Stifling defense leads US Under-18 Select to 21-7 win over Team Ontario
By: Brady Keane
ARLINGTON, Texas – The United States U-18 team didn’t have an explosive performance on offense, but its defense played lights out to help carry the U.S. to a 21-7 win over Team Ontario U-18.
The U.S. defense held Ontario to an average of just over 3-yards per play, while also forcing and recovering three fumbles in the game. It was an impressive performance again for the Under-18 Select squad, which defeated Ontario 34-3 at International Bowl VII last season.
“I think [defensive coordinator Michael] Ridings did a fantastic job,” head coach Vince DiGaetano said. “I think he put our players in the best position to make plays. He spent a tremendous amount of time focusing on things like tackling and takeaways, and it paid off today.”
The U.S. struggled on the majority of its offensive possessions in the first half but had two big drives that helped set the stage for the victory. The offense took advantage of great field possession early in the first quarter when Seth Howard connected with Henry Teeter on a 34-yard touchdown pass to break the ice with 9:01 left in the first.
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Howard (Grinnell, Iowa) added another touchdown early in the second on a 1-yard touchdown pass to Rodger Holcombe III that was set up by a 17-yard run from RaShon Bray.
Other than those two scores, the first half was all about the U.S. defense slowing down the traditionally punishing Ontario running game.
The U.S. held Ontario to minus-six yards rushing in the first half – and just 53 total yards – while forcing six punts. It was a commanding performance from a group led by Trey McBride, who finished the game with a monstrous 7.5 tackles, three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. Joseph Evans also had a big game for the defense, adding 4.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.
“Those guys worked their butts off today, and it does it all [for the offense],” Howard said. “We couldn’t have done it without them, and we’re so proud of what they did.”
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The second half was much of the same for both teams, as the U.S. offense did just enough to add to its lead while the defense continued to hold Ontario quiet – for the most part.
Howard added his third touchdown of the day on a 1-yard run that was set up by a 25-yard pass to Jordan Gray with 1:40 left in the third quarter. He was named the U.S. MVP for his three-touchdown performance, and he finished the game with 111 total yards.
“We really pushed the tempo, and that’s something we focused on in practice all week,” Howard said. “We had a lot of athletic guys on the field, so we wanted to feed it to them.”
Ontario was able to escape the threat of a shutout when Jonas Hatcher connected with Lucas La Brier for an 8-yard touchdown that capped off a nine-play, 61-yard drive with 9:52 left in the fourth quarter.
From there, it was a stalemate as the two teams combined for just 63 yards after the Ontario touchdown.
Zachary Beno and Hatcher (Toronto, Ontario) combined to throw for 212 yards in the game for Ontario, while La Brier (Aurora, Ontario) took home the Team Ontario’s MVP honors after hauling in eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
After the game, DiGaetano said the win was a result of a phenomenal week of preparation in the week leading up to the game.
“It’s a quick turnaround,” DiGaetano said. “The preparation throughout the week was key, and it really goes back to the coaches. The coaches did a tremendous job.”