So the 18 teams who started the season in Japan’s X League have been narrowed down to two.
The Obic Seagulls and Fujitsu Frontiers survived pitched battles Sunday in the X League semifinals to advance to the Japan X Bowl on December 12 in the Tokyo Dome.
The Seagulls slogged through a rain-drenched field in at Osaka’s Yanmar Stadium to eke out a 9-6 overtime victory over the defending champion Panasonic Impulse. Meanwhile in Kawasaki , Fujitsu had to rely on a field goal on the final play of the game to edge IBM Big Blue 28-26.
The Seagulls defeated Fujitsu 24-16 in the 2013 Japan X Bowl, the only time the two teams have met in the championship final.
Obic Seagulls 9 – Panasonic Impulse 6
For the first time in three years, the Obic Seagulls are headed to the Japan X Bowl, to battle for a championship they had won for four years running before that. The weather proved to be as much of an opponent as the two teams slogging through the conditions. Thanks to the elements, the game went scoreless for 3 1/2 quarters before the teams traded field goals to knot the score at 3-3 at the end of regulation.
Then Obic quarterback Shun Sugawara threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Yuki Ikei, who played for Germany’s Berlin Adler in 2015, in the overtime tiebreaker to win the game.
Obic’s offense was anemic though, gaining just 160 total yards and netting just seven first downs. Starting quarterback Jerry Neuheisel (UCLA Bruins) completed 7 of 13 passes for 79 yards and two interceptions before giving way to Sugawara late in the contest.
The win put Obic, which went undefeated in the regular season, into the Japan X Bowl for the first time since 2013, when they won the last of a record four straight championships.
Fujitsu Frontiers 28 – Panasonic Impulse 26With just over 60 seconds on the clock, Fujitsu quarterback Colby Cameron (Louisiana Tech University) drove his Frontiers the length of the field, maneuvering the team into position for Hidetetsu Nishimura to kick a 45-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Frontiers a nail-biting 28-26 win over the IBM BigBlue in the semifinals of the Japan X Bowl tournament.
With the victory before 2,606 at Fujitsu Stadium Kawasaki, the Frontiers earned their fourth straight trip to the Japan X Bowl, where they will face the Obic Seagulls in a battle of unbeatens on Dec. 12 at Tokyo Dome in a bid to regain the title they won in 2014.
Cameron completed 22 of 37 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown with one interception, although IBM counterpart Kevin Craft (UCLA Bruins) was the more prolific on the day, going 33 for 44 for 369 yards and two touchdowns. IBM tight end John Stanton (St. John’s (Minnesota) University) hauled in two touchdown passes, one from Craft and another on a halfback option from Ryo Takagi, among his game-high 10 receptions.
IBM had overcome a 19-16 halftime deficit to take the lead 26-22 heading into the fourth quarter. But they missed a chance to expand the gap when Genki Odakura’s 36-yard field goal attempt was blocked. It was the second block of the day for Fujitsu’s special teams, which was the story of the game ultimately.
Kicking game the difference
In fact, much of the drama of the game in centered on kicking. While Nishimura was successful on 5 of 5 field goal attempts, he also had an extra point blocked by IBM lineman James Brooks (Arizona State) that the BigBlue returned for two points. Conversely, Fujitsu blocked two of IBM’s three field goal attempts and, on top of that, Fujitsu’s Junpei Yoshimoto returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown.
Ultimately, there was not much to separate the four semifinal teams which bodes well for an exciting finish to the X League season in Japan in Japan X Bowl XXX.
Photos/information: X League