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TOP > What’s New > Japan X Bowl preview: Elusive first title for confident Fujitsu, or fourth straight crown for consistent Obic?

What’s New

Japan X Bowl preview: Elusive first title for confident Fujitsu, or fourth straight crown for consistent Obic?


The Fujitsu Frontiers’ team that will take the field in Monday’s Japan X Bowl is generally regarded as the strongest ever to make it to the championship game.


Whether this one, unlike the four before them, can walk off with a league title for the first time is another matter. To do it, Fujitsu faces the formidable task of ending the three-year reign of the Obic Seagulls in a clash of unbeatens at Tokyo Dome.


“Since I’ve been coach we’ve gotten better each and every year. This is the strongest team,” says Fujitsu head coach Satoshi Fujita, who has been at the helm since 2005.


The Frontiers have good reason to believe this will finally be their year. Last spring, they cracked the wall of invincibility that Seagulls had put up for the past three years, beating them 31-13 in the semifinals of the Pearl Bowl tournament and ending their 37-game winning streak.


That win alone, however, is not what caused Fujitsu to play with a confidence missing in previous years.


“It’s not like we gained confidence from one game,” says team captain and defensive lineman Tomoyuki Hirai, who has played on three of the four previous Fujitsu teams that lost in the title tilt, in 2007, 2009 and 2011.


“From the spring, we took it one game at a time and we recognized and addressed problems that came up along the way. That led to good results. For us players, it showed we had gotten stronger and made us more confident.”


For Hirai’s counterpart, Obic captain and linebacker Naoki Kosho, the game will not be about avenging that loss, if for no other reason that both teams have changed since the spring.


“Fujitsu has always been a strong team in recent years that we’ve beaten and lost to,” Kosho says. “More than feeling resentment against that team after losing that game [in the Pearl Bowl], we know the level of the Obic team in the spring was low.


“We’re at a different level than at that time. Fujitsu is also at a different level. It’s a battle in which we’re both at different levels. I think this is the strongest Fujitsu team in recent years. There is high motivation to beat that Fujitsu team.”


History is certainly on Obic’s side. In 12 meetings in the fall dating back to 1990, Obic has won 10, including wins in each of the last three years. That included a 24-17 victory in the 2011 Japan X Bowl for the second of its record three straight titles. Obic has won a record seven overall championships.


This season, Fujitsu went undefeated to capture the East Division title, capped by a 15-7 win over the Kajima Deers that avenged a loss in the final of the Pearl Bowl. After winning both of their second-stage games, the Frontiers advanced to the championship with a 28-13 win over the Panasonic Impulse.


Obic had its toughest season in recent years, yet still managed to make it to the final unscathed. Its drive to the Central Division title included both a nail-biting 42-41 win over the IBM BigBlue and an uninspired 12-3 victory over the Nojima Sagamihara Rise. The Seagulls defeated Kajima 21-12 in the final stage.


“The notion of winning a fourth straight title was in our minds at the beginning of the season, but as the season went on, we felt like we were being targeted by the league,” Kosho says. “More than four titles in a row, we just wanted to become No. 1 against these teams that were targeting us. That was the appeal of winning this season.”


Says Hirai: “Obic faced strong teams this season and had some tough games, but kept on winning. I think that makes them confident.”


Fujita says that one advantage Obic has over his team is depth. The key for Obic, says head coach Makoto Ohashi, will be utilizing that to its full potential.


“We have to use every players’ talent,” Ohashi says. “I have a lot of different, talented players. It’s not only the offense, not only the skill positions…If we can show our players’ talents, it will be good for us.”


Fujitsu increased its firepower prior to the fall season with the addition of three American players. Running back Gino Gordon, a former Ivy League player of the year at Harvard, is a regular part of the backfield rotation with Yusuke Shinshi and Keita Takanohashi, while defensive lineman Andrew Seumaro (Oregon State) and defensive back Al-Rilwan Adeyami (San Diego State) have made an impact on the other side of the line.


Obic’s offense has been on a bit of roller-coaster ride this season, with plenty of ups and downs. But quarterback Shun Sugawara is at his best in big games, and the Seagulls have perhaps the league’s most dangerous all-purpose player in wide receiver Noriaki Kinoshita.


Both teams feature beefy linemen, and Ohashi says it’s in the trenches where the game will be decided.


“Their line is so strong and big,” he says. “I think the battle of scrimmage in the most important thing for this game.”


It would be difficult to consider either team the favorite.


“I honestly can’t foresee how the championship game is going to play out”, Hirai says. “This is the biggest stage for a football player. To get here you have to be a strong team.”


— Ken Marantz for the X-League


Previous X-League championships

1987   Renown Rovers 31 Silver Star 28

1988   Renown Rovers 28  Matsushita Denko Impulse 20

1989   Asahi Beer Silver Star 14  NEC Falcons 9

1990   Matsushita Denko Impulse 14  Onward Oaks 6

1991   Onward Oaks 49  Sunstar Finies 10

1992   Asahi Beer Silver Star 21  Matsushita Denko Impulse 7

1993   Asahi Beer Silver Star 13  Sunstar Finies 0

1994   Matsushita Denko Impulse 48  Onward Oaks 28

1995   Matsushita Denko Impulse 54  Recruit Seagulls 20

1996   Recruit Seagulls 30  Onward Oaks 10

1997   Kajima Deers 48  Matsushita Denko Impulse 12

1998   Recruit Seagulls 45  Asahi Beer Silver Star 24

1999   Asahi Beer Silver Star 18  Kajima Deers 16

2000   Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers 20  Matsushita Denko Impulse 18

2001   Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers 14  Matsushita Denko Impulse 7

2002   Seagulls 14  Fujitsu Frontiers 7

2003   Onward Skylarks 13  Asahi Beer Silver Star 10

2004    Matsushita Denko Impulse 15  Asahi Beer Silver Star  6

2005    Obic Seagulls 25  Matsushita Denko Impulse 16

2006    Onward Skylarks 24  Kajima Deers 21

2007    Matsushita Denko Impulse 33  Fujitsu Frontiers 13

2008    Panasonic Impulse 28  Kajima Deers 14

2009    Kajima Deers 21  Fujitsu Frontiers 14

2010    Obic Seagulls 21  Panasonic Impulse 16

2011    Obic Seagulls 24  Fujitsu Frontiers 17

2012    Obic Seagulls 27  Kajima Deers 24