Japan: Obic Seagulls capture record-setting third straight Pearl Bowl

For the Obic Seagulls, it was business as usual.

Another Pearl Bowl tournament, another championship.

By becoming the first team in 25 years to win three spring tournaments in a row, the Narashino-based side also tied a record with eight titles overall in the competition for XLeague teams in eastern Japan.

Obic WR Noriaki Kinoshita scores the second of his three TDs in the Pearl Bowl final – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

Obic WR Noriaki Kinoshita scores the second of his three TDs in the Pearl Bowl final – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

Stealing the spotlight in the final, where the Seagulls defeated the IBM Big Blue for the third straight year, was their ageless speedster Noriaki Kinoshita, who caught three touchdowns passes in the 31-15 victory before 12,936 at Tokyo Dome.
Kinoshita receives the Pearl Bowl MVP trophy – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

Kinoshita receives the Pearl Bowl MVP trophy – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

For the Fujitsu Frontiers, winners of the last three Japan X Bowls, there will be little pain in failing to end a 13-year title drought in the spring meet – something that has never really concerned them.

The Kawasaki based side suffered a massive blow however when record-breaking running back Trashaun Nixon, (last year’s league and Japan X Bowl MVP)  tore his ACL in a game in which he never expected to be playing. The injury has ruled him out of the far more important fall season.

Trashuan Nixon moments before suffering a season ending ACL tear– John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, June 2, 2019

Trashuan Nixon moments before suffering a season ending ACL tear– John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, June 2, 2019

Each team approaches the Pearl Bowl differently, with their own aims and objectives. Some take it very seriously as a competition in itself, while for sides like Fujitsu, it is about giving new players as well as second and third stringers a chance to gain experience, with the starters having a few snaps, to get used to a new system or coach. In every case, it’s about preparing for the fall, when it really counts.
Fujitsu rookies like WR Shunya Kotsusa get extended playing time in the Pearl Bowl – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, April 21, 2019

Fujitsu rookies like WR Shunya Kotsusa get extended playing time in the Pearl Bowl – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, April 21, 2019

“Realistically, I’m more about the progress of our team,” said IBM QB / Head Coach Kevin Craft after the Big Blue squeaked past the Nojima Sagamihara Rise 40-33 in an overtime thriller in the semifinals. “It’s nice to have another game in the spring, because you get a little more experience, you get to play in an exciting environment.
IBM Head Coach / QB Kevin Craft – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, May 19, 2019

IBM Head Coach / QB Kevin Craft – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, May 19, 2019

“But I want to make sure that we keep everyone on the team healthy. So I still want to work a lot of young guys in this game. I thought this was a good experience because it was a tough game. We’re going to have tough games [in the fall], especially in the heat in the beginning of the season. So it’s good preparation for that.”
IBM's semifinal with Nojima was a hard fought battle – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, June 2, 2019

IBM’s semifinal with Nojima was a hard fought battle – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, June 2, 201

Regardless of the objectives, the fact remains that Obic put the best team out on the field in all four of its games and walked off with the championship trophy. If other teams want to diminish the accomplishment, that’s fine with the Seagulls’ players.

Kinoshita during warm ups for Obic's opening game of 2019 against AFC Cranes – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, April 20, 2019

Kinoshita during warm ups for Obic’s opening game of 2019 against AFC Cranes – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, April 20, 2019

“As it connects with the fall, the Pearl Bowl is a big thing,” said Obic’s Kinoshita. “It becomes an indicator. Many fans came to watch, and it was good for our teammates to experience the tension of playing in a big game. It gives them an idea of the Japan X Bowl semifinals and final.”

New Seagulls signing Jason Fanaika celebrates during the Pearl Bowl final – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

New Seagulls signing Jason Fanaika celebrates during the Pearl Bowl final – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

In the final, Kinoshita, at 36 the second-oldest player on the Seagulls’ roster (linebacker Hitoshi Sakata is one month older) put on a highlight-reel performance to earn his third Pearl Bowl MVP award.

The former Ritsumeikan University Panther caught six passes for 170 yards, including touchdown receptions of four, 66 and 70 yards. The final one in particular showcase the skills that earned him time in the Atlanta Falcons training camp and notoriety in NFL Europe.

Kinoshita in action for the Atlanta Falcons - Jim McIsaac (Getty Images), Aug 10, 2007

Kinoshita in action for the Atlanta Falcons – Jim McIsaac (Getty Images), Aug 10, 2007

Taking an innocuous flare pass from second-year quarterback Skyler Howard, Kinoshita found a gap and outraced everyone to the end zone.

“I only ran as fast as I could straight ahead,” Kinoshita said. “I didn’t need to cut back. I think I showed that the old man can still run.”

QB Skyler Howard was 11 of 15 for 263 yards and 3TDs – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

QB Skyler Howard was 11 of 15 for 263 yards and 3TDs – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

Howard, MVP of the 2018 final, completed 11 of 15 passes for 273 yards and all three touchdowns to Kinoshita. They could have had a fourth, but one pass to Kinoshita in full stride in the end zone bounced off his fingertips.
Kinoshita narrowly missed adding a fourth TD on this play – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

Kinoshita narrowly missed adding a fourth TD on this play – Sachiyo Karamatsu, Inside Sport: Japan, June 17, 2019

“He’s so savvy, he knows the game, and he knows the angles, and he’s going to get the job done,” Howard said of Kinoshita. “I’ve learned so much from him, and I’m still learning, just because of all of his experiences of playing in other countries. The difficulties that come, language and everything, he understands. We talk a lot.”
Howard during the group stage game against the Silver Star – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, May 19, 2019

Howard during the group stage game against the Silver Star – John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, May 19, 2019

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