The sport is bigger than ever, played in every corner of the Earth with 64 International Federation of American Football member nations on six continents.
But this is our game. It’s called American football for a reason.
A year after surrendering the International Bowl title to the IFAF World Team, the United States left no doubt who would wear the crown this time, jumping out early and cruising to a 42-10 win Tuesday night at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex in Austin, Texas.
On Wednesday morning, Team USA players will sign their national letters of intent with 34 colleges in 10 NCAA FBS conferences.
For this night, however, it was about celebrating their country before focusing on themselves.
“We were not going to take anything but a win,” U.S. linebacker and team captain Cory Jasudowich (Cheshire, Conn.; Connecticut) said. “We were not letting this one get away from us.”
None of the Team USA players or coaches were part of the group that fell, 35-29, in 2012 – the first loss ever for the Under-19 program.
Six of these players, including Jasudowich, were on the 2012 summer team that finished second to Canada in the IFAF Under-19 World Championship.
From the jubilation on the U.S. sideline as the clock wound down, nobody would have known this team came together just a week ago. This was not an all-star game. This was a National Team competition.
All 44 players and eight coaches shared in the feeling that it was up to them to restore America’s honor.
“This team came here for the right reasons,” U.S. head coach Aaron Brady (Washington, D.C.; Gonzaga College Prep) said. “We wanted to bring the pride back.”
The United States came out determined to dictate the flow of the game.
Matthew McCrane (Brownwood, Texas; Kansas State) dribbled the opening kickoff, and Marco DelVecchio (Warwick, R.I.; undecided) picked it up after 11 yards for an onside kick.
A 19-yard run by Damien Haskins (New Boston, Texas; Oregon State) got Team USA going, though the drive stalled at the World 14. McCrane’s 31-yard field made it, 3-0, with 8:02 left in the first quarter.
Though the United States didn’t score again in the first quarter, the Americans held the ball for all but 2:05 of the first 12 minutes, outrushing the World Team, 103-6, in that span.
“Straight smash-mouth football,” said U.S. center and team captain Aubry Beal (DeSoto, Texas; Air Force). “As offensive linemen, we want the game to go through us.”
The World Team seemed ready to counterpunch until U.S. safety Shaquem Griffin (St. Petersburg, Fla.; Central Florida) intercepted the ball at the World 10. Griffin had his left hand amputated at age 4 but laid out for a one-handed catch to give the U.S. possession back.
“I just saw the ball out there, palmed it and rolled over on it,” said Griffin, who played along his twin brother Shaquill, both Central Florida commits.
Quarterback Shane Cockerille (Baltimore, Md.) capped a 16-play, 90-yard drive with a 3-yard TD run on the second play of the second quarter, seeming to take the wind out of the World Team sails.
Haskins added a 2-yard touchdown run four minutes later then tacked on a 2-point conversion to build the U.S. lead to 18-0.
The U.S. ground game kept churning, getting consistent yards from Haskins, Terrell Newby (West Hills, Calif.; Nebraska) and Chase Abbington (St. Peters, Mo.; Missouri).
“We believe in the running game,” Brady said. “We have three great backs, and when you can run the ball with success, why go away from it?”
Even when the World Team saw cracks of daylight, Team USA reasserted itself.
Following a 39-yard field goal by World Team kicker Louis-Phillipe Simoneau with 3:32 left in half, Team USA’s Newby made five would-be tacklers miss on the ensuing kickoff, bringing the ball back 66 yards to the World 33.
Newby converted a third-and-14 with a 16-yard screen pass reception to earn a first down at the World 20. Five plays later, Newby hauled in another third down pass, this time for an 8-yard TD and a 25-3 lead that Team USA took to halftime.
Newby earned Team USA Player of the Game honors with 88 yards rushing, 24 yards receiving, the long kickoff return and the touchdown.
“I’ve had a lot of fun this week,” Newby said. “Meeting all these guys, we’ll all be following each other through our careers. This week gave me a taste of what to expect at the next level with all the talented players here.”
Although Newby earned individual accolades, it was a team effort as it seemed every U.S. player got into the action.
- Haskins ran for 83 yards and a touchdown, while Abbington added 66 yards and a score;
- Cockerille threw for 120 yards and a touchdown, running for another;
- Rodney Adams (St. Petersburg, Fla.; undecided) caught five passes for 45 yards, including a 12-yard TD from backup QB Austin Henyon (Benbrook, Texas; undecided);
- Tere Calloway (Seattle, Wash.; Nevada) had an interception;
- Jasudowich had five tackles while Lance Virgile (Miramar, Fla.; Illinois) and Wyatt Teller (Bealeton, Va.; Virginia Tech) got in on sacks.
In all, the U.S. ran 68 plays compared to 32 by the World for a 422-142 advantage in yards.
Running back Nic Demski of Canada earned World Team Player of the Game after running for 74 yards, including a late 61-yard touchdown run.
“To get to play in Texas – which is the heart of football – is a great experience,” World Team head coach Tuomas Heikkinen of Finland said. “It’s always a bit sour after a loss, but I’m sure overall, especially for those from outside North America, this was a great experience.”