Champs Face XLeague’s Hottest Team In Pearl Bowl Final
The 2017 Pearl Bowl at Tokyo Dome on Monday at 7pm sees defending champion IBM Big Blue take on a Seagulls team boasting both the #1 scoring offense and defense. Obic put up 150 points and allowed only 14 en route to a 3-0 crushing of their competition in the Pearl Bowl thus far. IBM, while not as statistically dominant has looked solid in their three victories.
Seagulls’ rookie starting QB Ikaika Woolsey after his stellar performance against Lixil Deers in the semifinals indicated he would be taking the snaps in the championship game. IBM conversely have had both quarterbacks - Kevin Craft and Yuki Masamoto - play significant time in each game thus far, but Masamoto seems to have been given to nod to start on Monday. Craft though has proven the more reliable thrower and with IBM likely needing all the offensive power it can muster to keep up with the Seagulls, he is sure to see the field at some stage.
While intrigue surrounds the quarterback position, the most interesting battle in this game will be fought in the trenches. IBM Big Blue’s defensive front is arguably the best overall unit in the X-League having held Nojima Sagamihara Rise QB, and potential MVP, Devin Gardner, to 19 points. They are playing with a pride and ferocity that seems to only intensify with each game. That said, they have yet to face an O-line as powerful or as disciplined as Obic’s. One of these sides will have to give ground and it may be up to Woolsey to create the plays that give his line the edge. When possession flips, the battle up front is no less fascinating as Obic bookends BJ Beatty and Kevin Jackson have terrorized opposing offensive lines. While IBM’s O-line hasn’t played to the level of Obic’s, Kevin Craft has been able to make up for it by staying poised in the pocket and extending plays for big gains. Regardless of which team wins on Monday night, we are primed for a classic between two efficient teams that regularly make big plays.
- C.J. Ryan: June 17th 2017
Big Blue Edges Rise In A Classic
IBM Big Blue advanced to the Pearl Bowl championship game after defeating the feisty Rise 27-19 in the first game in the competition decided by a single score. Play after play was made by both sides of the ball for IBM but Rise QB Devin Gardner put in a spectacular performance. Gardner accounted for 400 of his team’s 422 yards by making spectacular plays between the twenties but couldn’t put enough points on the board due to poor kicking and a monstrous four-down goal line stand by IBM’s defensive line.
It may seem odd to praise IBM’s defensive line after giving up over 400 yards of offense, but those numbers only show how magical a talent Gardner is, and not how well IBM’s big men up front played. That front seven recorded two sacks and seven other tackles for loss. They were led by a highly motivated James Brooks who batted two balls and recorded five tackles for loss. Brooks and the rest of the DL, including debutant Richard Ellerbie who recorded one sack, continuously bullied Nojima’s offensive line and it would have been a very different day for the Rise offense if any QB other than Gardner had been back there.
After the game Brooks praised both Gardner and his own DL teammates in equal measure. Throughout the game those two forces traded blow after blow like heavyweights in the ring. When the dust settled on the 4th down and 1 attempt in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, Gardner had been stopped just shy of the end zone and the D-Line went home victorious, having cemented their team’s place in the final as well as emphatically stating the case for IBM’s defensive line being the best unit in the X-League.
IBM QB Kevin Craft saw little game action. In his stead Yuki Masamoto put together an efficient afternoon going 10 of 18 for one touchdown and one pick along with 45 yards on the ground and a rushing score. IBM gained 300 yards of total offense against a very tough Nojima defense. It will be interesting to see if Craft will start for IBM in the championship game or if he will share snaps with Masamoto as he has throughout the Pearl Bowl. Until today, IBM had played error-free football, but they had a few missteps today which will be a concern as they get set to face Obic Seagulls who boast the Pearl Bowl’s top ranked scoring defense, allowing only two touchdowns in three games.
- C.J. Ryan: June 4th 2017
IBM Big Blue (27) - (19) Nojima Sagamihara Rise
Photos: Chris Pfaff - June 4th 2017: Fujitsu Stadium