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TOP > What’s New > Kajima rallies past Impulse in thriller to keep season alive

What’s New

Kajima rallies past Impulse in thriller to keep season alive


OSAKA (Nov. 17) — The Kajima Deers, fighting to keep their season alive, had to find a way to get back into the game. The first order of business was to stop playing catch with the Panasonic Impulse defense.


Quarterback Shohei Kato and running back Yasuhiro Maruta rushed for two touchdowns each in the second half as Kajima overcame four first-half turnovers to rally to a nail-biting 47-45 victory over Panasonic in their final second-stage game before 2,772 at Osaka’s Nagai Stadium.


Kajima (5-2), which trailed by 13 points in the third quarter, came out a double winner on the day. The victory, combined with the Nojima Sagimihara Rise’s loss to the Fujitsu Frontiers in Yokohama, allowed the Deers to slip into the fourth and final spot in the final stage and keep alive their hopes of a first league title since 2009.


Panasonic, which also advanced based on its 6-1 record, turned three Kato interceptions in the first half into 17 points, but failed to stop the Deers on any of their four second-half drives.


“We had to look for ways to create chances to win,” Kajima head coach Kiyoyuki Mori said. “The offense had to take some risks and keep attacking. Kato and [backup QB Takuya] Yamashiro were too eager and made some mistakes, but the offensive line stood firm, and as long as the gap in the score didn’t get too big, I thought we had a chance.”


In the draw for the semifinals, to be held Dec. 1, Kajima was paired with the three-time defending champion Obic Seagulls, while Panasonic will square off with Fujitsu, who defeated Kajima for the East Division title. Both Obic and Fujitsu are unbeaten.


On Sunday, Kajima took its first lead of the game late in the third quarter when Maruta, who rushed for 111 yards on 17 carries, scored on a 5-yard run to make it 35-34. The Impulse regained the lead for the last time 2:37 into the fourth quarter, when Eita Saeki’s third field goal of the game, a 50-yarder, put them up 37-35.


But Kajima, which piled up 482 total yards of offense, quickly stormed back with two scores to go ahead 47-37 with 1:48 left in the game. Panasonic scored again with 26 seconds left, but it was too little, too late.


East Division runner-up Kajima was coming off a stunning 56-35 blowout loss two weeks ago to IBM, its first-ever loss to the BigBlue. That made Sunday’s game a must-win for the Deers, and even then their fate would be out of their hands. Had Nojima also won, there would have been a lottery between the two for the playoff spot.


“We couldn’t advance through our own result, so that was out of our control,” Mori said. “But we could control whether or not we won this game. We gave it everything we had. I think the players and coaches did well coming just after a loss.”


Aside from the three passes he had picked off, Kato had a pretty impressive outing. He had only one other incomplete pass, finishing the day 27-for-31 for 248 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to his two touchdown runs.


The Kwansei Gakuin graduate couldn’t have gotten off to much worse of a start. On the third play of the game, Toshinori Masutani intercepted a Kato pass and took it down to the Kajima 1-yard line, where Shun Yokota went up the middle for the game’s first score.


On Kajima’s next drive, the Deers advance to the Panasonic 30, only to see rookie defensive back Masayoshi Nakamura pick off a pass and return it 75 yards for a score. Just 2:52 had elapsed and Panasonic was up 14-0 after running just one play on offense.


“When that happens, sometimes it has a reverse effect of upsetting the pace,” Panasonic coach Nobuyoshi Araki said.


Kato’s follies didn’t stop there. He lost a fumble on the next possession, with Daiki Kushi recovering, but the Kajima defense held. Kajima then gave a glimpse of things to come when Yamashiro and Kato, mixing passes and runs, put together a drive that culminated with Kato’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Maruta.


Atsushi Tsuji returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards, setting up a 48-yard field goal by Saeki as Panasonic ended the first quarter leading 17-7.


After Kajima’s Shoichiro Sato scored on a 1-yard run, Panasonic restored the lead to 10 points when, going for it on 4th-and-goal at the 4,  Tetsuo Takata found tight end Musashi Yoshida in the end zone.


Kato’s third interception of the day, by Akinobu Soma, led to a 38-yard Saeki field goal. But Kajima closed the first half with a 72-yard drive, capped by Kato’s 17-yard touchdown pass to rookie Kento Suzuki with :34 left to cut Panasonic’s lead to 27-21 at the break.


“In the first half, I wanted to score a few more touchdowns [instead of field goals],” Araki said. “The defense allowed gains of two or three more yards than usual and we didn’t force them into 3rd-down situations. We were confident going in, but the defense was off today.”


Panasonic got another big play to start the second half, when Tsuji returned the opening kickoff 65 yards to the Kajima 35. The Impulse made the most of it when veteran Takatoshi Kobayashi took an option pitch and raced 13 yards for a touchdown.


Kajima responded with a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive, with Kato taking it in himself from 8 yards out. The defensive line then forced a Takata fumble and Hiroyuki Shigechika recovered at the Panasonic 34. Three plays later, Maruta rambled in from the 5 and Kajima had its first lead, 35-34, with 3:11 left in the third quarter.


But the Impulse, who showed their explosiveness in a 55-24 drubbing of IBM, were far from done. Yokota ran five straight plays to take the ball from the 17 to midfield. A sack helped stop the advance, but Panasonic came away with Saeki’s 50-yard field goal and the lead, although it was back in Kajima hands within six minutes.


Starting at the 28, Kajima drove to the Panasonic 3, where Maruta gained two yards, then was stopped for no gain. On 3rd-and-goal from the 1, Kato faked a handoff up the middle, then waltzed around the end across the goal line. A failed 2-point conversion left the Deers with a 41-37. Maruta’s 4-yard touchdown run, and another failed 2-point conversion try, increased the gap to 10 points.


Panasonic put together a solid two-minute drill to get to the Kajima 8, where a Takata pass deflected off a defender and right into the hands of rookie Shoma Endo in the end zone with :26 on the clock. Takata connected with Hiroaki Suga for the 2-point conversion and the final margin of victory, as Kajima smothered the ensuing onside kick to seal the victory.


Takata finished 16-for-26 for 159 yards, while Endo caught five passes for 42 yards. Taiji Oyama had four catches for 84 yards.