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TOP > What’s New > Panasonic pounds out 2nd-stage win over IBM

What’s New

Panasonic pounds out 2nd-stage win over IBM


Getting the ball with just over 10 minutes left and an 11-point lead, the Panasonic Impulse needed to use up enough clock to keep IBM from scoring twice. They left the BigBlue with all of 45 seconds and a 17-point deficit.


Masaki Nagatomi’s third rushing touchdown of the day capped an 18-play, 87-yard drive that finished up Panasonic’s 34-17 victory in the opening game of the second stage on Saturday afternoon at Tokyo’s Amino Vital Field.


Takashi Ohara, filling in quite capably for injured starter Tetsuo Takata, completed 18 of 22 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns with an interception in the Block A clash as Panasonic defied concerns after failing to dominate the West Division as it has in recent years.


The Impulse (5-1) lost to the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers in the West Division finale, although they won the division anyway on point differential.


“More than being worried, we needed to lift ourselves up emotionally,” said Nagatomi, who finished with 50 yards on 17 carries. “We had to prepare mentally. What had happened was over. From that point, we had to only think about what was ahead.”


While the combination of Ohara’s passes and pounding runs by Nagatomi and Masahiro Asao enabled the Impulse to move the ball, the defense effectively cut off the passing lanes for IBM’s record-setting American quarterback Kevin Craft, who was limited to a season-low 178 yards passing.


“They have a lot of really good talent on both sides of the ball,” Craft said. “Offensively, they have a really good, big O-line, and they’ve got some good playmakers. It’s not like they miss a beat by having their starting quarterback out, because they’ve got other guys they can go to.


“Defensively, they’re solid. They were taking away everything in the passing game and we had to run the ball a little bit more.”


Craft went 18 for 30 with one touchdown pass, but also had to run more than usual, gaining 23 yards on 9 carries. He even punted four times, trying to catch the Impulse off guard and leave them with poor field position. Only one punt was downed inside the 10-yard-line.


Having to turn more to the run, rookie tailback Tomokazu Sueyoshi had the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, ending exactly at that total on 22 carries with a touchdown.


After falling behind 28-10 midway through the third quarter on a 16-yard Nagatomi touchdown run, IBM (3-3) looked like it might change the momentum when Sueyoshi scored on a 10-yard run, then got the ball back when linebacker Yusuke Kishimoto picked off an Ohara pass, giving the BigBlue the ball on the 41.


Although the BigBlue failed to take advantage of that turnover, they forced the Impulse 3-and-out on the next drive as the game entered the fourth quarter. Getting the ball back on the 36, Craft then engineered a drive to the Panasonic 33, where IBM faced 4th-and-5.


Regarding what occured next, coach Yamada said he takes responsibility for a “miscommunication.” Of the options IBM had in that situation, he would not have advocated punting, which is what Craft did.


Yamada said that, with a favorable wind, he was ready to send out the field goal unit, but when Craft lined up in normal shotgun formation, he thought the American was taking a gamble on making the first down. Instead, he gambled that the defense could bottle up the Impulse in their own end with enough time to get the ball back twice.


“That’s a miscommunication with me and Kevin,” Yamada said. “I thought he was going to go for it. I thought he had the play. Blame it on me, I have to communicate better with him. He thought it was too long for our kicker, but with the wind….”


Craft said he thought it was the right call, given that few could have anticipated Panasonic responding with a nearly 10-minute drive.


“Hat’s off to them,” Craft said. “They did a good job, we couldn’t hold them down and they had a long drive. Either way, you’re still down two scores.”


The key play of Panasonic’s game-clinching drive came early on, as the Impulse faced 3-and-5 at their own 30. Nagatomi had just been nailed for a one-yard loss and, with more than eight minutes on the clock, forcing the Impulse to punt there would have given IBM the ball back with more than enough time to stage a rally. But Ohara connected with Musashi Yoshida, who had a game-high five catches for 79 yards, for a nine-yard gain.


From there, there was no stopping the Impulse. At one point, Asao ran five straight plays for 23 yards. Two plays after the Impulse converted on 4th-and-inches, Nagatomi sliced up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown.


“Looking at their formation, we thought we had to get our running game going,” Nagatomi said. “We ran inside a lot in the first half. In the second half, they made some adjustments. Even so, we stayed constant and it worked out well.”


Craft, who set league records with 1,628 yards and 20 touchdowns in divisional play, got off to an impressive start, hitting John Stanton for a 44-yard touchdown pass on IBM’s opening drive.


Panasonic coach Nobuyoshi Araki said that the Craft-directed offense was even more potent than what he had seen on video and caught him off guard.


“The tempo is so fast,” Araki said. “In that first series, we couldn’t react to the no-huddle.”


Panasonic adjusted by using a three-man rush, keeping Craft from beating them deep again by allowing him to run at will.


“Right away he beat us with a long pass,” Araki said. “We were trying to avoid that and make them run. We kept up the pressure as long as we could.”


Panasonic, which missed a chance for a field goal on its first drive due to a bad snap, scored on its next possession, with Nagatomi bulling in from the 3. The snap was dropped on the extra point (“It’s the first time that’s happened,” Araki said), leaving the Impulse trailing 7-6.


On the next drive, IBM gambled on 4th-and-1 at midfield and Craft appeared to get more than enough for the first down, but the official ruled his knee hit down before crossing the 50, giving the Impulse the ball with half a field. It took just two plays for Panasonic to cover the distance, as Yoshida hauled in a 46-yard touchdown pass from Ohara, dragging Kishimoto the final five yards. Masashi Hashimoto ran in the 2-point conversion to make it 14-7.


After failing to score in three shots at the Impulse 1, IBM settled for Genki Odakura’s 27-yard field goal to cut the lead to four points. But Panasonic once again used good field position, this time from Iori Sato’s 37-yard kickoff return, to launch a scoring drive. Ohara found Shohei Kishimoto in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard TD and a 21-10 lead, which is how it stood at halftime.


With the loss, IBM was eliminated from playoff contention. The BigBlue will next face the East Division runnerup Nojima Sagamihara Rise on Nov. 10. Panasonic and Nojima will meet in the group finale on Nov. 18.


—Ken Marantz for the X-League

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