Japan: Panasonic Impulse down IBM Big Blue in playoff shootout to earn Rice Bowl berth

For the sixth time in eight years, the Panasonic Impulse have earned their place in Japan’s Rice Bowl championship game. After an undefeated regular season, the Impulse were given everything they could handle in the playoffs, as they narrowly prevailed in a 38-31 shootout against the IBM Big Blue in Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka City.

To no one’s surprise the top-seeded Impulse started out the game hot as two touchdown passes from Anthony Lawrence (San Diego NCAA D1) to Shay Fields (Colorado NCAA D1) and Risuke Kuwata helped the favorites jump out to an early 14-0 lead.

However, IBM’s Japanese quarterback Yuki Masamoto responded with two touchdown passes of his own, finding receiver Yoshito Omi on a 53-yard strike, then veteran tight end John Stanton (St. Johns NCAA D3) in the red zone to tie the game at 14.

Yoshito Omi Photo: Megumi Sugita

The teams went on to trade short field goals as the score moved to 17-17 late in the second quarter. Panasonic reached the endzone next, with an athletic goal-line leap from rookie running back Genmei Tachikawa. Yet again, a resilient IBM squad responded as lefty Masamoto led a spectacular two-minute drill, culminating in a 17-yard strike to Omi.

Impulse RB leaps over the goaline Photo: Megumi Sugita

Tied 24-24 at the half, many experts were surprised to see the undefeated Impulse battling in such a close game.

The game remained tied at 24 all as the Big Blue came up with a clutch goal-line stop, stuffing a fourth-down run at the one-yard line. Momentum seemed to be swinging IBM’s way as they followed their goal-line stand with a touchdown drive making the score 31-24 going into the fourth quarter.

Masamoto avoids the rush Photo: Megumi Sugita

With just under nine minutes left in the game, Panasonic was back in the driver’s seat as Lawrence delivered a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kido Takato tying the game for the fourth time. With that score, the Impulse seemed to have finally woken up. A defense that struggled throughout the first half harnessed the momentum sacking IBM’s quarterback and forcing a crucial punt.

With 3:21 remaining, Lawrence once again found Kido Takato in the endzone giving the Impulse a slim 38-31. However, IBM wasn’t done. Unphased by the roaring crowd, IBM’s quarterback Masamoto once again found receiver Yoshito OMi over the middle for a huge play setting up the Big Blue in Panasonic territory. There the comeback stalled, as the Impulse’s pass rush proved to be too much for IBM’s offensive line as Masamoto was hit as he threw forcing a game-deciding interception.

Fans were treated to an exciting game as Panasonic had to earn their way into this year’s Rice Bowl against an opponent many had already written off. A strong pass rush and a consistent running game helped the Impulse pull out the win in fourth-quarter comeback players won’t forget anytime soon. Panasonic will celebrate their big before looking ahead to their Rice Bowl matchup against the Fujitsu Frontiers on January 3.

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Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football