Japan’s XLeague kicks off 2017 Season with wild, historic thriller

Week one of Japan’s 2017 XLeague season finished with a wild and exciting game at Tokyo Dome that saw IBM Big Blue defeat the Obic Seagulls for the first time in their history.

A crowd of 5,013 was on hand to witness a thriller that saw Obic, behind veteran QB Shun Suguwara, come roaring out of the blocks scoring two quick touchdowns. IBM had just one FG to show for their first two possessions but All-League TE John Stanton kept them in the game catching several key drive-extending passes. Stanton had multiple highlight long gains where he juked players or just ran over them. The St. John’s University (Minnesota) man finished with 11 catches for 183 yards and two TDs. Obic scored on a hail Mary TD at the end to make it 38–34. The Chiba outfit, with staring QB Ikaikai Woolsey on crutches on the sideline, won’t have it any easier in week two as they face an on-fire Devin Gardner-led Nojima Sagamihara Rise.

Ex Michigan Wolverine Devin Gardner scored six TDs in the first half against Bulls – Tomoyo Shimizu: Inside Sport Japan – Sept 3rd 2017

The Rise blew away X1’s weakest team Bulls Football Club 84-0 with Gardner passing for three TDs and running for three more before leaving the game at halftime. The former Michigan man helped recruit two more Wolverines over the summer. Gardner was the rookie of the year in 2016 and has been lights out so far this year. Nojima lost five of six games last year by a single score or less and were leading late in most of them. There is a sense that they are out to atone for that in 2017.

Elsewhere, the National Champion Fujitsu Frontiers had no trouble in dispatching a Lixil side that doesn’t seem to be as strong as previously, 30-0. Fujitsu have contested the last four Japan X Bowls and are a good bet to go a long way again this year. They have several American coaches with NFL and Div1 experience on their roster and run their high tempo practices in a professional style.

Panasonic Impulse were many people’s pick to win it all before the start of the season and they started fast in week one jumping out to a 21-0 lead early against Elecom Kobe Finies. After that though they struggled to find a rhythm against a team they had beaten 55-3 in the spring. The game finished 31-15 and with Impulse not facing a top side until week four it’ll be a while before we get the true measure of this team.

Champions Fujitsu Frontiers debut their new uniforms ahead of their season opener – Chris Pfaff: Inside Sport Japan – Aug 27th 2017

After the first round of games it looks like Asahi Beer Silver Star might be the “best of the rest” as they dispatched Fuji Xerox Minerva AFC 38-6 without any of their three new Americans playing. Visa and other issues have held up their debuts but head coach Hayato Arima said he expects them to be available for the week two clash with Frontiers.

Asashi Soft Drinks Challengers likewise had some new faces, including QB Alex Niznak when they took on newly promoted club Hawkeye in Osaka on August 27th. Niznak played with teams in Sweden and Brazil before coming to Japan and he admitted that, like many people, he was surprised by how much better Hawkeye were than he expected. The Challengers were never in danger of losing but it took them a long time to put the game away. Niznak will hope his team can work out the kinks quickly as they’ll face a much stiffer test in week two when they take on Impulse.

In the Monday night game at Tokyo Dome, Metropolitan Police Eagles had cheerleaders for the first time, but it didn’t help them against a Tokyo Gas side that came out running the ball and stuck with that strategy most of the game to grind out the win.

All Mitsubishi Lions getting ready to take on Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates – Chris Pfaff: Inside Sport Japan – Sept 2nd 2017

As One Black Eagles needed a fumble recovery TD by OL Kimiya Sugiura to seal the win over Nagoya Cyclones in the first game of the season in west Japan and in the closest finish of the week All Mitsubishi Lions overcame Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates 14-13 on a late QB scramble for a TD. Pirates are coached by former USC QB David Powroznik who has been involved in Japanese football since 1989.

Scores:

As One Black Eagles 19 – 7 Nagoya Cyclones
Asahi Beer Silver Star 38 – 6 Fuji Xerox Minerva AFC
Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers 31 – 6 Club Hawkeye
Fujitsu Frontiers 30 – 0 Lixil Deers
Panasonic Impulse 31 – 15 Elecom Kobe Finies
All Mitsubishi Lions 14 – 13 Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates
Nojima Sagamihara Rise 84 – 0 Bulls Football Club
Tokyo Gas Creators 32 – 6 Metropolitan Police Eagles
Obic Seagulls 34 – 38 IBM Big Blue

Inside Sport: Japan
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