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Clash of American titans on tap for championship

Obic Seagulls defensive end B.J. Beatty knew before most everyone else in Japan that the Fujitsu Frontiers, attempting to bridge the gap between the two powerhouses, had added an American quarterback to their roster.

Now he faces the task of trying to stop Colby Cameron, who has family in Hawaii that Beatty has been close friends with for years. And he's loving the challenge.

"It will be exciting, it's going to be fun," Beatty says of the Pearl Bowl championship game, in which the Seagulls and Frontiers will clash on June 23 at Tokyo Dome. "They were a tough team last year, and with Colby here, that just makes them even more tough, more dangerous."

While both teams are formidable on both sides of the line, the focus will be on how Obic's defense, led by Beatty and fellow All X-League defensive end Kevin Jackson, can contain Cameron and the high-powered Fujitsu offense that also features slick running back Gino Gordon.

The game will be a rematch of last year's Japan X Bowl, in which the Seagulls won 24-16 to capture their unprecedented fourth straight title. That win avenged a 31-13 loss to Fujitsu in the Pearl Bowl semifinals the previous spring.

But the addition of Cameron, a former star at Louisiana Tech, has completely changed the dynamics of the matchup, adding intrigue to what would already be a highly anticipated battle.

"Obviously he's a very impressive player," says Gordon, who has rushed for 385 yards and seven touchdowns on 33 carries this spring. "What's most impressive is his knowledge of the game....He's also good with knowing the psyche of each player. I think he's a very good leader."

Gordon, a former star at Harvard, says he's a little surprised that Cameron has meshed with the offense so well in so short a time. The Pearl Bowl will be just his fourth game at the helm.

"I thought he would be swimming right now a little bit, just because he's new. But he kind of took the reins and said, 'Hey this is my offense, I'm going to take care of it.' It's really nice, it's made my job a lot easier."

In leading Fujitsu to the final, Cameron completed 53 of 77 passes for 634 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions---that last statistic a bit surprising in that he set an NCAA record for consecutive games without a pick. He says the offense is still a work in progress, but has come a long way.

"I think each game we've gotten better. We're just more comfortable. It's tough coming in and in about two months putting in a whole different scheme that these guys have never ran. They've adjusted really well and studied it."

Cameron, who missed last season after being waived at the end of the Carolina Pathers' training camp, is happy to be seeing live action again, particularly in the spring, when as a quarterback he wasn't even allowed to be hit.

"I love the spring right now, being able to actually get live reps and I think that will truly benefit us in the fall. You never get hit as a quarterback until the fall season, so to get actually thrown into the live game, it makes it fun."

Beatty, Jackson and Co. will do their best to make Monday's game as unpleasant as possible for the California native. And they expect that Fujitsu might have a few tricks up its sleeve.

"Their offense, a lot is predicated on timing, so it's going to be our job to disrupt their timing," Hawaii University product Jackson says. "It's a challenge, like seriously, because we've never played this guy before, so there are a lot of things we don't know.

"A lot of things we probably haven't seen on film, a lot of stuff they haven't done or are holding onto for this game. Just don't panic, just trust each other, realize that we've been there."

Obic also knows it cannot focus just on stopping Cameron, as Gordon and fellow running back and Keita Takanohashi are both breakaway threats.

"They have two great running backs," says Beatty, who played at Colorado. "Their offensive line has allowed more of a balance. They seem comfortable coming downhill at you."

Gordon, who was an elementary school teacher in Boston at this time a year ago before joining Fujitsu in the fall, says he is confident that the offensive line can handle Obic's American bookends on the defensive line.

"[Our line] has gotten better substantially, our coaches have really improved their technique," Gordon says. "BJ and KJ, they're going to make plays because they're that good. But I feel that if we play our game, we'll do well and we'll do our best to neutralize them."

Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi says that he prepares his team differently for each meeting with its rival.

"Every year the preparation is different," he says. "That's because they always try [to make] changes, they always try to improve. If we stopped improving and changing our preparation, we can't get over them."

Fujitsu is playing in the final for the sixth time in the past seven Pearl Bowls (the tournament was not held in 2007 and 2011), and has won three titles overall, in 2003, 2006 and 2010. Obic is a four-time champion dating back to its days as Recruit, emerging victorious in 1997, 2000, 2005 and 2012.

The sting of last December's Japan X Bowl defeat lingers for the Frontiers, and while Gordon wouldn't go as far as vowing revenge, he welcomes the chance to settle a score.

"To be quite honest, I'm a little bit of a sore loser. I don't know any athlete who isn't a sore loser. Revenge wouldn't be the word. But I do look forward to playing them every time.

"They are kind of the zenith in terms of Japanese football. Until you're up to the top, you always want to test yourself and continue to get better. And the only way to do that is to try to be the best, and they're there right now."

For the Americans, the real appeal of the game is that it provides the kind of challenge that any player seeks but disparity in the league often leaves it short of. Both teams advanced to the final through similar routes---one total blowout (Obic 111 Taiyo Building Management 0; Fujitsu 93 Hurricanes 0), a rout of a decent opponent (Obic 45 IBM 14; Fujitsu 48 Asahi Beer 7), then a solid win in the semifinals (Obic 21 Nojima 10; Fujitsu 48 Lixil 28).

"This is how football should be," Beatty says. "A new day, every week you have to prepare for a tough team. Fujitsu is that team. We're the one and two teams that everyone has to get past. It's good for the league."

---Ken Marantz for the X-League