|Nate Kmic led the team in receptions, again, in the
File photo for IFAF
From an IFAF release
The United States and Mexico are neighboring countries that share a passion for many things.
Count football among them.
Playing its third game in five days at the IFAF Senior World Championship, the United States overcame its toughest test of the round-robin schedule, beating Mexico, 17-7, on Tuesday in Innsbruck, Austria, to advance to Saturday’s gold medal game and the chance to defend its title.
The U.S. men finished Group A play with a 3-0 record and will take on the winner of Japan and Canada in the title match. Those two countries play Wednesday in a Group B finale between 2-0 teams. Mexico moves on to the bronze-medal game Friday against the loser of Japan and Canada.
U.S. National Team head coach Mel Tjeerdsma knew coming in the test his team would face. He admitted feeling “nervous for about 48 minutes” as the U.S. was never able to put Mexico away.
But in the end, the scoreboard told the story Tjeerdsma wanted to see.
“Most of these players didn’t know each other two weeks ago,” Tjeerdsma said. “So the first meeting, we said we had one goal – and that is to win the gold medal. Now we are one step away.”
Defenses dominated early as neither team scored in the first quarter. U.S. cornerback Jeff Frankllin knocked away a would-be Mexican touchdown pass, and a Jorge Valdez interception for Mexico in the back of the end zone ended a U.S. drive.
Team USA finally broke through with 10:05 left in the first half as a fumble at the Mexico 27-yard line set up a Gregg Berkshire 46-yard field goal to give the Americans a 3-0 lead.
The Americans made it 10-0 just before halftime as Da’Shawn Thomas scored on a run from 2 yards out.
Thomas finished with just 16 yards on 10 carries as neither defense gave up yards easily. Mexico’s rushing duo of Jose Conn Reyes and Jonathan Barrerra combined for 16 carries and 46 yards, while the U.S. runners totaled 27 yards on 22 carries.
“Their defensive line was outstanding, doing different twists and really giving the offense a hard time of running the ball, and on pass plays they were getting to our quarterback,” Team USA linebacker Osayi Osunde said. “Mexico is athletic and physical. We could not really find a way to run a full drive, so our defense was able to pull the slack and allow as few points as possible.”
Mexico head coach Raul Rivera Sanchez said his team rose to the challenge of a tough, physical U.S. squad. He is not satisfied with playing close, though. His team played to win.
“I feel sad because we came here to win this tournament,” Sanchez said. “We faced a good team. We knew it was going to be a tough game.”
Team USA appeared poised to extend its lead in the third quarter but a fumble stalled one drive at the Mexico 10.
The Mexicans took advantage as a 65-yard pass from Bruno Daniel Marques to Jose Antonio Alfonso set their team up at the U.S. 19. Five plays later, Reyes took an option pitch from Barrera for a 3-yard touchdown run.
“We could never feel comfortable because Mexico can score – and score quickly on big plays,” Tjeerdsma said.
The U.S., though, immediately pushed its lead back out to 17-7 as Thomas capped an eight-play, 68-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run. Team USA QB Cody Hawkins hit Ricardo Leinhart for 13 yards, Richie Brockel for 14 yards and Alex Anderson for 25 yards on the possession.
Hawkins finished 21-of-35 for 267 yards. Running back Nate Kmic again led U.S. receivers with six catches for 53 yards. Tight end Mike Peterson added four receptions for 38 yards.
Mexico’s QBs Marques and Rodrigo Perez combined to go 14-of-24 passing for 179 yards. Both were hurried throughout as the U.S. had four sacks, including sacks from Maurice Banks and Charles Bay on Mexico’s final two downs.
Team Mexico (2-1) vs. Team USA (3-0)
Team Mexico......... 0 0 7 0 - 7
Team USA............ 0 10 0 7 - 17
10:05 USA - Greggy Berkshire 46 yd field goal
3 plays, -2 yards, TOP 0:48, MEX 0 - USA 3
7 plays, 62 yards, TOP 3:24, MEX 0 - USA 10
00:00 MEX - Jose Conn Reyes 5 yd run (Jose Carlos Maltos
6 plays, 89 yards, TOP 3:15, MEX 7 - USA 10
8 plays, 68 yards, TOP 2:52, MEX 7 - USA 17