Japan: Panasonic Impulse, Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers reach Green Bowl final

Panasonic Impulse laid down a marker for the X-league’s West Division with their 63-0 dismantling of As One Black Eagles at Oji Stadium, Kobe on Sunday in the second of two Green Bowl games played on a sunny and breezy Children’s Day.

Impulse as expected had little trouble dealing with Black Eagles — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

Impulse as expected had little trouble dealing with Black Eagles — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

With the win, Impulse progress to their eighth straight Green Bowl final appearance, where they will face the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers. The Challengers return to the final for the first time in two years after defeating Elecom Kobe Finies in the first game of the day.

Asahi are led by American QB, Alex Niznak, who was on the sidelines ineligible to play for the corresponding game last year. Challengers lost that one 10-7 to Finies in a game that went down to the wire. This year Niznak got revenge and his team’s first points of 2018 with a rushing TD in the second quarter. That gave Challengers a lead they never relinquished as they ran out 23-10 victors.

Challengers ended their recent losing streak to Finies in impressive fashion — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

Challengers ended their recent losing streak to Finies in impressive fashion — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

After the game Niznak, said that he is optimistic about the team’s direction and gave credit to the coaching staff.

“First and foremost Kubo-san our head coach. We have good offensive and defensive systems in place, but we need to believe we can win. That’s the difference this year. Belief. We’ll never be Panasonic or Fujitsu but we can beat those teams if we’re the best Challengers we can be.”

Niznak and his team will have the opportunity to be just that when they face Panasonic Impulse in two weeks time. Their chances of winning should be bolstered by the addition of American LB Brandon Berry and WR / Return specialist Robert Johnson II, both of whom watching from the sidelines as they wait for work visas – the exact same situation Niznak was in last year. Another second-year American for the Challengers, DB Clint Floyd Jr., was also on the sidelines battling a stomach ailment but said he is planning to play in the final.

QB Alex Niznak and Challengers have an all new offense for 2018 — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

QB Alex Niznak and Challengers have an all new offense for 2018 — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

Three of Asahi’s Japanese players that play the same positions as the Americans had notable games against the Finies. DB Takeshi Masui grabbed two interceptions, LB Kenshiro Oe recorded two sacks and just missed an interception, and Yutaka Tatsumi had a kickoff return for a TD.

DB Takeshi Masui picked off two passes — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

DB Takeshi Masui picked off two passes — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

The man who kicked that ball for the Finies, Masayuki Tanaka, also started at DB and had two interception chances himself but couldn’t hang on to either. Aside from DB  Sean Draper, the foreign players for the Finies were not in uniform.

In the day’s second game, Black Eagles faced Panasonic Impulse with their imposing American imports. Impulse are also packed with domestic players as strong and fast as anybody in the X-league.

Former Sagamihara Rise QB Benjamin Anderson, in his second year with Impulse, leads an offense that runs the spread option out of the pistol formation. In this system, the QB, with his RB behind him, stands a few yards back from the center at the start of each play. On their bread and butter running plays the QB turns to hand the ball to his RB for an inside run or fakes the handoff and takes off himself. It’s an attack that works best with a tall agile QB, who can see over the offensive line and then break towards open space when the opportunity arrives.

QB Benjamin Anderson returns to lead Impulse after his MVP season — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

QB Benjamin Anderson returns to lead Impulse after his MVP season — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

Anderson of course is both tall and fast and had plenty of time against the Black Eagles. Behind the stout blocking of Edmond Davis III and company on the offensive line, Anderson handed off, threw or scrambled at will. He went 6 of 8 passing for 106 yards while rushing for 45 yards and a TD.

With everything working smoothly Anderson was quickly replaced with the second and then third-string QBs. They didn’t fare quite as well, giving up an INT and only completing 6 passes between them, but the pace of play and demeanor of the Impulse offense was calm, controlled, and punctuated by big gains.

With the result decided Panasonic sat some starters to give younger players experience— Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

With the result decided Panasonic sat some starters to give younger players experience— Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2018

The score was 35-0 at the half. Both teams remained on the sidelines during the break and the mood was playful on the Panasonic bench, where the players could be seen laughing and bouncing into each other. The reasons to smile just kept coming as Impulse returned the opening kickoff of the second half for another TD.

Panasonic finished with nine TDs as the Black Eagles found themselves overmatched in all areas of the game.

Aside from one interception the only negative for the Impulse was a turn over on a punt when both return men attempted to catch the punt on the fly but instead knocked it directly back to the Black Eagles for a first down. Panasonic also missed their only FG attempt. It was a long try that had the distance but didn’t stay true on the windy day.

The defending Green Bowl champions and their boisterous fan base will face Asahi on May 20, in the final at Oji Stadium at the foot of the Rokko Moutains in Kobe. The Challengers were the last team to beat Panasonic in this competition when they won the Green Bowl in 2013 on the same field.

 – Tony Chestnut: May 5th 2018

Inside Sport: Japan
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