Australia Earns Fifth Place With South Korea Win

Chris Guscott

Australia has finished fifth in the 2015 IFAF World Championship after defeating South Korea 42-14 in the fifth place match at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Ohio.

After Australia easily handled South Korea in its opening round clash, it took a fair greater effort this time around to seal the victory. South Korea outgained Australia in total yardage through the first three quarters, and it took a calm and collected drive midway through the final quarter to help finish the job at hand.

Prior to that, South Korea had managed to crawl it’s way back from 20-0 down to steal the momentum and come within 13 points (27-14). And whilst 13 points is not typically the margin of a close game, South Korea’s offence was beginning to threaten.

Quarterback Jared Stegman (18/27, 224 yards, TD) was once again fantastic as he earned his second match MVP award, and his terrific performance helped receivers Daniel Strickland (5 catches, 88 yards, TD) and Tyson Garnham (9 catches, 70 yards) wreak havoc for the South Korean defence.

South Korea’s offence was much improved from their opening round loss, with quarterback Tae Hoon Kim (6/18, 136 yards, TD, 3 INT) consistently finding targets deep downfield at pivotal times to trouble the Outback. Wide receiver Sang Hong Kim (4 catches, 140 yards, TD) was a consistent deep threat throughout the contest.

However, Hoon Kim was forced to take plenty of risks to try and keep his team in the game and paid the price as defensive backs Damien Donaldson, Paul Mamotte and Scott Wolfe all got interceptions for Australia.

It was his own error which kick-started the early charge from the Outback; following a poor kickoff return which had the South Koreans starting on their own 3-yard line, they botched the handoff on an inside run play and lost possession.

Australia took the gift and had Nate Lansdel (8 carries, 36 yards, TD) convert from 3 yards out. Suddenly the Outback had a 7-0 lead inside 14 seconds.

From there, following two screen passes which gained them 67 yards, they extended their advantage through a remarkable 6-yard touchdown run from Conor Foley, in which he managed to evade multiple tackles behind the line of scrimmage before fighting his way over the endzone line.

The hot start from Australia cooled down when the match settled; Australia’s early momentum vanished as South Korea managed to even out the contest, and it took some quick thinking for the match to be broken open again.

With 2:27 remaining in the half, Hoon Kim’s deep pass was intercepted by Donaldson at the Australia 22-yard line, and after an 18-yard return, he was about to be brought down. Then he reacted.

He flicked out a lateral to teammate Calvin Young, and with the South Koreans caught by surprise, he managed to race down the sideline to return the interception for the touchdown. From there, the match was sparked back to life.

South Korea added their first touchdown of the match, and their first offensive touchdown in tournament history, shortly after with a 39-yard pass from Hoon Kim to Hong Kim. On the other side of the halftime break, Stegman found Strickland for a 37-yard touchdown pass. The energy and excitement levels had lifted.

It was from that point that South Korea began to control the contest; they strung together a 14-play drive which ended in a touchdown, before they managed to prevent multiple field goal attempts from Australia.

Stegman stepped in, and lead a 7-play drive of his own to not only steady the tide, but to seal the match with a 7-yard touchdown run. Australia could finally breathe easily.

After the match, he was pleased with how he was able to remain focused in such an important moment.

“In previous games I haven’t remained focussed on that drive. That was my goal; to take every play as it came and do my job on that play. I was telling myself to do my job, check my reads and just think about nothing else.” Stegman said.

“We really wanted it because that’s how we are as Australians. We’re never going to give up, we want to fight to the end or the final whistle on every play.”

Overall, Head Coach John Leijten was happy to look at both the result and the tournament as a whole.

“Same opponent, same result. It was a good win because of the numbers on the scoreboard, but it was an ugly win if we look at all of the mistakes we made… All’s well that ends well as we got a record of 3-1, which is the best result we’ve ever had at a World Championship.” Leijten said.

As for what he thought about the lateral?

