The IFAF World Team won a thrilling 2012 International Bowl 35-29 despite a rousing U.S. Under-19 National Team comeback that fell just short in the fourth quarter.
The game marked the first loss in international competition at the senior or junior level by Team USA, including the 2007 and 2011 IFAF Senior World championships, the 2009 U-19 IFAF World Championship and two previous International Bowls.
University of Manitoba runningback Anthony Coombs rushed for a game-high 147 yards and two touchdowns and Burlington (Canada) Nelson High School quarterback Will Finch completed 11-of-14 passes for 169 yards and a pair of scores to lead the World team to the victory.
The World Team got first half touchdown catches from Tevaun Smith and Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren and a rushing touchdown from game MVP Anthony Coombs to take a 21-9 commanding halftime lead at Austin’s Kelly Reeves Sports Complex.
And the game appeared won at 35-16 with a little more than five minutes remaining until the hosts scored twice to move within touching distance of what would have been a dramatic comeback. The World Team recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock before treating second-year head coach Greg Marshall to a Gatorade bath on the sideline, sparking wild celebrations.
“I’m a little numb right now,” Marshall said. “I’m just so proud of our coaches and our players. We had one week to come together and execute. We put in a complicated game plan because we knew we weren’t going to beat them playing straight up. It was a great team effort.”
Team USA took a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter when Sean Maguire threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Romond Deloatch on the Americans’ first play after a promising World Team opening drive had been halted. The score was set up by a fumble recovery and return by Malcom Brown on that first possession.
But the World Team answered with a stunning 75-yard touchdown pass from Will Finch to Gilbert-Knorren on the next series to knot the score at 7-7, making the receiver the first player to score in two International Bowls.
Gilbert-Knorren – a University of Saskatchawan product – finished the night with three catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
After an exchange of defensive stops, Deloatch fumbled a World Team punt, maintaining the visitors’ momentum at the USA 46 late in the first quarter.
Canada’s Coombs capitalized and capped the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter to give the World Team a 14-7 lead, breaking tackles through the middle to fight his way into the end zone. The lead marked the first time a US junior national team had trailed in six games in international competition and the first ever World Team lead in an International Bowl.
The USA cut the lead to 14-9 when it forced a safety by the World Team after a fumble in the end zone by quarterback Jesse Mills was recovered by one of his offensive linemen.
Team USA was unable to move the ball on its ensuing possession and the score remained 14-9 until a short USA punt set the World Team up at its own 44-yard line with just over three minutes remaining in the half.
Mills led the drive down the field and connected with Smith for a 19-yard score in the corner of the end zone with 1:05 to go in the half and the score stood at 21-9 in favor of the World team at the break.
The World Team forced a three-and-out by the USA to start the second half and a stellar punt return by Japanese back Shingo Maeda set the World team up at the USA 40. After moving down to the 20, the World settled for a 37-yard field goal attempt by Dillon Wamsley that was blocked by the USA’s Daje Johnson. The blocked kick was caught by Jarrett Irving, who returned it out to the 29-yard line but fumbled as he went down and the ball was recovered the World’s Casey Chin.
With new life following the turnover, the World Team rushing attack moved the ball down to the USA eight-yard line before Finch found defensive end-turned-tight end Daryl Waud in the left corner of the end zone for his second touchdown pass of the game. The World Team led 28-9 with 2:47 to play in the third quarter.
On the next USA possession Javelle Allen found receiver Frank Epitropolous open in the middle of the end zone for a 12-yard scoring strike to cut the World lead to 28-16 with 17 seconds left in the third quarter.
But Coombs opened the fourth quarter with 62-yard touchdown scamper to extend the lead to 35-16 with 11:48 left in the game.
“I set the linebacker up with an inside move like I was faking,” Coombs said. “I’m a little small guy so they can’t see me behind the line. I cut back and it was just a foot race to the zone.”
The World Team opened its next possession pinned back at its own one-yard line but quickly moved the ball out of danger thanks to some nifty running by Smith, Maeda and Austrian running back Andreas Hofbauer. The drive ran five minutes off the clock and should have put the game to bed.
But Devin Funchess came up with a touchdown catch over the middle and cut the deficit to 13 points after a failed two-point conversion attempt.
The resulting onside kick failed, but the World Team offense stalled and was unable to either move the ball or take time off the clock. Team USA struck with an instant pass to Epitropoulos to move the ball dramatically from their own 33 to only three yards from paydirt. Then on second and goal from the two, Jarrett Solomon found Canon Smith, whose one-handed grab meant the USA trailed by only six points after the point after.
World Team receiver Jean-Claude Madin Cerezo recovered the onside kick at the US 43 and from there the World Team kept the ball on the ground and the clock ran down to confirm their historic victory.
“They are getting better,” Team USA Head Coach Steve Specht said following the game. “We have to realize and our kids have to realize they are getting better year after year. They are studying the game, and you can’t just show up because you’ve got a lot of talent. You still have to play the game.”
Defensively, the World team held Team USA to 254 yards in total offense and ran up 404 yards against the Americans.
“This is huge,” Coombs said. “People don’t think anyone can play outside of the United States. “This is going to make the US take this event more seriously and its also going to inspire tons of little kids around the world. It feels great that we did this.”