Despite the deeply-rooted place of the CFL in the Canadian psyche, Canadians are known around the world–and often think of themselves–as a hockey country. Soccer is for kids, and the gridiron is for Americans, the prevailing wisdom seems to go.
So it was a real underdog situation when the Canadian team suited up for the gold medal game against the top-seeded USA team at this month’s IFAF U-19 World Championship in Austin, Texas. The tournament shows off the best high school aged football players from eight countries around the world.
Both Canada and the USA had met in the gold medal game in the previous edition of the tournament, back in 2009. That final had gone the other way, by a lopsided score of 43-0.
This year seemed like it would end no differently. The USA team had yet to trail by a single point in the tournament, and although Canada had a perfect record as well (beating Sweden 43-0 and Japan 33-24), the Americans were clearly favoured.
Canada opened the scoring with a 21-yard field goal near the end of the first quarter, set up by an interception on the 40-yard line by defensive back Kevin McGee–the first turnover ever conceded by the USA in tournament play. A few minutes later, the Canadians extended the score when Alexandre Huard returned a punt 59 yards to make the score 10-0 in favour of the Canadians.
However, Huard’s fumble on the next USA punt gave the Americans the ball in Canadian territory, and their quarterback Brayden Scott made the most of it, capping off a 35-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to DeMarcus Ayers, and leaving the score at 10-7 at the half.
Running back Mercer Timmis remembers the positive vibe in the Canadian locker room at halftime. “We were up 10-7 and we knew that we could beat this team,” Timmis recalls. “We just had to correct mistakes we made in the first half, and make some adjustments.”
Canada blazed out of the halftime break with a 5-play, 81-yard drive to make the score 16-7; unfortunately, a bad snap on the conversion left them with only 6 points for their efforts. The United States answered in kind with its own 78-yard touchdown drive of their own, leaving the score at 16-14.
But McGee took the wind out of the American sails with his second pick of the game, and Canada rumbled down to the American end a few plays later to extend their lead to 23-14. American kicker Cameron van Winkle drilled a 43-yard field goal to bright the USA within 6, but with only 1:47 left on the clock, Canada managed to snuff out the onside kick and run out the clock.
“We all motivated each other because the USA didn’t see us as a threat,” adds Timmis. “Coach Thorpe made sure that we let them know that we weren’t just going to roll over. They weren’t happy at all, we beat them in their own sport. They were just shocked.”
Sure, there is little more than bragging rights at stake in this junior football tournament. But a Canada-USA matchup is always of interest, especially north of the border. Canada’s players and coaches were clearly the equal of the Americans; taking the gold medal shows that football is still alive and well up in Canada.