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TOP > What’s New > Kato dives, passes Deers past Frontiers

What’s New

Kato dives, passes Deers past Frontiers


Kajima quarterback Shohei Kato left his mark on the scoreboard with three 1-yard touchdown plunges. His biggest impact in the game might have come with three key passes during the victory-clinching drive.


Kato completed 29 of 40 passes for 215 yards while rushing for all of the game’s touchdowns, leading the Deers to a 27-15 victory over the Fujitsu Frontiers  in their second-stage finale on Sunday at Yokohama Stadium.


“In the first half, they were stopping the run and it made things difficult for us,” Kato said. “We stayed patient and in the second half, we stuck with a good balance of passes and runs. I thought that’s what we did well today.”


Daisuke Aoki kicked a pair of 29-yard field goals and Shohei Suzuki had two of Kajima five sacks as the East Division champion Deers topped the second stage’s Block C to advance to the playoffs on Dec. 2 with a perfect 7-0 record.


Fujitsu gained some consolation after the game, albeit with a little bit of luck, in the form of the wild card berth in the playoffs. The Frontiers and Panasonic Impulse both finished second in their respective blocks with 5-2 records, but Fujitsu won a draw for the final playoff spot.


Adding irony to the scenario, the Deers and Frontiers will return to the same field in two weeks after being paired together in the semifinals.


Fujitsu, which finished second in the Central Division behind two-time defending league champion Obic, could have earned its ticket outright had it found a way to penetrate the Deers defense inside the red zone. Fujitsu got into scoring position five times, twice off interceptions deep in Kajima territory, but had to settle for five Hidetetsu Nishimura field goals.


“It was a good game, and except for a few turnovers, the offense played really well,” Mori said. “But most of all, it was the defense. The turnovers came in bad places, but they didn’t give up a touchdown and held them to just field goals. I think you have to give this win to the defense.”


Nishimura’s fifth field goal was a 28-yard chip shot 2:11 into the fourth quarter when Fujitsu, down by eight points, once again wasted a chance for a momentum-changing touchdown. Following Kato’s second touchdown, Kamiyama returned the kickoff 76 yards to the Kajima 16, but the Frontiers, hurt by a false start penalty, only got as far as the 11.


“Winning teams score touchdowns,” Fujitsu head coach Satoshi Fujita said. “Run, pass, it doesn’t matter. For us to get into the red zone, we have to score.”


At that point, Fujitsu was still very much in the game, down 20-15 with plenty of time left on the clock. But unlike the Deers’ defense, Fujitsu’s couldn’t come up with the big stop when it needed to as Kato engineered the decisive drive that consumed nearly nine minutes and went 76 yards in 16 plays.


Three times during the drive, the Deers faced tough 3rd-down situations, and each time Kato withstood the pressure and connected with his receivers to keep the march going. Had the Frontiers stopped either of the first two, they would have forced Kajima to punt with ample time remaining. Stopping the third one would have forced Kajima to kick a field goal and allowed Fujitsu a chance to tie the game in one possession.


Facing 3rd-and-6 at the Fujitsu 45, Kato hit Yasushi Nakagawa for eight yards. Two plays later on 3rd-and-3 at the 30, Fujitsu’s best chance to turn the tide ended when linebacker Keiichiro Kinoshita tipped a Kato pass, but the ball somehow ended up in the hands of rookie wide receiver Yasuhiro Miyamoto for a 12-yard gain. And Kato converted on 3rd-and-6 at the 14 with a 7-yard pass to Katsuya Nagakawa.


“When a pass is called in a 3rd-down situation, I know I can trust the receivers and our offensive line’s pass protection,” Kato said. “I would be confident even if it was a run play.”


A completion to Naoki Maeda put the ball on the 1 and, after Shoichiro Sato was stuffed at the line, Kato went straight ahead and got over in a virtual instant replay of his first two scores.


“Whether it’s a run or a pass, or it’s the quarterback or a running back, we don’t think about who’s going to score a touchdown,” Kajima head coach Kiyoyuki Mori said. “We just call the play that we think will work in that situation. Upstairs in the booth, the coach thought the quarterback could make it.”


Maeda caught six passes for 66 yards, while Miyamoto also had six receptions for 30. Yasuhiro Maruta rushed for 51 yards on 16 carries.


Fujitsu’s quarterback tandam of Motoki Yoshida and Akihiro Izuhara combined to complete 16 passes for 24 yards. Shopei Yoshimoto had six catches for 68 yards.


On a clear, windy day, the game got off to a strange start. After Fujitsu forced the Deers to punt on the opening drive of the game, Kamiyama fumbled on the return and Takashi Makiuchi recovered at the Fujitsu 22. But Kajima came away empty-handed when Aoki slipped on the artificial turf during a 39-yard field goal attempt and missed badly.


Fujitsu opened the scoring on the ensuing drive, one of three that ended inside the Kajima 20 without a touchdown. The Frontiers drove to the 11, but a face mask penalty set them back and they had to settle for Nishimura’s 31-yard field goal.


Nakagawa’s 34-yard kickoff return gave Kajima the ball on the Fujitsu 41, and the Deers covered the distance in 11 plays, capped by Kato’s dive over the top into the end zone. That came after the Deers had 1st-and-goal at the 2 and Maruta was stopped twice, despite having 105-kilogram Kensuke Watanabe inserted as a blocking back ahead of him.


Early in the second quarter, Shoichi Hida picked off a Kato pass to put the Frontiers on the Kajima 38. They only advanced seven yards but came away with Nishimura’s 48-yard field goal to cut the Deers lead to 7-6.  About six minutes later, Takuya Yamashiro came in for Kato and, with his only pass of the day, threw an interception to Shuhei Takeuchi, which Fujitsu converted into a 23-yard field goal by Nishimura.


Kato came back in and led Kajima on a 66-yard, 13-play drive that ended with Aoki’s first field goal to send the Deers into halftime with a 10-9 lead.


Aoki kicked his second 29-yarder on Kajima’s first drive of the second half, which Fujitsu matched with a 45-yarder by Nishimura, although it was another drive that should have yielded more. With the ball on the Kajima 29, a long run by Kamiyama was called back by a holding penalty, and Suzuki sacked Motoki Yoshida on 3rd-and-3.


Kajima responded with another impressive drive, with Kato completing five passes for 47 yards and running 21 yards off an option to the 1-yard line. After an incompletion, he went over for his third score.


“It was only one yard, the offensive line pushed ahead and I just dove,” Kato said. “When the play came in, I knew I could do it.”


—Ken Marantz for the X-League