The U.S. Under-19 National Team began its defense of its International Federation of American Football Under-19 World Championship gold medal Saturday night in Austin, Texas, with a 27-6 win over American Samoa.
The Americans next play Austria at 8 p.m. CT on Wednesday, July 4. The gold medal game is 8 p.m. CT Saturday, July 7.
Team USA opened with a kickoff return for a touchdown and followed that with touchdowns on its first two possessions.
Jesus Wilson opened the scoring for Team USA with a 77-yard return to give the United States a 6-0 lead 13 seconds into the game.
American Samoa drove to the U.S. 39-yard line on its opening drive before the USA defense forced a punt. The USA offense took over at its own 20 and marched 80 yards in nine plays to extend the lead to 13-0 on a 1-yard run by quarterback Brayden Scott. The big play on the drive was a 43-yard pass from Scott to DeMarcus Ayers to put the ball at the 1.
Despite trailing the entire game by mutlitple touchdowns, American Samoa was nearly even in time of posession and outgained just 324-250 on the night.
“We learned a great lesson tonight,” American Samoa head coach Pooch Suaese said. “They just stopped our rhythm and did a great job getting us out of sync. I just told our kids now, learn from this and let’s come back and play them again in a couple of years.”
American Samoa again drove deep into U.S. territory before linebacker Cory Jasudowich forced a fumble by American Samoa running back Faafounia Sitagta that was recovered by Reggie Chevis to end the threat at the U.S. 16-yard line.
Scott then directed an 84-yard, 15-play drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Scott to Ayers for a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“It felt really good to be out there. It’s kind of funny playing a game in the summer but representing my country is something I’d if it was 100,000 degrees,” Scott said. “I love representing my country and wearing USA across my chest.
“Give the credit to our offensive line and our defense. They did a really good job today.”
American Samoa’s next drive found the end zone as quarterback Ben Langford directed his team’s option offense on a 66-yard drive that chewed up four minutes on the clock before Howard Tautu scored from a yard out. The 2-point conversion failed, and the U.S. lead stood at 20-6 with 5:45 left in the half.
Buoyed by the score, the American Samoa defense stiffened and forced a USA punt. The Samoans then drove to the U.S. 39 before U.S. defensive back Cameron Walker ended the drive with an interception at the 15-yard line with 1:04 in the half.
Again and again, American Samoa’s defense held, keeping the tournament’s top seed within striking distance.
“If that team is the eight seed then that needs to be refigured,” USA head coach Steve Specht said. “They were quick; they played awful hard; they had a great scheme; they played up-tempo. That’s a good football team. I told Pooch afterwards, ‘You ought to be proud of your kids. They played their hearts out.’ ”
American Samoa looked to have turned the momentum late in the third quarter when punter Shalom Luani broke loose on a 25-yard run on fourth-and-12 from the American Samoa 15 to turn the field position around.
“Shalom saw them all commit, and he took off,” Taase said. “We talked about it all week, and he knew what to do when he saw it.”
The Samoans stayed on the move into the fourth quarter before the USA defense stiffened and held American Samoa on downs at the USA 26.
After an exchange of punts, the USA took over at its own 14 with 8:09 to go in the game. Needing a score to put the game away, Scott completed 4-of-5 passes for 81 yards before Tarean Folston plunged the final yard to up the lead to 27-6 with 4:38 left in the game.
The Americans were their own worst enemy at times, committing 16 penalties for 201 yards.
“We had way too many stupid penalties, but it was the first time we’ve played together so we’ve got things to clean up but we’ll get better,” Specht said. “I was proud of our kids’ effort. They played hard. We’ve just got to get better.”
Ayers earned USA Team MVP honors with seven receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Luani was named American Samoa Team MVP after averaging 35.5 yards per punt and recording four tackles along with his first down run on the fake punt.
The United States will face Austria in the semifinals of the IFAF U19 World Championship on Wednesday, July 4. American Samoa will meet Panama in the consolation round July 3.