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TOP > Game Report > Rise finally ground Seagulls with thrilling OT win

Game Report

Rise finally ground Seagulls with thrilling OT win


The Rise’s Kohei Mochizuki kicks a game-winning 27-yard field goal in the first tiebreaker.


SAGAMIHARA, Kanagawa (Sept. 13)—Ever since being formed in 2009 from the remnants of an abandoned team, the Nojima Sagamihara Rise had been waiting for this victory. It was the type of win that tells a team long on the brink of the elite that it has arrived.


Kohei Mochizuki kicked a 27-yard field goal in the first tiebreaker and the Rise notched their first-ever victory over the Obic Seagulls, winning a defensive thriller 20-17 before a hometown crowd of 1,524 at Sagamihara Gion Stadium.


The Rise (2-0) scored on their first two series to take a 10-3 lead, then were carried the rest of the way by a defense that intercepted four passes, including one that new American cornerback Manu Ngatikaura returned 37 yards to put the Rise up 17-9 in the third quarter. Safety Masashi Kitamura had two interceptions for the Rise, who were outgained 311 yards to 194.


The Seagulls (1-1), whose record four-year reign as league champions ended last season, fought to the end, tying the East Division clash on Asaki Mochizuki’s 2-yard touchdown run and a successful 2-point conversion at 4:10 of the fourth quarter.


But the Rise defense rose to the occasion one last time in the tiebreaker, in which both teams alternate starting from the opponent’s 25-yard line until an outcome is decided. Obic was on offense first, but their drive ended with Toru Sakuma picking off a Shun Sugawara pass near the goal line.


“To be honest, I didn’t think it would come,” veteran offensive tackle Derek Faavi said of the Rise beating the Seagulls. “But as the game went along, there was that feeling that we always have the will to win. It just takes a little more than that; you can’t just have the will. Our defense, c’mon man—they got six points, they stopped them when we needed them, and they stopped them in overtime.”


Faavi has been with the Rise since 2011, when the team first earned promotion to the X-League’s top division (X1). The squad had spent two seasons mauling the opposition in working its way up from X3, where it started after being formed with a core of players from the former powerhouse Onward Oaks, whose parent company disbanded the team. Sugawara was the quarterback in the early years, but left to join Obic after the jump to X1.


The two teams had met at some stage every year in the fall season starting in 2011, with Obic winning each time, including a 24-10 victory in the playoff semifinals in 2012. The Seagulls won last year’s meeting in the second stage 44-21.


Obic had a chance to make it five in a row in the final possession of regulation time. On 3rd-and-10 from the Rise 44 and :20 on the clock, Shota Matsunaga was wide open downfield, but Sugawara’s pass fell just out of reach as he made a desperate dive.


That would be just one of a number of mistakes that led to Obic’s downfall. Defensive end Kevin Jackson said that missed tackles and assignments led to the Rise’s early scores, mental errors that he feels could be attributed to some players not taking the Rise seriously enough.


“Hopefully this is a wakeup call,” Jackson said. “Guys were not as attentive as when we take on Fujitsu. It’s just a reminder to take each game one at a time.”


Sugawara finished 12 of 26 for 99 yards and an interception for the Seagulls, who managed to contain Nojima’s new American quarterback Ben Anderson after the early drives.


Anderson engineered a 9-play, 75-yard drive on Nojima’s first series, capped by his 10-yard touchdown pass to running back Yasunori Kaneko. Anderson, a scrambling quarterback in the Cam Newton mold, evaded a tackle before dumping the ball off to Kaneko, who bulled into the end zone.


“He did what he had to do, he didn’t have a lot of time back there,” Jackson said of Anderson, who completed 10 of 19 passes for 95 yards with two interceptions, while also rushing for 31 yards on 19 carries. “He was taking what we were giving him. He made a lot of good decisions.”


The two teams then traded field goals, with Obic’s Takeshi Nagao kicking a 23-yarder and Nojima’s Mochizuki making one from 47 yards out as the Rise went into halftime leading 10-3.


Obic came back with its first drive of the second half behind backup QB Takushiro Hata, who connected with running back Takuya Furutani on a slant pattern for a 16-yard touchdown. The Seagulls went for the 2-point conversion but failed, leaving the Rise with a 10-9 lead.


After holding the Rise to 3-and-out,  disaster struck on Obic’s second play of its next drive. Ngatikaura, out of San Jose State, cut off a screen pass to the left and raced all alone into the end zone for a 37-yard score.


“It just happened so fast,” said Ngatikaura, who emulated retired Steelers star Troy Polamalu with more than just his long frizzy hair flowing out of the back of his helmet. “Our coach calls the defenses and we just try to disguise and try read what they’re going to do. Luckily I just saw the ball get thrown and made a play on it.”


Jackson revealed that on the play, Obic had just 10 men on the field, with the missing player being a receiver who was supposed to block Ngatikaura.


From there the defenses took control, with Hata throwing two more interceptions and Anderson having two passes picked off himself. Anderson’s second came on the first play on a bomb after Hata had a pass tipped at the line that landed in the hands of linebacker Shunta Yaguchi.


“I shouldn’t have thrown it,” Anderson said of the second interception. “It was a pump fake and I should have just kept it, but I tried to make a big play. I should have just ate it.”


Anderson, who also had two interceptions in the season-opening 28-7 win over the All Mitsubishi Lions, said he was better prepared for this game.


“We were trying to handle our visa stuff, so I had to miss a couple of practices last week so I didn’t get to game plan,” he said. “This week I got to game plan, I got to talk to the team, meet with the coaches more, so that definitely helped out a lot.”


Faavi said that coming onto the field for the tiebreaker, the mission was simple: Don’t lose the ball.


“We got on the field, I just reminded the guys, this is football, it’s so simple—we block, we hand off the ball, we run and we pass. That’s it. Just simple stuff. We’re just thankful to come out on top. It’s been a long time coming.”


—Ken Marantz for the X-League