Playoffs Kick Off In Japan With A Bang

Chris Boswell, the Pittsburgh Steelers kicker who botched a onside kickoff attempt last weekend against the Baltimore Ravens actually succeeded with a similar kick in 2013 when playing for Rice against Houston.

Paul Porras, the safety who recovered that kick will line up this weekend for Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers when they take on powerhouse Fujitsu Frontiers in the quarterfinals of the Japan X Bowl.

Porras is just one of many Americans with NFL or Div. 1 experience plying their trade in the Japan. Most of them will be on show south of Tokyo on Saturday as three of the four quarterfinals take place in Yokohama Stadium.

Obic Seagulls – Kobe Elecom Finies

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The first game kicks off at 11 am Japan time and features unbeaten Obic Seagulls against wildcard winner Kobe Elecom Finies. This is Obic’s second straight game against the Finies as they beat them 20-14 in October to finish the regular season 6-0.

For Obic DL Byron Beatty that fact allows the Seagulls to “adjust to what [Kobe] did against us [and] take away the plays that they were successful with against our defense.”

With former UCLA QB Jerry Neuheisel looking more comfortable by the week Obic will be heavy favourites to win again and go through to the last four. Kobe however won’t be overawed as they were still in the October game right until the end and actually were driving for the go-ahead TD late in the fourth quarter before an INT ended their hopes.

Panasonic Impulse – Asahi Beer Silver Star

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Next up is the only game played in a different venue this weekend when National Champion Pansonic Impulse take on Asahi Beer Silver Star.

Despite finishing third in the standings Panasonic are many people’s favourite to go all the way again this year. After a scare in the last week of the season when they allowed Lixil to score three late TDs and almost steal the win, Panasonic players when approached talked about controlling the game clock from the outset and not allowing Silver Star QB Mason Mills time to do damage.

Mills threw for 12 TDs in six games, a number only surpassed by Lixil’s Shohei Kato (who threw twice as many interceptions). Unless the Impulse get to the QB early and often an upset could be on the cards. It’s a fact that Panasonic are aware of with guard Scott Duffy saying:

“We know that Silver Stars are not the same team we beat 38-14 last year. Even without Roman Wilson this year, they are a better team and we can not take them lightly.”

Fujitsu Frontiers – Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers

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Action switches back to Yokohama for game 3 where top seed Fujitsu Frontiers face the second Wildcard winner Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers.

The Challengers win over Silver Star in game five got them into the playoffs but they weren’t able to beat any other top division team in the regular season. The biggest reason for that was probably their inability to score points against stronger defenses. That’ll be a challenge against a rested and well-prepared Fujitsu.

Frontiers players are focused and not looking past this weekend. Cornerback Al Rilwan Adeyemi pointed out the fact that

“the challengers are a very good running team and with the way the game is setup with 12 minute quarters, we’ve got to do a very good job stopping the run or else we’ll have a very tough day”.

Lixil Deers – IBM Big Blue

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The final match of the weekend  (which kicks off under the lights on Sunday, November 13 at 5pm) also promises to be the most exciting.

The Lixil Deers meet their Pearl Bowl final conquerors IBM Big Blue yet again. In that game DL James Brooks batted down a Shohei Kato 2-point attempt on the game’s final play to give IBM their first ever title.

The Deers have had the best of recent games against IBM however, knocking Big Blue out of this competition last year and winning 52-48 on a TD with the final play of the game in week 3 this year. Even that pales in comparison to the 69-54 slugfest they dealt up in the 2014 playoffs. Former UCLA QB Kevin Craft threw nine TDs that day and with standout TE John Stanton and WR Takeshi Kurihara stretching the field expect to see plenty of points again this weekend.

Lixil’s Kato led the league in passing attempts, completions, yards and TDs and the Deers can score at will when they get going. They have made a habit of winning games with stunning comebacks so even though it’s the late game don’t expect to see anyone heading home early.

John Gunning
John Gunning is a Tokyo based sports writer. He is a sumo commentator for NHK and covers MMA and American football for national and international publications.
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