Team USA Upset by Canada

In a huge upset, Team Canada made the plays to knock off the top-seeded USA squad 23-17 in the U-19 IFAF World Championship Gold Medal game.

Canada, the No. 2 seed, never trailed in the contest that gave the USA its first loss in six IFAF World Championship games. When Japan struggled to beat Austria 7-0 in the Bronze Medal game — Canada won a tough 33-24 contest over the Japanese, while the USA rolled Austria 70-7 in the semifinals — it appeared that the gap between the USA and the rest of the world continued to loom large.But once the game kicked off, Canada never looked to be the No. 2 seed. The Canadians opened the scoring with a 21-yard field goal from Louis-Phillippe Simoneau, then added to that margin when Alexandre Huard returned a punt 59 yards for the game's first touchdown.

The field goal was set up by an interception by defensive back Kevin McGee, and was the USA's first turnover in six U-19 championship games, and the ensuing field goal marked the first time the USA trailed in IFAF U-19 World Championship competition. For McGee, it marked the first of several big plays he would make over the course of the game, making five tackles and two interceptions on his way to game MVP honors.

"I'm happy for the team," McGee said. ""It's an honor to be named MVP, but this was a team victory. We worked really hard for two weeks. We're really happy right now.

"This week has been the best experience of my life," McGee said. "I met some new people, I worked really hard, and I think I'm a better football player after this."

The USA — as it would at multiple points through the game — struck back to make things close. After Huard muffed the next USA punt, Darius Mosely fell on the ball for the USA at the 35. A pass interference call moved the ball to the 20, then Brayden Scott connected with Demarcus Ayers for a 15-yard gain. Three plays later, Scott hit Ayers for the touchdown, cutting the lead to 10-7. That was the margin at halftime.

Canada was able to stretch things out again in the second half, with Christopher Amoah catching a screen pass and breaking tackles on his way in for a 26-yard touchdown. A poor snap on the point-after attempt held the Canada lead to nine at 16-7.

The USA responded immediately, with Scott leading another drive, this one 78 yards in 11 plays, capped off with a tipped-ball touchdown pass from Scott to Rodney Adams. A successful extra-point left the lead at two with 4:41 left in the third quarter.

That was as close as the scoreline would get. Canada had a long drive of its own, a 64-yard march in the fourth quarter that upped the margin to nine again at 23-14 when Mercer Timmis ran in from 10-yards out.

In general, that summed up the game: Team USA did enough to stay close, but couldn't get over the top because of struggles in the passing game — they went 14-35 through the air — untimely penalties and an inability to get timely stops or turnovers that were staples in the first two games.

"We would put a couple of drives together and we'd implode," said Team USA coach Steve Specht. "We'd make a mistake, or we'd have a penalty.

"We've been together for a whole two weeks," Specht said. "You just don't have time to clean all the little things up. And I thought our kids played hard. That's the most important thing, that they competed hard. We just made too many mistakes."

McGee's second interception, on Team USA's next drive, appeared to seal the game for good. But a poor snap rolled to the Canada 45, where the USA's Tyler Willis pounced on the ball. A personal foul on the play gave the USA the ball on the 30, and Cameron Van Winkle hammered through a 43-yarder, making the score 23-17.

The first onside kick was recovered by the Americans before it went 10 yards, but Canada was offsides, leading to a re-kick. This time, Van Winkle attempted a sky kick that Canada recovered. The Canadians proceeded to run out the clock for a stunning victory.

"You have to take your hat off to Canada," Specht said. "They just made one more play than we did.

"Canada made some plays," Specht said. "I don't want to lose sight of the fact that Canada's got a good ball club. They made plays. Did we … do everything right? No. But I don't think Canada did everything right. It was a good football team we lost to."

The matchup was a rematch from the Gold Medal game in the 2009 IFAF Junior World Cup. In that contest, Team USA steamrolled to a 41-3 victory over the Canadians, ending a tournament where the USA outscored its three opponents 174-3.

"The biggest difference from 2009 to 2012, in my opinion, is the fact that in 2009, we were made up of all high school grads," Specht said. "We're talking 19-year-old kids that are bigger and stronger. This team, in two years, when they're 19, is a different group of kids. But with colleges wanting kids to come in so early — rightfully so to start school early and to get in the weight room — I think what you're looking at is having a team of younger kids. It's just different. It's not good, it's not bad, it's just different."

Specht went on to say that the feeder programs from the U-15 and U-17 levels should help to raise excitement for the U-19 championships, and should produce a better Team USA product.

As for whether the rest of the world was starting to catch up — keep in mind, the USA's best defensive game, a six-point outing against American Samoa, was twice the number of points the USA allowed in the entire tournament in 2009 — Specht was quick to point out that indeed, the gap has been narrowed.

"I think they're just getting better," Specht said. "It's a natural progression. We just need to keep working hard too and getting better. This is the way it's supposed to be. I'm not saying the USA should lose, because obviously I feel like I've disappointed the country. But you want to see these programs develop and get better. That's what IFAF is all about.

"That's why we have this event, to spread American football," Specht said. "And our kids are just going to have to see 'hey, this is for real.' This is not going to be a walk in the park. I think a bit of '09 crept into that. In '09 it was a walk in the park. This year, it was not."

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