Playoff picture taking shape in Japan’s XLeague

With five of seven games wrapped up in Japan’s XLeague, the post-season push is in full force. Familiar names sit at the top of the standings as the Fujitsu Frontiers and Panasonic Impulse remain undefeated. Sitting at third place, the one-loss Obic Seagulls are also still in a good position to make a playoff run and even host a semi-final.

However, the battle for the fourth and final playoff spot is where things get interesting, as four teams are still battling neck and neck for the final post-season invitation.

With the jostling for playoff position heading into the penultimate week, let’s take a look at how the weekend’s games shook out.

Impulse defender on the hunt. Photo: Panasonic Impulse

Panasonic’s defense comes up big against Obic

In the most anticipated game of the weekend, the Panasonic Impulse met the defending champion Obic Seagulls. The matchup of undefeated powerhouses didn’t disappoint, as Panasonic snuck by in a defensive slugfest 13-6. In the midst of a scoreless second half, starting Seagulls quarterback Jimmy Laughrea took a hard hit on the sideline ending his day early. The injury left Obic without their championship quarterback making a comeback even tougher to mount. Panasonic’s defense played a phenomenal game holding the defending champions to a measly 162 yards total yards, while racking up four sacks and an interception. Former Wake Forest (NCAA D1) linebacker Jamboree Williams made his presence felt with four tackles and two sacks.

Offensively the Impulse did just enough to get the win. Quarterback Anthony Lawrence managed the game well finding receivers Tsubasa Brennan and Victor Mitchell often. On the ground, Mitchell was also a factor combining with fellow running back Atsushi Yokota for 63 yards. With the win, Panasonic clinched their playoff spot and stayed in the running for the league’s top seed. Their next game will likely be another nail-biter as they face the undefeated Fujitsu Frontiers.

The Seagull’s offense simply needed to do more in order to pull off a win. Their defense, on the other hand, played well swarming to the ball and racking up tackles behind the line. Obic looks to bounce back from the lackluster offensive performance as they face the Elecom Kobe Finies in two weeks. The loss was their first regular-season defeat since week seven of 2019. On a positive note, the Seagulls have already clinched a playoff spot but will need to finish strong to host a December semi-final.

IBM Quarterback Yuki Masamoto surveys the field. Photo: Xleague

IBM earns first win keeping post-season hopes alive:

The IBM Big Blue improved their record to (1-3-1) and kept their playoff hopes alive with a dominant 70-0 win against the AllMitsubishi Lions. The offensive explosion was led by domestic quarterback Yuki Masamoto. The home-grown passer put on a show spreading the ball around to a host of receivers, finishing the day with a gawdy seven scoring tosses.  In five games, IBM’s gunslinger has impressed throwing for 1,445 yards and 16 touchdowns, leading the league in both categories.

Two of his touchdown passes went to receiver Yoshito Omi, who returned to Japanese football after playing in The Spring League (USA) and the European League of Football the past two seasons. Fans can anticipate Masamoto and Omi to build chemistry as they spend more time together. If Omi and IBM can run the table with two games remaining, they could steal the fourth and final playoff spot.

The Lion’s poor performance can be pinpointed by their lack of preparation. Due to the parent company Mitsubishi’s covid-19 precautions, this was the first time the Lions had played all season. One bright spot in their debut was former Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. At 6’4 300 lbs with NFL experience the former Texas Longhorn made his presence felt in the loss.

Nojima Sagamihara Rise gets a big win Photo: Megumi Sugita

 Nojima Sagamihara Rise get a big win at home

A tough-to-beat combination of an opportunistic defense and a physical running game propelled the Rise to a 33-7 win over the Gas Creators. With both teams sitting at 1-3 before the game, the win was crucial for Nojima Sagamihara as they hope to qualify for the fourth and final spot in the playoffs. Rise running back Koki Yoshida led the game with 113 yards rushing, while the defense forced two interceptions. Yoshida now stands second in the league with 392 yards in five games. Complimenting his teammate, former UNLV (NCAA D1) quarterback Kurt Palandech used play action to take advantage of an out-of-place Creator’s defense, throwing for two touchdowns in the win.

For the Tokyo Gas Creators, they now fall to 1-4. Former Virginia Tech (NCAA D1) quarterback Jerod Evans has, however, built an exciting connection with receiver Nnamdi Agude. One silver lining for the struggling Creators is that, Agude now leads the league in receiving with 356 yards and two touchdowns. Expect the former All-ACC quarterback to keep making big plays with his star receiver.

Frontiers running back Trashawn Nixon Photo: Megumi Sugita

Fujitsu wins a close one to stay undefeated

The Frontiers are coming off of a runner-up season in 2020 after four straight championships from 2016-19. In an effort to reclaim the title Fujitsu has come out of the gates strong this season with a 5-0 start. In a 19-11 win, running back Trashaun Nixon (New Mexico State) and receiver Samajie Grant (Arizona) led the charge against the Elecom Kobe Finies combining for 294 yards and three scores. Japanese passer Tsubasa Takagi threw for 268 yards and one touchdown, however, he also tossed two fourth-quarter interceptions keeping the Finies in the game. Despite moving the ball well, the Frontiers only came away with 19 points, as red zone woes, missed field goals, and turnovers haunted them throughout the game.

Defensively linebacker Shoki Cho asserted himself making six tackles. Pairing well with Cho, defensive lineman Kyosuke Kamiyama helped slow down an explosive Elecom offense with one and a half sacks. The smothering Frontiers defense held Elecom to a mere total of 229 yards on the day, while racking up a total of four sacks, and a long list of pressures. The opportunistic defense stuffed the run and helped win the field position game.

For the Finies, the loss will make it tougher for them to reach the postseason as their record falls to (1-2-1). Former Louisiana Tech (NCAA D1) quarterback Cody Sokol aims to keep building his connection with receivers Alfonso Onunwor (Idaho) and Daiki Uchida. In this game, a last-minute score from Onunwor made things interesting, yet the Elecom left themselves too little time to pull off the upset. Looking ahead, their schedule doesn’t get any easier as they’ll have to face off against powerhouses the Obic Seagulls and the Panasonic Impulse to finish the regular season.

With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, fans can expect some hard-fought games as Panasonic, Fujitsu, and Obic will battle it out for the right to host the league’s semi-final matchups. Scrolling down the standings, four teams are still in the hunt for the final playoff seed as Elecom, Tokyo Gas, IBM, and Nojima Sagamihara all still have playoff aspirations.

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