cameron, who has thrown for 24 touchdowns and 2,239 yards in nine games in his first season in Japan, suffered the injury just before halftime in the Japan X Bowl against the IBM BigBlue on Dec. 15, which the Frontiers won 44-10.


Cameron and the trainers have been using the long layoff to rehab the shoulder, but the former Louisiana Tech star is not optimistic. “It’s not promising,” he said at Fujitsu’s practice on Sunday. “It is what it is, it’s part of football. Playing might be a little tough.”


That would give the Fighters slightly more hope in their bid to not only end their own recent futility in the national championship game after three straight losses to the Obic Seagulls, but also that of the collegiate teams in general.


The X-League teams have won the last five games and nine of the last 10, and lead the series 19-13 since the Rice Bowl has pitted the corporate and collegiate champions for the national title starting in 1984.


Kwansei Gakuin earned a record 10th trip to the Rice Bowl with a 55-10 rout of the Nihon University Phoenix in the Koshien Bowl on Dec. 14.  The Fighters have won just once, in 2002 with a 30-27 victory over the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers, who were coached by current Fujitsu head coach Satoshi Fujita.


Fujita said the absence of Cameron will be felt, but the team has prepared for just such a contigency. In fact, the Frontiers had a dress rehearsal when Keiya Hiramoto filled in for Cameron against IBM and threw a touchdown pass while finishing up the victory.


“It was a good experience for him because he didn’t play for awhile, almost a year,” Fujita said of Hiramoto. Also available is former starter Akihiro Izuhara, who is more of a running threat. “We have two quarterbacks who can play,” Fujita said. “We prepared for this the entire year. We are ready.”


The Fighters offense is led by quarterback Kei Saito and running back Satoshi Sagino, this year’s college MVP, who operate behind a solid offensive line consisting of all underclassmen.


“They have a good plan,” said Fujitsu defensive end Austin Flynn, who had three sacks in the Japan X Bowl. “They do a lot of good combination blocking and run schemes and tricky stuff, which you just have to be patient on. But I think our team is ready for it.


“We played against the toughest guys in the X-League, so we just have to be smart, just go out there prepared fully and just attack the game like we usually do.”


The Frontiers know they cannot afford to take the opponent lightly. Although the Fighters lost three straight to Obic, the Seagulls actually had to rally to win the first two. In 2012, Kwansei Gakuin led going into the fourth quarter before losing 38-28, and the following year Obic needed a touchdown with 10 seconds left to pull out a 21-15 victory. The Seagulls won last year’s game 34-16, but their reign came to end when the Frontiers beat them in November in the league semifinals.


“Everybody is pretty good,” Fujita said of the Fighters. “Offensively, they have good receivers, running backs, the quarterback can run and throw the ball very well. The offensive line is good as a unit. Defensively, they move around and mix things up.”


One thing Kwansei Gakuin has going for them is that it is so unlike the X-League teams, if not just for the trick plays it likes to use.


“Obviously, they have a lot of tricks up their sleeves and do things a little differently than most X-League teams,” Fujitsu running back Gino Gordon said. “We’re trying to prepare and make sure we don’t take them lightly and we win the game. That’s the most important thing.”


For seven of the Fujitsu players, the game puts them in a direct clash with their alma mater. For others, it provides a chance to perhaps avenge a loss that their school suffered at the hands of the Kansai powerhouse.


“It’s actually the Rits [Ritsumeikan] guys that are looking forward to this,” Gordon said. “The Nihon guys as well because they lost in the Koshien Bowl. It’s nice to see that they are motivated.


“Obviously, there shouldn’t be a reason not to be motivated for the national championship. But it gives them that extra boost, like, ‘Hey, we haven’t beaten these guys yet and let’s try it now.’ I’m really excited.”


Kwansei Gakuin alumni and defensive back Shinya Miki, who was a freshman on the Fighters’ team that lost the 2008 Rice Bowl to the Matsushita Denko Impulse, said he’s anxious to square off against his  school.


“Since I joined the company, I’ve wanted to play against my school, now it’s finally going to happen” said Miki, who returned an interception for Fujitsu’s first touchdown in the Japan X Bowl. “I was only a freshman [in 2008] and I didn’t know what was going on. It’s very different now. I want to play well in front of my alma mater.”


Miki said he expects a tough battle with the collegians.


“They are the same as always. They make unimaginable tackles, have high precision, they have great ability as college players. It’s a different opponent than we’ve faced up to now. It just may be our most formidable foe.”


Ritsumeikan was the last college team to win the Rice Bowl, defeating Panasonic 17-13 in 2009. A victory would make Fujitsu the ninth X-League team to win a national title.


—Ken Marantz for the X-League