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TOP > What’s New > Rise ride staunch defense to OT win over Silver Star, semifinal spot

What’s New

Rise ride staunch defense to OT win over Silver Star, semifinal spot


A dejected Asahi Beer quarterback Mason Mills sits on the field after the final play of the tiebreaker and the game.





KAWASAKI (Nov. 8)—As Asahi Beer quarterback Mason Mills scrambled to evade a pursuing defensive lineman for the umpteenth time, the ball slipped out of his hand, providing a fitting end and last play to a game dominated by the defenses.


Rookie Yuki Tomizawa scored his second rushing touchdown of the game in the first tiebreaker and the Nojima Sagamihara Rise scrapped to a 14-7 overtime victory over the Silver Star in their Super 9 second-stage clash at Fujitsu Kawasaki Stadium.


Defensive lineman Shugo Suzuki recovered a Mills fumble that he himself forced with one of the Rise’s two sacks, and linebacker Yoshiki Tanaka had an interception that set up the Rise’s lone touchdown in regulation, a 1-yard plunge by Tomizawa in the third quarter.


“Our defense did great,” said Nojima cornerback Manu Ngatikaura, who helped the Rise limit the prolific Mills to just 80 yards passing and the Silver Star to just 152 total yards. “We played a great offense and it was a close game all the way to the end. Just always happy when you come out with the win.”


With that win, the East Division runner-up Nojima (5-1) clinched a berth in the semifinals for the first time since 2012, regardless of the outcome of their second-stage finale on Nov. 15 against the West champion and undefeated Panasonic Impulse.


Under a steady rain Sunday, the Rise had their own problems generating offense behind quarterbacks Ben Anderson and Masato Kinoshita in a game in which the two teams combined for nearly as many punts (22) as first downs (27).


The Rise defense, led by veteran defensive end Ryota Ikura, kept them in the game by neutralizing the hot line of Mills and wide receiver Roman Wilson. The two had combined for 14 touchdowns and over 900 yards in the previous six games, but Wilson caught just two passes for 38 yards.


“To put it simply, we wanted to prevent No. 15 (Mills) and No. 3 (Wilson) from playing catch all day,” Rise head coach Takayuki Sunaga said.


Wilson was gracious in giving credit where credit was due. “They were playing a lot of man[-to-man coverage], with help over the top,” he said. “It’s tough to throw much to me in that position. Props to Rise, they did a really good job. They were able to stop us and they’re strong defensively.”


There was little indication of the defensive struggle to follow when the Silver Star (4-3) zipped 76 yards in four plays on the opening drive of the game, capped by Mills’ 20-yard touchdown pass t0 Kazuya Togura.


The drive started with a 24-yard run by Takuya Yanagisawa, who would finish with just 36 yards on 11 carries, including 10 yards in the tiebreaker. Five of his rushes would be stopped for losses.


Asahi Beer’s best chance to pad its lead came near the end of the first quarter, but was wiped out when a low-block penalty nullified a 56-yard gain by Toshiyuki Takamatsu off a screen pass that would have put the ball on the Rise 10.


It would not be until their last drive in the fourth quarter with 2:10 left that the Silver Star would enter Rise territory again, when a short punt gave them the ball on the Rise 43. But hoping to get into range for a game-winning field goal, they advanced just one yard.


Nojima, needing to find a way past the Asahi Beer defense, had its first scoring opportunity when Kinoshita took over for Anderson to begin the second quarter. Starting at the 30, Kinoshita completed 5 of 5 passes for 55 yards, including a 17-yarder on a 3rd-and-16.


But on 1st-and-goal at the Asahi Beer 9, the drive ended when Kinoshita’s pass into the end zone was intercepted by defensive back Masato Mogi.


At the end of the second quarter, Anderson was given another shot, and he moved the Rise into scoring position. But again the opportunity was squandered when Kohei Mochizuki’s 46-yard field goal attempt fell well short on the final play of the first half.


In the second half, after Anderson failed to get anything going following Suzuki’s fumble recovery, it was Kinoshita who was sent onto the field when Tanaka picked off a Mills’ pass at the Asahi Beer 35.


Tomizawa gained 16 yards on three straight runs, then Kinoshita hit Yoshinobu Imoto with an 18-yard pass to set up 1st-and-goal at the 1. From there, Tomizawa bulled is way in to tie the score at 7-7 with 4:12 left in the third quarter.


The Rise created a chance to break the tie on the next drive, but on a halfback option, Eisuke Tomatsu’s pass into traffic was tipped into the air and intercepted by defensive back Yuto Omori at the Asahi Beer 3.


Kinoshita, who completed 8 of 16 passes for 88 yards, threw his second interception on the next series, with Omori again making the heist. Anderson finished 5 of 10 for 44 yards, while also rushing nine times for 42 yards.


“That’s our biggest worry right now,” Sunaga said of his underachieving quarterbacks. “It’s our weakness that we haven’t settled on a quarterback to become the ace, the main pillar of the team. Today, Kinoshita played well. There were good places, but also had some bad places where he did things he shouldn’t. If we fix that, we can raise our level.”


In the tiebreaking session, in which the teams alternate drives starting at the opponent’s 25, it didn’t really matter which QB was behind center for the Rise. All he—in this case, Kinoshita—had to do was hand off twice to Tomizawa. On identical plays, the rookie out of Nihon University ran for nine yards up the middle, then went the final 16 for the score.


“He’s real tough, mentally and physically,” Anderson said of Tomizawa, who finished with 102 yards on 16 carries.


The Silver Star started its drive with Yanagisawa’s 10-yard run. Mills then ran for four yards before throwing an incomplete pass. On 3rd down, his throw to Yuta Hayashi down the sideline went through the receiver’s hands.


“On the third play, we were trying to go to Roman,” Mills said. “But they sent more pressure to the left, our protection was more set to the right. So I knew that I was going to be hot, so was trying to get the ball out to our guy on the outside.


“I should have checked our protection to the left, I think we would have had Roman for a touchdown down the middle. That’s what the play was set up for. That’s my fault, not changing the protection.”


With their season hinging on a 4th-and-6 at the 11, Mills was forced out of the pocket and seemed to stumble before losing the ball. For the record, the Rise recovered the fumble, but it didn’t matter as the end of the play clinched the victory.


For Sunaga, he has one week to find a solution to his most pressing problem.


“Regardless of the opponent, we have to get our passing game going,” he said. “Our running game, defense, kicking have all gotten better. We need to address being able to score points with our passing game. I want to be able to effectively do in the game what we do in practice.”


—Ken Marantz for the X-League