Big 4 dominate as Japan’s Pearl Bowl kicks off

In a collaboration with InsideSport:Japan, AFI presents the first in a series of articles covering the annual spring American football tournament, the Pearl Bowl.

Japanese football kicked off 2017 with the opening round of the east Japan preseason spring tournament (called the Pearl Bowl) last weekend in Kawasaki. Twelve teams are divided into four groups with the winner in each group progressing to the semi finals. The seeded team in each block easily won its first match, dominating their outmatched opponents by an average margin of 48 points. The big four, led by national champions Fujitsu Frontiers and last year’s Pearl Bowl winners IBM Big Blue, looked solid in all three phases promising some exciting football in the semi-finals. The defeated teams will look to bounce back against more balanced opposition in the coming weeks. Here is a quick synopsis of the four first games of 2017.

IBM Big Blue (34) -v- (3) Bulls

Big Blue kicked off the Pearl Bowl with a comfortable victory over the outmatched Bulls on a cloudy day in Kawasaki. IBM’s unrelenting and fast-paced offense overwhelmed the Bulls and scored on all but one possession. The victors had a bigger battle with the men in zebra stripes than they did with their opponents being penalized six times including a fumble recovery that was erased by an offside call and two touchdowns brought back on OPI and holding. IBM’s QB Yuki Masamoto threw three touchdowns to three different receivers by halftime and rushed in the final touchdown of the game. Kevin Craft, IBM’s starting QB during the regular season, found WR Ryuki Suzuki in the endzone twice, though one of the touchdowns was negated by penalty. The running game, led by Ryo Takagi and using the read-option, gained 216 yards to compliment the aerial attack for a total of 469 yards of offense.

Lixil Deers (52) -v- (6) Fuji Xerox Minerva AFC

The Deers stomped all over their opponents in a throwback to games of yore. The two teams combined for just 151 yards through the air as this game was decided the old-fashioned way with a ground-and-pound approach. Lixil got the best of Minerva as they ran for 262 yards to Fuji Xerox’s 90 despite only carrying the ball three times more. A critic might say that Lixil’s game plan and 38 rushing attempts were too conservative; but, Lixil’s head coach held fast to what all our grandfathers have been telling us for years—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Deer’s running game certainly didn’t need fixing as five different players ran for touchdowns and threw in a shovel pass for a score to keep critics from calling them “one-dimensional.”

Fujitsu Frontiers (49) -v- (0) Metropolitan Police Eagles

The Frontiers opened their 2017 campaign with a rout of the Metropolitan Police Eagles in a seven-touchdown performance that showcased all the elements that made them national champions last season. WR Yoshimasa Iwamatsu led the high-octane offense with three touchdown receptions including a 37-yard strike from Shibasa Takagi. Takagi and Keiya Hiramoto alternated series under center, but neither missed a beat as the Frontiers found pay dirt on seven of nine drives.

Fujitsu stayed creative and relentless in all three phases of the game recording over 426 yards of offense and had an interception return for a touchdown by starting DB Al-Rilwan Adeyemi for the play of the game. The Frontiers had a whopping 60% third down conversion rate, but even more remarkable is the fact that they were only in third down five times in nine drives. More touchdowns than third down attempts shows just how well-oiled the Frontier’s offense is.

Obic Seagulls (65) -v- (0) Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates

The Seagulls soared passed the Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates 65-0 with an excellent performance by countless members in all three phases of the game. Newcomer Ikaika Woolsey replaced Jerry Neuheisel under center and burst onto the scene with four passing touchdowns and an 11-yard scamper for a score. The defensive line, led by the ferocious tandem of Kevin Jackson and BJ Beatty, bullied their opponent’s offensive line and raided the Pirates’ backfield with five sacks, two batted balls, and 3 tackles for loss.

We have four exciting games on the slate for next week:
May 4: 
Nojima Sagamihara Rise -v- Metropolitan Police Eagles
All Mitsubishi Lions -v- Fuji Xerox Minerva AFC

May 7
Tokyo Gas Creators -v- Bulls
Asahi Beer Silver Star -v- Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates