The semi finals of the Japan X Bowl kick off simultaneously this Sunday in Kawasaki, where IBM Big Blue face Obic Seagulls, and Osaka, with National Champions Panasonic Impulse taking on the team they beat in last year’s final, Fujitsu Frontiers.
The games get underway at 1 pm local time and feature arguably the top four teams in the country all year.
Both Obic and Fujitsu went unbeaten in the regular season before blowing out their respective opponents in the quarterfinals, but on Sunday it wouldn’t be a huge upset to see either team lose as Panasonic and IBM are also coming in on hot streaks.
The Osaka game takes place in the almost 50,000 seat Yanmar Stadium, an arena which has hosted both Olympic and World Cup events in the past.
Obic, despite having the better record and being the number two seed, are forced to travel to Kansai for the matchup. The Seagulls haven’t been back to the X Bowl since their record fourth straight title in 2013 but seem confident ahead of this weekend’s eliminator. Defensive end Kevin Jackson told American Football International that he is excited:
“Playing the defending champions on their home turf [is] a challenge but we’ve done a pretty good job of preparing so I’m just excited to get out there and hopefully get that W”
Panasonic’s only loss this season came to unbeaten number one seed Fujitsu back in week four but apart from that game (and a crazy last five minutes against Lixil) they’ve been dominant on defense, pitching two shutouts and holding opponents in the other games to an average of six points.
With Obic scoring almost 30 points a game, something’s gotta give on Sunday. On the other side of the ball, much will depend on whether Obic’s dominant pass rusher BJ Beatty lines up opposite Jackson or not. Beatty was in pads on the sideline but didn’t take part in the action during the quarterfinal. When both men are on the field it causes all kinds of problems for opposing offences and if he is out again this game it will be a huge boost to the Impulse. Beatty says there is no chance of that happening though declaring himself “100% ready to go” and “excited to get back out there”, adding that he could have gone in [against the Finies] if needed
The second semi final also features a dynamic pair on the D-Line in IBM’s James Brookes and Rykeen Yates. Brooks came back from several weeks out to play against Lixil in Yokohama on November 12th but it was Yates who set the tone that day, blowing up play after play to help Big Blue stay in the hunt for their first ever title. If Brooks has shaken off the ring rust it could be a long day for Fujitsu QB Colby Cameron.
When IBM has the ball it’ll be a similar story as the Frontiers with game-changing OLB Trashaun led the league in scoring defense. Nixon has a nose for the ball and has returned fumbles for scores in both the Pearl Bowl and the regular season this year. The matchup against IBM’s bruising halfback Sueyoshi will be one to watch. With snow falling in Tokyo on Wednesday and rain forecast for game day, the ability to run the ball and stop the run will likely be the key factor that decides the game.
Fujitsu will be most people’s pick to win this game but Big Blue according to TE John Stanton “are hitting our stride at the right time”. Stanton also feels that this team is more well-rounded in attack:
“I think this is which allows them to be more unpredictable and able to put up points against good defenses.”
That’s something Fujitsu DB Al Rilwan Adeyemi agrees with saying:
“[IBM] have weapons on all 3 levels of offense, their quarterback play this year has been helped tremendously by the ability to move the ball with their really good backs in [Takagi] and [Sueyoshi]. And on the receiving end of those passes are really good receivers that do a good job getting open in the seams and run after the catch.”
Adeyemi though thinks that the fact that the winner plays in the championship game will keep everyone focused and his teammate WR Clark Nakamura added that the team has practiced well and now it’s just a matter of executing on the field. For Nakamura the key to the game will be not allowing Brooks and Yates to distrust the offense’s tempo. According to the wideout,
“…If they can find a way to slow the two Americans down and avoid mistakes they will win.”