“Those are the sorts of plays we wanted to use when we played teams like Mexico and France because you have to make the most of every opportunity and get on the scoreboard. But it’s also fun, and as a coach you stand there and think “…okay.” All’s well that ends well though.”

Written by Chris Guscott – @Chris_Guscott

Finishing the Job: 5th Place Match Preview

Chris Guscott

Australia’s 2015 IFAF World Championship campaign is already the most successful tournament that the Outback has ever participated in. They’ve already defeated the two teams beneath them to confirm their ranking. Some players are on the edge of breaking tournament records.

So what’s left to prove for Australia in their 5th place match against South Korea on Saturday?

“There’s still a lot to prove,” quarterback coach Ross Smith said ahead of the team’s final film session.

“For a start, we need to finish off the tournament. We’ve got one goal and that’s to beat South Korea in this next upcoming game. We’re looking forward to this opportunity to get another W on the board, and we are cognizant of the fact that we won ugly last time (against Brazil); we want to win as pretty as we can and get some offence moving. We need to play up to our potential.” Smith said.

That scrappy win against Brazil was a vital rebound game for the squad, but now they must remain mentally prepared to face a South Korean side which has already been outwardly confident that they are themselves prepared. And with an extra three days to recover and gameplan following their bye round on Wednesday, it’s easy to believe that South Korea will be at their best.

South Korean offensive lineman Seung Jun Oh in an interview Thursday was adamant that they are ready this time around.

“Mentally we’ve fixed our mistakes. We also studied Australia’s defense and offense, but more than that we’ve covered our mistakes because we made a lot of mistakes…We’ve worked on our own assignments.” Oh said.

“Australia is very fast, but if we do our assignments and our job and make no mistakes, it is possible to win. We had film and enough time to study it, but before we played them the first time we hadn’t seen anything. We are ready.”

The extent of how much they could reduce the final margin by alleviating mistakes remains to be seen, but there’ll need to be a drastic turnaround if this game is to be competitive.

Smith isn’t resting on the laurels of the opening round win however.

“We don’t care that we beat them at first. We’re all about looking ahead to the next game and not looking back to anything that’s happened before. We’re also aware that Korea have now seen film on us in which they hadn’t seen before, and we expect a much better, fired-up Korea team to come out and give us a real tight contest.” Smith said.

Linebacker and co-captain Brad Bennett was also wary of the challenge South Korea present.

“They come in rested. We just have to not be complacent and take the intensity that we took into the first game back into the fourth game.” Bennett said.

The biggest query then becomes if the Australians are looking to change their winning formula in light of South Korea’s new gameplanning.

“We’ve now seen Korea play two games on film; the adjustments to them will be minor. We’re definitely looking to take advantage of some of the things we’ve seen on film, but in the main it’s also about getting our things right and polishing what we do.” Smith said.

Written by Chris Guscott – @Chris_Guscott

Outback Survives Against Brave Brazil

Chris Guscott

Australia has advanced to a 5th place playoff with a gritty 16-8 win over Brazil at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Ohio.

In a do-or-die matchup which could have ended Australia’s IFAF World Championship campaign, they managed to survive Brazil’s advances time and time again after the Outback registered all of their points in the first quarter.

Defensive end Carlisle Jones was named Australia’s MVP after a dominant first half (4.0 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, pass deflection), whilst linebackers Ryan Ottens (6.5 tackles), Brad Bennett (6.5 tackles) and safety Damien Molloy (5.5 tackles) managed to have big games on defence.

They needed these performances too; Brazil’s offence sprung into life and controlled possession in the last three quarters (21:14 to 14:46) to continuously press for points, but repeatedly fell short as Australia bent but did not break.

On numerous occasions throughout the second half Brazil, on the back of great quarterback play from Rhudson Fonseca (7/12, 89 yards) and Rodrigo Dantas (11/21, 126 yards, TD, INT), managed to build drives that worked their way past midfield but hit a mental roadblock once they got near the redzone.

