Japan: Tokyo Gas Creators knock Lixil Deers out of top division, advance to XLeague quarterfinals

Arguably the most historic weekend in XLeague history came to a close with Lixil Deers 14-7 defeat at the hands of Tokyo Gas Creators in the second Wild Card game last Sunday.

Deers will join fellow two-time Champions Challengers and Silver Star in the second tier next year, while Creators and Lions move up to the new 8 team X1 Super division.

The game played in a light but steady rain at Yokohama Stadium was a rematch of the week two game that saw Lixil hold on against a furious Tokyo Gas fightback for the win – one of only two they got all season.

That loss was Creators sole defeat since the spring and regardless of how things go in the quarterfinals against Panasonic Impulse 2018 has been the greatest season in the club’s history.

That was very evident at the final whistle against Lixil. Tokyo Gas players celebrated as if they had won the championship. For anyone that had been part of the organization before 2002 there was a added poignancy to the victory.

Tokyo Gas Creators QB Ikaika Woolsey running for daylight Photo: Inside Sport: Japan

 

Before he died, a former player who had been battling cancer expressed a wish for Tokyo Gas to beat Deers. It took the better part of two decades for the team to make that wish come true but when they did it was in the most meaningful way possible.

The game itself was a tight defensive battle with neither side able to break the deadlock until the fourth quarter.

Andre Whyte on his 31st carry of the game found some daylight on the left and outpaced the pursuit to the pylon.

When Creators picked off Lixil soon afterwards it seemed like the game was over but Deers got the ball back and tied things up when QB Shohei Kato hit Yasuhiro Miyamoto in the end zone with less than 30 seconds on the clock.

The best throw of the day though was to come in overtime. XLeague rules gives each team alternative possessions on the 25-yard line for what is in effect a sudden death shootout.

Creators got the ball first and on the sixth play QB Ikaika Woolsey lofted a ball towards the left hand side of the endzone where WR Taijiro Ogihara somehow managed to make the diving catch with the ball passing cms from the hands of the defender. To everyone watching it looked at first as though the ball had hit the turf but Ogiwara, and more importantly the refs, knew he had kept it off the ground.

Lixil were unable to complete a pass on 4th and short on the ensuing possession and Creators players went wild, celebrating a victory that no one would have though possible just 12 months ago.

As with fellow Battle 9 side Lions, Tokyo Gas will be huge underdogs going into their quarterfinal matchup with Panasonic but with a place in the top division for the first time in their history secured they won’t care. It’s been a fairytale season for Creators and anything after this is just icing on the cake.

 

 

Inside Sport: Japan
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