Obic Seagulls give up yards but not inches to clinch X Bowl berth over Panasonic Impulse

Anthony Lawrence was going to be the hero.

All game long, the University of San Diego quarterback had methodically picked apart the Obic Seagulls defense by going 34 of 46 for 331 yards passing and on the final drive he’d gained 37 yards himself to march the Panasonic Impulse to the goal line in the dying moments of their regular season finale. Down just a single point with 24 seconds remaining, the Impulse needed a field goal to send them to the X Bowl but a touchdown seemed inevitable. Lined up under center, Lawrence looked like he would seal the victory but one simple fact was forgotten.

Football is a game of inches, not yardage.

It was those final inches that tripped up Lawrence. The Obic defensive line held firm to stand up his sneak attempt and Masaki Sato came firing around the edge to punch out the football. Atsushi Naruse pounced on the loose ball for the Seagulls and the Impulse’s X Bowl dreams died at the goal line as they fell to Obic 35-34. It was a fitting end to a thrilling game that never lacked for big momentum swings.

Obic WR Noriaki Kinoshita – Photo: XLeague

With the top seed in Group 2 up for grabs, the Seagulls and Impulse pulled out all the stops in what amounted to playoff football. Obic opened the scoring on the game’s first drive, as quarterback Jimmy Laughrea found Aruto Nishimura twice for big gains and then rolled out to connect with his favorite target again for a pirouetting two yard touchdown catch at the back of the endzone. That lead wouldn’t last long however. On the ensuing kickoff, Victor Mitchell Jr. made the first man miss and then raced 94-yards virtually untouched to the endzone to tie the game at seven.

Not to be outdone, the Seagulls responded quickly. Nishimura made his own splash by taking the next kickoff 77 yards into plus territory before Kenta Saito made the touchdown saving tackle. Star running back Taku Lee finished what his teammate started with a ridiculous 15-yard touchdown run, somehow keeping his body off the ground as he rolled over the initial tackler and carrying the final two confused defenders across the goal line. On the next drive, Byron Beatty Jr. was able to block Panasonic’s long field goal attempt and five plays later, Laughrea kept it himself from seven yards out to make the lead 14.

After the teams traded punts to end the first quarter, Panasonic got back on the offensive in the second. Anthony Lawrence started the quarter with a 40-yard toss to Leonsha Fields, who made the tough catch at the goal line over Yudai Tanaka despite significant interference. On the next play, Victor Mitchell Jr. got it done for two yards away, bouncing left and barely extending the ball across the plane before Keizaburo Sunagawa punched it loose. Obic marched into the red zone to respond but on third and goal from the seven, Jimmy Laughrea took off right and was demolished by Daishi Kiyoya and Seiki Kato. The ball was knocked free and Atsushi Tsuji recovered to keep Panasonic within a touchdown.

Panasonic Impulse RB Victor Mitchell Jr – Photo: XLeague

That celebration would be short lived, as it took Obic only one play on their next drive to do what they couldn’t before. Laughrea found Aruto Nishimura on the crosser and the electric receiver easily won the foot race for a 68-yard score. With just over three minutes remaining, Lawrence was methodical in putting together 13 plays for 74 yards on Panasonic’s final drive of the half. Victor Mitchell Jr. hoped to end the frame by diving for the pylon after a six yard catch in the flat but replay determined a desperate hit from Shoji Fujimoto had succeeded in dropping his knee just short. Ryotaro Saeki hit the chip shot 22-yarder and Obic led 28-17 at the mid-way point.

Lawrence continued to be efficient to start the second half, leading an 84-yard opening drive before finding Mitsuki Narita for an easy six yard score. The point after attempt would be blocked and the teams traded three and outs, but it would not be long before Panasonic was back on the offensive. On a crucial third and 12, Lawrence found Takaya Kido for a spectacular 27-yard toe tapper along the sideline and then looked his way again four plays later for a nine yard back shoulder fade in the endzone that only Kido could catch. The Impulse would go for two and Tatsuya Tonbana faked run before connecting with a sprawling Narita on the jump pass as Panasonic took its first lead of the game. A 20-yard Ryotaro Saeki field goal mid-way through the fourth quarter extended that lead to six and completed a 20 point unanswered Impulse swing.

Obic would finally get the ball rolling for the first time in the second half thanks to a late hit by Seiki Kato on quarterback Jimmy Laughrea. The Seagulls capitalized on the ejection and Laughrea had plenty of time in the pocket to go deep, finding a wide open Kaoru Maeda in the endzone for a 36-yard touchdown. Takeru Yamasaki easily kicked the most important point after of his career and the slim lead was secured. Despite his best efforts, Lawrence’s 74-yard drive to win fell short and victory literally slipped through his fingers at the goal line as the Obic bench erupted.

Panasonic Impulse LB Jaboree Williams leaping over the pile Photo: XLeague

The fumble would be the only blemish on Lawrence’s 331 yard, two touchdown performance, in which he got big games from several receivers. Takaya Kido led the group with six receptions for 80 yards and a score, Leonsha Fields had four catches for 71 yards, Mitsuki Narita notched seven for 60 yards and a touchdown, while Tatsuya Tonbana was close behind with six for 56. Running back and returner Victor Mitchell Jr. was spectacular as well, recording 255 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, Joshua Cox led the way with seven tackles, Moses Wiseman added a sack and Naotaka Koike managed the game’s only interception.

Statistically, the Seagulls were much less dominant as they squeaked out the victory.  Jimmy Laughrea was just 13 of 27 passing for 237 yards, three touchdowns and a pick, while Taku Lee was a non-factor for much of the second half, carrying the ball 12 times for 58 yards and a score while adding 27 yards receiving. Kaoru Maeda caught three passes for 75 yards and a touchdown, but the star of the day was Aruto Nishimura, who caught five passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns and added 164 more in the return game for 286 all-purpose yard on the evening. Satoru Takahashi led a taxed Obic defense with 9.5 tackles, while Kaoru Kubo was close behind with 6.5 and a sack.

The victory sends the Obic Seagulls back to the X Bowl after a three year absence and with a chance to expand on their X League record of eight titles. In an unusual shortened season due to COVID-19, anything can happen and Obic needed the full 48 minutes to secure their championship berth. Whoever their final opponent turns out to be, expect every inch to be fought for. Anthony Lawrence learned that the hard way.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.