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TOP > Game Report > Semifinal scenario: Deers battle for spot as Seagulls wait in wings

Game Report

Semifinal scenario: Deers battle for spot as Seagulls wait in wings


When the Fujitsu Frontiers and Lixil Deers take the field Sunday, one other team and its fans will be closely watching the action. That’s all the Obic Seagulls can do as their fate lies in the outcome of that game.


“It’s not a good feeling. You always want to be in control that kind of stuff,” Obic defensive end B.J. Beatty says. “But at the end of the day, we have no control and we’re just hoping for the best. We’re rooting for Fujitsu!”


Obic pulling for long-time rival Fujitsu? In this case, circumstances have made for strange bedfellows, as only a Frontiers’ victory over the Deers in their final game of the Super 8 second stage will keep the Seagulls from missing out on the final stage for the first time since 2009.


Here is the scenario going into the weekend: Fujitsu (6-0), the Panasonic Impulse (6-0),  and Nojima Sagamihara Rise (5-1),  have already clinched spots in the final stage. The fourth spot will go to either Lixil (5-1) or Obic (5-2). Simply put, if Fujitsu beats Lixil, then Obic advances; if Lixil wins, then its season continues and Obic’s ends.


As for the semifinal pairings, a Lixil win over Fujitsu will ironically set up a rematch between the two in the final four on Nov. 29. Should Fujitsu win, then it will face Obic at Yokohama Stadium in a rematch of this season’s 41-7 rout in the East Division on Oct. 17, as well as last year’s semifinal, which the Frontiers won 27-17 en route to a first-ever league title.


Nojima and Panasonic face each other in their final second-stage game on Sunday, and have already been assured of a second clash in the other semifinal, to be played at Osaka’s Kincho Stadium.


The third game on Sunday is between the IBM BigBlue and Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers, neither of which can advance to the semifinals. The winner of the game will finish with a  5-2 record, but can finish no higher than fifth overall according the tiebreaking criteria based on opponents beaten and head-to-head results.


Although the favorite, Fujitsu will be facing a team that is capable of pulling off a surprise. It was the Deers who last year, on the same Yokohama Stadium field, handed Obic its first fall-season loss since 2009.  The Deers were dealt a season-opening defeat by the rejuvenated Asahi Beer Silver Star, but came back to win their last four Central Division games, capped with a 33-25 win over IBM, the losing finalist in last year’s Japan X Bowl.


The Deers are led by national team quarterback Shohei Kato, who has thrown for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is protected by a beefy line that will prove a tough test for Fujitsu’s defensive line.


The two teams met during the abbreviated spring season, with the Frontiers winning 29-17. But as both teams were missing a number of players away on national team duty, including Kato, it would hardly be regarded as a fair indicator of their relative strength. Fujitsu quarterback Colby Cameron also did not play as he was still recovering from a shoulder injury. In their most recent fall season game, the Frontiers held on for a 15-7 victory in 2013 which decided the East Division title.


In terms of common foe, the two produced similar results against the Elecom Kobe Finies in the second stage. Fujitsu won 28-7, with the Finies lone touchdown coming on a fumble return in the fourth quarter, while Lixil had little trouble in rolling to 35-8 win behind Kato’s four touchdown passes.


Obic, which won an unprecedented four straight titles from 2010-2013, finished 3-2 in division play for the first time since 1997 after losing to Fujitsu and Nojima. But the Seagulls bounced back in the second stage, knocking off Central Division champion IBM and West runner-up Asahi Soft Drinks.


If fate puts the Seagulls into the final stage, it will make them the first team since the start of the two-stage format in 2009 to make it that far after finishing third in their division.


“I think guys got little more sense of urgency,” Beatty said of the surge in the second stage. “After we lost to Fujitsu, we told our guys, Yeah, the second stage we have two games, but it’s ‘one and done’ for us. We can’t afford to lose anymore. We can’t afford mistakes. We still are making mistakes, luckily we came out with those two wins.”


Now all they can do is continue to practice, waiting and watching with their fate in another team’s hands.


—Ken Marantz for the X-League