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TOP > What’s New > Frontiers flatten Impulse, earn 5th shot at elusive title

What’s New

Frontiers flatten Impulse, earn 5th shot at elusive title


OSAKA (Dec. 1) — Each week, it seems that one of the Fujitsu Frontiers’ trio of running backs breaks away to steal the spotlight. On Sunday, it was Keita Takanohashi’s turn to shine.


Takanohashi rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, and Fujitsu took advantage of five turnovers to keep alive its quest for a first-ever league championship with a 28-13 victory over the Panasonic Impulse in their final-stage clash at Kincho Stadium.


Fujitsu overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit with three second-half touchdowns to defeat the West Division champion Impulse and advance to the Japan X Bowl for the fifth time in 12 years.


After losses in 2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011, the Frontiers (8-0) will try to win the elusive title when they face the three-time defending champion Obic Seagulls on Dec. 16 at Tokyo Dome. Obic defeated the Kajima Deers 21-12 in the other semifinal at Yokohama.


Before the crowd of 2,247 on Sunday, two of the league’s most explosive offenses, both of which erupted for 45 points in their second-stage finales, had their firepower diminished by rock-solid defenses. Both starting quarterbacks were knocked out of commission for a spell, and both teams blocked a field goal.


“We had good field position in the first half, but our inability to score made it difficult for us,” Fujitsu head coach Satoshi Fujita said. “The Panasonic defense really shut us down. But as hard as it was, we didn’t fall apart, which is a sign of how we have progressed.”


Fujitsu starter Keiya Hiramoto, who had an otherwise tough afternoon, threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Junpei Yoshimoto in the first quarter. He completed just 3 of 12 passes for 49 yards and, while physically able to return later after being shaken up early in the third quarter, was left out in favor of Akihiro Izuhara, who went 6 for 9 for 42 yards.


But the passing game became secondary as the running attack eventually wore down the Panasonic defense. Of Fujitsu’s 300 total yards, 209 came on the ground.


“In the second half, the offense completed short passes to open up the running game,” Fujita said. “On defense, it was big when [Panasonic quarterback Tetsuo] Takata went down with an injury, but we also stopped them on the plays we needed to.”


East Division champion Fujitsu went ahead for the first time early in the third quarter when wide receiver Teruaki Clark Nakamura took a double reverse and rambled 39 yards for a touchdown.


After Eita Saeki kicked his second field goal of the game, a 45-yarder in the third quarter to cut Fujitsu’s lead to 21-13, Panasonic lost the ball on its next three possessions on a fumble and two interceptions by backup quarterback Takashi Ohara. Although Fujitsu turned only one of the turnovers into points, it was more than enough to seal the deal.


Panasonic’s first miscue of the game came on its second series, when wide receiver Naohiko Shibata coughed up the ball after a reception and Fujitsu’s Shoichiro Suzuki recovered at the Impulse 29. But the Frontiers came up empty-handed when David Motu blocked Hidetetsu Nishimura’s 33-yard field goal attempt.


The Impulse weren’t so fortunate when a short time later, Fujitsu got the ball on the Impulse 30 after Toshinori Masutani fumbled a punt and Takahiro Haruta pounced on the ball. On the next play, Hiramoto connected with Yoshimoto for the opening score of the game.


Panasonic used a bit of deception to tie the score early in the second quarter. With a formation in which the lineman all lined up on the far left side of the field, leaving only the center and the backfield near the ball, Takata threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Koji Honda.


On Panasonic’s next series, Fujitsu blocked a 49-yard field goal attempt by Saeki. Later in the quarter, Takata went down after being injured while scrambling, and Ohara came on to lead the Impulse to the Fujitsu 8, where Saeki booted a 25-yarder with :05 left to put Panasonic up 10-7 at halftime.


After Nakamura’s touchdown romp, Takanohashi capped an 8-play, 53-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. On the ensuing kickoff, Atsushi Tsuji raced 57 yards to the Fujitsu 34. Takata returned to the game but could make no headway and Panasonic had to settle for Saeki’s 45-yard field goal, making it 21-13.


Things then began to fall apart for the Impulse (7-2), who were playing in the final stage for the first time in three years and won the last of their six league titles in 2008. At their own 20, Ohara fumbled as he was sacked by linebacker Shuhei Takeuchi and lineman Keiko Minami scooped up the ball and rambled to the Panasonic 2. Takanohashi went off tackle for his second touchdown and the final points of the game.


Any real hope for a Panasonic comeback all but ended when the Impulse drove to the Fujitsu 23, only to see Yuji Aoki pick off an Ohara pass with 8:38 left. Fujitsu failed to stretch its lead when Nishimura missed a 37-yard field goal attempt, but the Frontiers burned nearly six minutes off the clock. The final nail in the coffin came on the next series when Ohara was intercepted by Kenta Sato.


Despite falling short of the championship game, Panasonic head coach Nobuyoshi Araki was upbeat after his team turned things around following a recent decline.


“In recent years, the feeling is that level has dropped,” Araki said. “But this season, the rookies and veterans blended well together adn we came out as a team on the rise.”