Hawkeye Almost Up To The Challengers
Newly Promoted Side Stick With West Division Rivals Until Late Flurry
American QB Alex Niznak led Asahi Soft Drink Challengers to a 31-6 victory over West Division rival Club Hawkeye in his XLeague debut. Niznak completed 10 of 19 pass attempts for 153 yards. Among the completions were TDs of 30 and 44 yards. Niznak’s first completion of the game was the 44-yard touchdown strike to WR Masahiro Nishiyama. The play came on third and 15 in Asahi’s first offensive series. Niznak, avoiding defensive pressure on his left, rolled right and hit Nishiyama in stride as he stole past his defender down the right sideline and into the end zone.
With less than 4 minutes played, Asahi led 7-0. They were up 10-0 at halftime and that was the score until midway through the third quarter when again demonstrating ample poise and arm strength while scrambling, Niznak found fellow American WR Donnie King on a jump ball in the end zone.
The play was set up by the second of two interceptions by Asahi’s defense. The interception was snatched by DB Ryota Ikeda who, seeing a passing play develop to his side of the field, simply dashed in front of the receiver and was first to the ball for an INT in Club Hawkeye territory.
On the following play Niznak, finding himself under pressure in the pocket again scrambled to his right and threw a high wobbly spiral in the direction of King sandwiched between two Club Hawkeye defenders in the middle of the end zone. King timed the jump perfectly and landed on his back with the ball in his hands for the TD and the longest of his five receptions. King said, “I’m only 5’7” but I can play jump ball all day!” Niznak concurred saying, “Even when he’s covered, he’s open.”
The athletic and energetic King, who also had three tackles on special teams was excited after the game saying, “I just love setting the tone on special teams! It’s going to be an exciting season. Come watch the Challengers and you’re going to see things you wouldn’t believe!”
Club Hawkeye, despite failing to get many points, also put on an entertaining show of athleticism and guts. They have a number of multitalented players including American Malcolm Dupree, who saw action on both sides of the ball. “I’ve only been playing with the team for three months and I have two plays on offense and two plays on defense.” Dupree said. “There is a communication barrier but this year hopefully I can get my stats up and work on my skills.”
Skills and athleticism are personified in Club Hawkeye's Yuma Nagayoshi, who was formerly a QB for Panasonic Impulse but is listed as a WR for Club Hawkeye. Nagayoshi saw action all over the field including on 2 punts, 2 punt returns, 3 receptions and 2 runs. Both runs came on trick plays in the fourth quarter. First, lined up to punt for a third time Nagayoshi tucked the ball and went looking for a first down but came up just short. A few minutes later he got the ball at the Asahi Soft Drinks' 15 yard line and was looking to pass but again tucked the ball and ran for a first down and just short of the goal. That run set up Club Hawkeye’s only points of the game, a one-yard pass to WR Shoma Endo, who had six receptions for a game high 73 yards as well as an additional 34 yards on kickoff returns but it was his shortest gain that counted most.
Endo started the play lined up on the right, at the one yard line. With only one defender in front of him, he took a step into the end zone and turned to his right. Keeping his defender on his left and running full stride to the sideline, he turned and jumped. The ball was sailing high and wide but put where only Endo could have come down with it. He did and got both feet in bounds for the score.
That was one of many well designed and well executed plays for Club Hawkeye but the only one to show up on the scoreboard. Club Hawkeye, went for fakes and trick plays throughout the day so when they tried an onside kick on the ensuing KO, the Challengers were ready and waiting.
Niznak didn’t play in the fourth quarter because “we’ve got some big-time games coming up and we wanted get experience for the younger guys.” So, with a short field and plenty left in the tank Asahi's second string QB and RBs, marched 44 yards on 10 plays for a TD of their own with less than a minute left in the game.
Both Club Hawkeye and Asahi Soft Drink Challengers have big games in week two when they will next show off their skills and athleticism in an all-day football extravaganza at Kobe's Oji Stadium on September 10.
- Tony Chestnut: Aug 27th 2017