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TOP > What’s New > Seagulls set down Rise, earn shot at 3-peat

What’s New

Seagulls set down Rise, earn shot at 3-peat


In about as much time as it took for the offense to take the field each time, the Obic Seagulls made the Nojima Sagamihara Rise pay for a pair of miscues.


Obic turned two turnovers into quick touchdowns and the defense kept Nojima out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter in rolling to a 24-10 victory Sunday to advance to the Japan X Bowl, where the Seagulls will attempt to become the first team in league history to win a third consecutive championship.


“I think of always [trying to] get three turnovers,” Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi said. “Today, the defense players kept good concentration. I was satisfied with this result.”


Obic will next face the Kajima Deers in a battle between unbeatens for the championship on Dec. 17 at Tokyo Dome. The Deers defeated the Fujitsu Frontiers in Sunday’s second semifinal game at Yokohama Stadium.


Before a chilled crowd of 2,897,  Shun Sugawara completed 10 of 14 passes for 143 yards, with 52 coming on a scoring bomb to Ryoma Hagiyama on the first play following a fumble recovery. It was his second touchdown pass to Hagiyama over a two-minute span late in the first quarter.


Obic’s third touchdown came soon after Masashi Fujimoto returned an interception to the Nojima 2,  with Tataeru Nakanishi scoring on a 1-yard run to gave Obic a 24-3 lead late in the third quarter.


Takashi Miyako was the workhorse for Nojima, rushing for 100 yards on 21 carries. But his slicing runs were for the most part in vain. Obic’s defense, with the exception of a first-quarter field goal and two late drives following interceptions, when the game was all but out of reach, never let the Rise advance past the Seagulls 40.


“It was good,” Obic defensive end Kevin Jackson said. “We held them to 10 points, I think that was our goal for this game. Still, there’s a lot of stuff we need to clean up, execution-wise.”


It was the first meeting between the two teams since the opening game of the 2011 season, Nojima’s first since rising from the third division after reforming from the remnants of the disbanded Onward Oaks.  Obic, which has not lost in the fall since the second stage of the 2009 season, won that game 24-19.


Nojima, which earned its place in the semifinals for the second straight year with a stunning 28-27 upset of West Division champion Panasonic Impulse in the second-stage finale, outgained Obic in total yards, 376 to 301, and had nearly 10 minutes more in time of possession.


“They had a big win last game, so they were real emotional and fired up for this game,” Jackson said.


But the Rise couldn’t come up with the big plays when they needed them, while Obic made the most of every opportunity.


“We just need more power,” Nojima defensive back Reggie Mitchell said. “We have for a couple of quarters. This game, we kind of played through all of the quarters, did pretty good. But we still need a little bit more, as far as players.”


All four of Obic’s scores came after starting with good field position, although one came after a controversial kickoff return.  After Shin Idezawa put Nojima ahead 3-0 with a 25-yard field goal in the first quarter, the Rise blooped the kickoff to avoid Obic’s speedy returners.


An Obic player in the second line appeared to signal for a fair catch and backpedaled for the ball, but failed to keep hold of it. Noriaki Kinoshita picked up the ball and ran it back 30 yards to the Nojima 45.  Nojima protested, as the receiving team can not advance a fumbled fair catch. But the officials claimed they did not see the fair catch signal and allowed the play to stand. Six plays later, Sugawara connected with Hagiyama for a 7-yard touchdown. A bad snap on the point-after attempt left Obic up 6-3.


“The one they did, the fair catch, we stopped and he’s running,” Mitchell said. “We’re like, ‘What is that?’ They score off that, and then off a fumble.”


On Nojima’s ensuing drive, quarterback Masato Kinoshita, a former Seagull, fumbled at the Obic 48 and Yuichi Watanabe recovered. On the next play, Sugawara hit Hagiyama in stride at the goal line to put Obic up 13-3 with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.


“They got a big play because there was miscommunication between me and the safety,” Mitchell said. “That’s why he was open like that. I’m still upset about that.”


Nojima had a chance to cut the gap right away, driving to the Obic 21 behind Miyako, who gained 41 yards with two runs. But with the Rise facing 3rd-and-16, Daiki Hatakeyama sacked Takahiro Kojima for a 13-yard loss that took them out of field goal range.


Obic wasn’t immune to mistakes, as their Kinoshita coughed up the ball catching a pass at the Nojima 20, with Naoki Yoshida making the recovery. But the Rise couldn’t take advantage and the half ended with Obic holding a 10-point lead.


On the opening drive of the second half,  Obic started near midfield and drove to the Nojima 19, where Yosuke Kaneoya booted a 36-yard field goal. After the teams traded punts, Obic’s Fujimoto intercepted a Kinoshita pass at the 48 and returned it to the 2. Nojima was flagged for offsides, moving the ball to the 1, where Nakanishi went off left tackle to put Obic up 24-3.


Obic had a chance to put the game on ice when backup QB Manabu Tatsumura engineered a drive from the 41 to deep into Nojima territory. But on 3rd-and-18 at the Nojima 21,  Masashi Kitamura picked off a Tatsumura pass at the 6 and returned it to the 24 with 11:24 left on the clock.


Nojima got the first of the three touchdowns it needed, with Kojima throwing a 4-yard TD pass to Dai Tsutsumi, but the 11-play drive ate up more than six minutes of precious time. And prospects looked even bleaker when a well-placed and very recoverable onside kick slipped past several Nojima players and went out of bounds.


Obic executed a successful fake punt to keep alive a drive that would have either run out the clock or ended with a game-clinching score. But Tatsumura spoiled it with a second interception, with Tai Kawaishi making a diving grab in the end zone with 1:59 left.


Nojima managed to move the ball, but was never close to winning the race against the clock. Their final drive ended with six seconds remaining when a Kinoshita pass fell incomplete on 4th down on the Obic 6.


“Nojima always [plays] with a challenger’s mind, that’s why in the big game, they are such a dangerous opponent,” Ohashi said. “We have to execute on every play. I told every player to not expect anything from them. We have to make [things] happen ourselves.”


—Ken Marantz for the X League.

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