Japan thinking gold ……

Japan moved to within a win of appearing in a fourth consecutive IFAF Senior World Championship Gold Medal game with an efficient 35-10 victory over France.

Japan put seven points on the board on their second possession as a swing pass from Tetsuo Takata to Ken Shimizu took the ball down the left flank to the France 10 yard mark. Then from the five, running back Yasuhiro Maruta powered up the middle just as he had against Austria for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead after a successful extra point.

France moved the ball gradually in reply and receiver Steve Delaval went over the middle where it hurts and held on for a first down catch despite being pummeled by two Japanese defenders. Quarterback Jeremy Rabot lost his grip on the slippery ball as torrential rain suddenly poured down on the UPC Arena. A miserable snap as France lined up to punt on fourth and long then slid all the way back to the France 30, undoing all their offensive hard work.

It looked as though Japan had been unable to take full advantage of the positive field position with two runs and an incomplete pass ending a yard short of a first down. But a holding penalty of France presented Japan with first and goal and Maruta again used blocking up the middle to power in over five yards for a 14-0 lead after the ever-reliable Daisuke Aoki tagged on the PAT.

The rushing of Dimitri Kiernan and Laurent Marceline moved the ball for France, but a penalty also caused negative yards and quarterback Rabot again had to call on Delaval over the middle for a spectacular catch and first down. But a play later Liernan fumbled the wet ball and Japan took over at their own 36.

Missing injured receiver Shoei Hasegawa, Japan went to Shimizu and Naoki Maeda in the air and Takata scrambled to move the chains. He then went long to Michihiro Ogawa with a perfectly thrown pass to set up first and goal.

Japan appeared to have stalled until two pass interference calls took the ball to within two yards of the end zone and then half the distance. Ogawa barely broke the plain with his one-yard catch, but did enough despite tight coverage for Japan to lead 21-0 at halftime.

France enjoyed the perfect start to the second half as Jeremy Larroque returned the kickoff to the Japan 36-yard mark and Jeremy Rabot made a key catch. Quarterback Sprauel, who earned his team’s MVP award, scrambled to the Japan 19 for a first down when the field opened up for him and then hit Rabot again over the middle five yards from paydirt.

But the power rushing of Kiernan and Marceline was subdued by the Japanese defense and France, trailing by 21 points, had little option than to go for broke and Sprauel hit Paul Durant perfectly in the corner of the end zone from six yards out to reduce the deficit to 14 points.

Japan put Takeshi Tono in under center and six plays later led 28-7 as Takuya Furutani went in from three yards out.

The defiant French began to move downfield again with Rabot and Anthoy Dable serving as Rabot’s main targets, but back-to-back 15-yard penalties against France moved the ball back and away from the red zone. Durand could not quite hold on over the middle and France had to punt away what had been a promising drive.

Held by the French defense, Japan failed to gain fourth down yards on a fake punt as a run from a direct snap to Tomokazu Sueyoshi came up short. Receiver Paul Bresaz-Latille made a good catch to move the ball into the field goal range of Bruno Nekili as the fourth quarter kicked in and he nailed a 45-yarder to reduce the deficit to 18 points.

Japan were efficient and ruthless in reply as Nori Kinoshita gained good field position on the kickoff return and Tono quickly fired a 35-yard pass that caught Naoki Maeda in stride and allowed him to dance into the end zone for a 35-10 lead.

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