It was the 99th anniversary of the Armistice concluding World War I, which ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. The Nojima Sagamihara Rise kicked off their quarterfinal game at 11 AM on 11/11 (Japan Time), but their season lasted only a few hours more.
The weather was fine for a change- wind and rain affected many of their regular season games, including their 14-0 loss to the Obic Seagulls in September. But this time, there was no such excuse. Devin Gardner and the 3rd-seeded Rise suffered one of their most miserable performances of the season with a shocking nine turnovers, losing to the 6th-seeded Seagulls 41-22, and knocking them out of the playoffs.
Sagamihara's opening drive went three and out, and they proceeded to turn the ball over on their next five possessions- including four times in five offensive plays and a muffed kickoff return. Meanwhile Obic scored three TDs and two field goals the first five times it had the ball, and led 27-0 by early in the 2nd quarter.
While they outgained the Seagulls 441 to 336, the Rise were simply dominated by the Obic defense. “We couldn’t run the ball, so now we’re passing it the whole game. Jump off the bus, 14 down,” said Gardner.
Gardner and the Rise finally responded with an 86 yard drive for a TD, and nearly had another on a 65 yard drive when Sione Houma carried it to the Seagull's one yard line. But Nojima was stopped on the final play of the first half.
Devin did hit Takahide Dejima on a 9 yard scoring pass mid-way through the 3rd quarter to make it 27-13, but that was as close as they got.
For the most part, Nojima's receivers were no match for Obic's physical defensive secondary, and their defensive line was putting relentless pressure on Gardner all throughout the game. “They got pressure whenever they wanted,” he said. Seagull’s defensive end B.J. Beatty said they only blitzed about 10% of the time. Beatty and Kevin Jackson and the rest of the Obic defensive line continually overwhelmed the Sagamihara offensive line, and Jackson and Beatty even had one interception apiece.
Devin was frustrated throughout the game and disappointed afterward, and said it was difficult for Nojima because they couldn't run the ball, so play action passes had little effect. Leaving more in to block didn’t seem to help either, and Obic was in tight zone coverage downfield. The Seagulls were jumping all the quick timing routes, and the rush was too fierce for slower developing routes.
On defense, Mario Ojemudia was credited with one assist and three tackles, including two sacks.
Gardner, who often had Seagulls defenders hanging on to him as he threw, was 27 of 52 for 378 yards and 2 touchdowns, but with a season-high 6 interceptions. Devin admitted that sometimes, “You just got to chuck it and see what happens…You got to hope your guys make a play for you.” Unfortunately, not enough plays were made by his teammates, although Yuhei Yagi did have10 catches for 148 yards and one touchdown.
Gardner also ran or scrambled 11 times for 30 yards, and Houma carried 9 times for 36 yards and a fumble, and caught two passes for 15 yards.
Obic will meet rival Fujitsu in Kawasaki in one semi-final game on 11/26 in a rematch of the regular season finale won 13-10 by the Frontiers in overtime; while the IBM Big Blue will go down to Osaka to face the top-seeded Panasonic Impulse for the other semi-final. The Japan X Bowl will be held on December 18th at Tokyo Dome. The winner will face the collegiate champion in the Rice Bowl, traditionally held on January 3rd.
After going back to the States to spend some time with friends and families, Devin said the Wolverine alumni will evaluate their plans for next season.