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U.S. pounds Japan to claim third straight IFAF crown

Staff Report

Team USA completed a three-peat in the IFAF World Championship with an overwhelming 59-12 victory over Japan in the gold-medal game in Canton, Ohio, Saturday.

The United States has competed in the tournament that’s held every four years since the 2007 edition in Kawasaki and has not lost a single game.

Japan, which won the first two world championships in 1999 and 2003, came up short this time, but has finished on the podium in all five editions of the world championships.

Japan head coach Kiyoyuki Mori (X League’s Lixil Deers) said before the final that his squad had a chance to beat the U.S., but Japan was completely outclassed by the sport’s mother country in the end.

The U.S. got on the board quickly, as linebacker David Guthrie picked off a pass from quarterback Koki Kato (Deers) and returned it for a touchdown on Japan’s opening drive. The U.S. kept pouring it on and ended the first half with a 38-6 lead at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

The Americans had three more touchdowns in the second half to finish the tournament in dominating fashion.

The U.S. offense amassed 413 total yards, while Japan racked up just 218. The hosts had an especially strong ground game, accumulating 205 net yards with their rushing attack, while Japan was held to minus-seven yards.

“It’s a credit to our players and how smart they are and adaptable they are in the systems that they come from and then to our coaches, who did a great job of packaging things together,” Team USA head coach Dan Hawkins told USA Football after the game.

“We ran this like a team, not an all-star team. We wanted a full complement of offense, defense and special teams. We just have continually gotten better, and that showed up in the France game (an 82-0 win) and showed up here today.”

Because players from the NFL, CFL and NCAA were unavailable, the United States fielded a squad of players fresh out of college.

Former Army wideout Trent Steelman, who had 49 yards receiving and 56 rushing in the final, was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Championship. Hawkins, a former coach at the University of Colorado and Boise State University, was chosen as the event’s top coach.

“We’re world champs,” Steelman told USA Football. “That’s what America does. We play football. We came in with the mentality that we’re going to teach the rest of the world that this is our game, and we did that for four games straight.”

Japan managed to score two touchdowns, one on a pass and another on a fumble recovery. Wide receiver Takashi Kurihara (IBM Big Blue) led the team with 85 yards receiving.

Japan lost 23-20 in overtime against the U.S. in the 2007 gold medal game and that’s the closest the Asian country has come against the Americans.

The U.S. had crushed Japan 43-18 earlier in this tourney.

“We need to improve more physically and technically,” Mori said. “I’m very proud of our players, but Japanese football has to improve more. We have to improve everywhere, offense, defense and special teams.”

Quarterback Kevin Burke spoke to USA Football after the game, saying, “It just goes to show how good Americans are at football. This is our sport. We invented it, and we’re going to be the most dominant in the sport for years and years upon decades.”

At the same time, for some of the Americans, including Burke, the tournament was an invaluable opportunity to experience the way other nations approach the sport.

“It taught me a lot,” Burke told the Akron Beacon Journal after USA’s first meeting against Japan in this tournament. “I learned a lot from guys on the team who played in Japan, telling us how they play and what kind of football teams they have and just seeing them on the field.”

Hawkins also told the Beacon Journal before Saturday’s final that he was impressed by the Japanese.

“They’re extremely well-coached,” Hawkins said. “They’re extremely well disciplined. Detailed. They play hard. They have good schemes and are going to take advantage of things you don’t prepare for well and aren’t ready for. They’re a fun team to play.”

In the bronze-medal game, Mexico cruised past France 20-7.

After the championship game, the all-tournament teams were announced. Team Japan’s Kurihara, offensive lineman Akira Katsuyama(Fujitsu Frontiers) and defensive back Keizaburo Isagawa (OBic Seagulls) were selected to the first team.