July 25, 2009
Notre Dame, Ind. – The Notre Dame Football Legends held Japan to a solitary field goal and pounded 309 rushing yards to win the Notre Dame Japan Bowl 19-3 in front of 21,080 enthusiastic fans in the Tokyo Dome.
MVP Jay Vickers rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown and his contribution included a 77-yard second quarter dash down the right sideline that led to the Legend’s first touchdown. Head coach Lou Holtz’s game plan rarely called for the Legends to throw, relying on the running game to wear down the opposition. Only Ambrose Wooden completed a pass, which went for seven yards to Vickers, while five others fell incomplete.
“It was all about meeting the challenges that were thrown at us and the players responded well,” said Holtz. “It was a wonderful experience. When you look at what we had to work with and the skill players who were out, we were very short in some areas, but we found a way to do it.”
Injuries claimed quarterback Gary Godsey, who did not dress, and defensive end Chris Frome and corner Jason Beckstrom, who both went down in the first quarter and did not return. Tony Rice saw limited action under center due to a calf injury.
Japan struck first with a 30-yard field goal from Daisuke Aoki to lead 3-0 at the end of the first quarter, but after Scott Cengia had tied things up from 37 yards out, Notre Dame gradually took control.
Quarterback Tony Rice, who split time under center with Ambrose Wooden, scored on a one-yard keeper to earn the Legends a 10-3 halftime lead. Matt Hasbrook forced Japan into a safety after Geoff Price’s punt had backed Japan up close to their end zone, so Notre Dame led 12-3 early in the second half.
Linebacker Michael Goolsby then produced an interception as Japan attempted a comeback and took the ball to within eight yards of the home end zone. From there, the Legends bruised their way forward and Vickers took to ball in from two yards out to complete the victory.
“To be out there one last time with my team mates was incredible,” said Vickers, clutching his MVP trophy. “I will remember this day for the rest of my life. The offensive line did a great job and the defense kept us in the game.”
Having won the coin toss, Japan elected to receive and starting from the 34-yard line, efficiently moved the ball downfield. Quarterback Tetsuo Yakata targeted receiver Shoei Hasegawa on the opening possession and might have seen him break free for a touchdown by for Ron Israel’s timely pass beak up. He ended the night with 19 of 349 pass attempts completed for 145 yards, targeting seven different receivers.
Japan moved the ball steadily on its opening two drives, but with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and despite an impressive four of five third downs converted, had only a three-point advantage as reward.
The Notre Dame Legends kept Japan at bay, but the ability to convert on third down kept the first series alive. When Nori Kinoshita, lauded as Japan’s main offensive weapon and a former member of the Atlanta Falcons practice squad, lined up away from the slot for the first time, he reeled in a 19-yard gain and Ken Shimizu also made a first down as the Legends were unable to contain them. The drive ended on fourth and one when Brian Magee and Michael Goolsby combined to stuff Takuya Furutani up the middle.
The Legends went three and out on their first drive. With Ambrose Wooden starting and handing off from under center, a short yardage rushing gain, a loss on a reverse by Bobby Brown and a Cole Laux carry were not enough to move the chains.
Japan then put together a 10-play, 52-yard scoring drive to lead 3-0 with four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Daisuke Aoki split the uprights from 31 yards, though Japan might have opened a bigger lead had Takeshi Akiyama not dropped a pass in open field on the previous down. The Legends might also have capitalized earlier in the drive when Joe Brockington blocked a pass as Notre Dame brought the blitz and was inches away from claiming an interception.
Notre Dame managed to sustain a longer drive on its second possession with Tony Rice now in at quarterback. Brandon Hoyte powered 11 yards up the middle after a Jay Vickers run had lost three yards and Rice made a short gain, but again Geoff Price was called on to punt.
The game began to swing in Notre Dame’s favor as the first quarter came to a close. Ron Israel intercepted Takata and the Legends responded with a 16-yard Rice run, showing no signs of the calf injury that had forced him to miss two days of practice. Another Rice run and Hoyte carry was not enough to move the ball, but Scott Cengia tied the score with a 37-yard field goal.
Both offenses stalled on their next possessions and just when offensive fireworks seemed unlikely, Vickers broke a 77-yard run down the right sideline, leaving all opponents in his wake. The running back looked to have broken the goal line but was ruled down at the two-yard mark. From there, Rice edged a yard close to pay dirt and then punched the ball in for a 10-3 lead after Cengia’s extra point.
Japan might have leveled the score had Takata not overthrown open receiver Kinoshita on the next drive. Instead the hosts trailed by a score at the interval and soon found themselves further behind.
With Wooden back in at quarterback for Rice, who would not return due to a calf injury, Notre Dame fell a yard short of maintaining the first drive of the second half, but Price’s end over end punt was downed at the Japan one-yard mark. Two plays later, Hasbrook stormed through the Japan offensive line accompanied by Casey Cullen and the pair sacked Japan’s other quarterback Shun Sugawara for a safety.
Both teams saw 44-yard field goal attempts sail narrowly wide, then on Japan’s third possession of the half, Michael Goolsby came up with an interception that he returned to the eight-yard line. Two plays later Wooden pitched out to Vickers who broke the goal line in the left corner of the end zone for what proved to be a decisive 16-point lead after Cengia’s extra point.
Japan’s offensive game plan stalled in the fourth quarter despite the odd flurry such as a 22-yard reception from the home team’s MVP Akiyama and the Legends were content to run out the clock when they were in possession.
CBS College Sports Network, the original 24-hour sports network, will broadcast the Notre Dame Japan Bowl to a nationwide audience in the United States on Monday, August 10 (9:00 PM, ET; taped 7/25/09) as part of the Network’s “Countdown to Kickoff Week” programming.
For more information on the Notre Dame Japan Bowl 2009 and the Notre Dame Football Legends, visit www.NDJapanBowl.com.