Japan: Nojima Sagamihara Rise close season with solid win over IBM Big Blue

The Nojima Sagamihara Rise relied on a solid ground game, big plays and a ball hawking defense to finally put away the IBM Big Blue 27-17 in the final game of the regular season in Japan’s Xleague..

With both berths in Japan’s X Bowl already decided and both teams out of the picture, the game was important in terms of pride alone.  And yet it had all the intensity of a playoff battle.

Nojima quarterback Kurt Palandech threw for only 161 yards and one touchdowns but rushed for 114 which included a 97 yard touchdown. Running back Morimoto Kosuke scored on a 60 yard scoop pass touchdown while Dereck Akira Williams added a touchdown. Ken Sasao kicked a pair of field goals plus all three extra points.

For IBM, quarterback and head coach Kevin Craft had his best passing day of the year throwing for 393 yards and two touchdowns but also tossed a pair of interceptions one which led to a touchdown. Wide receiver Shirane Ko caught seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown while John Stanton had six receptions for 107 yards and another touchdown.

It was IBM who struck first though as Futoshi Sato kicked a 38 yard field goal with just over a minute to go in the first quarter to take a 3-0 lead.

Three minutes into the second quarter, Palandech tossed almost an underhanded pass to Kosuke at the Nojima 40 yard line and the diminutive running back burst out on a 60 yard run to give the Rise a 7-3 lead.


Nojima Sagamihara Rise WR #85 Yagi Yuhei Photo: Xleague

Nojima increased the lead to 10-3 midway through the second quarter with a Sasao 27 yard field goal.

However, veteran IBM tight end John Stanton tied the game up at 10-10 a couple of minutes later when Kraft hit him in traffic and he split two defenders, outracing them to the end zone. IBM had a chance to take the lead on the final play of the half but a botched kick on a 28 yard attempt left the teams deadlocked going into the break.

Early in the third, Sasao kicked a 35 yard field goal and Nojima moved out in front 13-10. Then, two minutes later, with IBM threatening with a first and goal on the one yard line, Craft rolled out right and threw the ball right into the hands of rise defensive back Lee Hightower standing the end zone who returned it out to the two. On the very next play, Palandech faked the handoff, and sprinted out to his left, finding a seam and then simply outracing the Big Blue defenders all the way to the end zone, widening the lead to 20-10, but demoralizing an IBM team who had been on the verge of scoring.

IBM got a measure of revenge two minutes later as a Kevin Craft pass seemed to befuddle the Nojima secondary with literally four defenders colliding and falling to the ground as the ball came down, deflecting it into the arms of IBM wide receiver Shirane Ko who easily strolled into the end zone to narrow the lead to 20-17.

Palandech opened the fourth quarter driving his team down to the IBM 33 yard line. He then connected with Yuhei Yagi for a 30 yard gain and on the next play, Williams punched the ball in for a 27-17 lead the Rise would hold.

Both defenses stiffened and a 31 yard field goal attempt by the Big Blue with two minutes left was blocked by Kenta Watanabe .

While the win did nothing to change the situation for Nojima, the players can take pride in the fact that they finished the special COVID-19 shortened season on a winning note.

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