Panthers Win Japan's 2009 Rice Bowl

Joe NixonCorrespondent IJanuary 3, 2009

For American football fans, the New Year means NFL playoffs and college bowl season.

In Japan, however, a very interesting American football bowl game is played every January 3rd.

The Rice Bowl is a match-up of Japan's college champion and the champion of Japan's semi-professional X-League.

The Rice Bowl is organized by the Japan American Football Association which is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2009.

This year's edition pitted two classic Rice Bowl rivals: the Ritsumeikan University Panthers and the Panasonic Denko Impulse. The teams have faced each other three times in the Rice Bowl since 1995

This year, Quarterback Hiroshi Matsuda of the Ritsumeikan University Panthers, led his team to a close victory over the Panasonic Electric Works Impulse 17-13.

Matsuda was named the game's MVP after going 17-for-25 with 149 yards and a touchdown. On the first drive of the game, Matsuda found tight end Masanari Mori for a 12-yard touchdown. On their second possession, he led the Panthers down field to set up a 44-yard field goal that put the collegiate team up 10-0.

Meanwhile, the Impulse struggled to get their own offense going in in the first half but ended the period on a high note when running back Masahiro Ishino found the end zone on a critical fourth and goal play. The Ritsumeikan University Panthers also ran in a touchdown for good measure.

The story of the second half was the strong defense of the Panthers who kept the Impulse out of the red zone.  Kenji Mori of the Panthers put an exclamation point on the win by  intercepting quarterback Tetsuo Takata with just seven seconds remaining in the game.

This year's Rice Bowl was played before 34,655 fans in the Tokyo Dome.

The title was Ritsumeikan's third victory in the Rice Bowl and the first victory by a collegiate champion in the Rice Bowl since 2004.

Like the American Super Bowl championship, the Rice Bowl is usually won in a blowout.
This year's low scoring 17-13 tied the 1995 Rice Bowl for the lowest scoring Rice Bowl game ever. That year Ritsumeikan University defeated the Impulse 16-14. The teams also met in 2005 when the X-League champions defeated Ritsumeikan University 26-7.