Brazil finally broke their scoring drought with 3:08 remaining in the final quarter through a 10-yard fade route touchdown, yet by that point the Oncas had used up the last of their physical and mental energy.

It was a stark contrast from the opening quarter where Australia flexed their muscles; on the second play of the game Stegman managed to loft the defence on a scramble play to find Matt Riles for the 58-yard touchdown. 10 minutes later, Lansdel (53 yards from 11 carries) doubled the advantage from 4 yards out, and the Outback were seemingly on their way to a comfortable victory.

After both touchdowns were finished with two-point conversions, Australia led 16-0 at quarter time. From there they barely approached the redzone as they were forced to rely on their defence to retain their lead.

Fonseca and Felipe Fernandes (3 catches for 71 yards) struck up a dangerous partnership in the second quarter, before tight end Romulo Ramos (7 catches for 101 yards) barged his way through on underneath routes.

Brazil’s intensity and drive outweighed Australia’s, and after the match, Head Coach John Leijten was full of praise for the Brazillians.

“We made it hard on ourselves, but credit also goes to Brazil. They started a bit slow but once they got into it they stopped our offence… They’ve only played football for seven years, but when you look at these guys, they’ll have a great future.” Leijten said.

Running back Nate Lansdel highlighted the Oncas increased effort and defensive pressure as one of the main reasons the Outback struggled in the last three quarters offensively.

“Brazil just lifted. I think they knew what was at stake, and they played with a lot of heart. They did bring a lot more pressure, and came down a lot harder defensively. After they played us lightly earlier on, they just starting shooting gaps and we couldn’t execute from there.” Lansdel said.

However, the ability to get the win in a tight game was what stood out most for Leijten.

“Still very proud of our guys, we kept pushing. We didn’t do too much (on offence) but then special teams and defence steps up and gets us the team win.” Leijten said.

“It’s important for us as a nation that we learn to play 48 minutes and finish a game; first game was over at the half, the second game was also over at the half but in a negative way, and now this game we had to keep playing 48 minutes. That gives confidence to you being able to close out a game.”

Australia plays South Korea on Saturday at 12pm local time (Sunday 2am AEST).

Written by Chris Guscott – @Chris_Guscott

Recover and Rebound: Australia-Brazil Preview

Chris Guscott

There’s no doubt that there were was plenty of physical and mental hurt following Australia’s last match. Instead of looking for sympathy however, they’re looking for redemption.

Just ask safety Damien Molloy.

“It’s left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. We don’t want to feel that losing feeling again, especially by the margin that we did. I think we had the confidence to get the job done against France but we just didn’t execute. We won’t be making that mistake again against Brazil.” Molloy said.

The 50-point defeat certainly brought the side back to earth, and after two matches of physicality which had left the squad battered, the coaching staff decided to give the players the day off and get in some valuable recovery time ahead of their match against Brazil.

It’s easy to see how well it worked, and step one for a successful rebound was complete.

“Everyone pulled up exactly how you’d expect. We were a bit banged up from France, and the recovery session was exactly what we needed mentally and physically. Just to relax, get off our feet and do what’s right by ourselves to give us the best chance to beat Brazil.” Molloy said.

Running back Conor Foley, one of the stars in the Outback’s opening round rampage against South Korea, echoes Molloy’s sentiment.

“We need to focus on Brazil because this is a do-or-die match for us, and the boys have responded well quite well today. We’ve had a good recovery session yesterday; the boys were really sharp and crisp out there at training.” Foley said.

“There was a bit of hurt after the video session, but we decided to just put it behind us and keep going from there.”

With the players now ready to regain some pride, the coaches will be next in the spotlight as they gameplan against the tournament’s new boys. They’re quietly confident in what they’ve seen, and without the external distractions and personal connections that were littered throughout the matchup against France, it will remain as quiet as possible.

Brazil’s performance against South Korea in the last round is important to note in comparison to Australia’s round one match against them. The Oncas dominated the ground by totalling 237 rushing yards (Australia had 247 yards), they converted 5-for-5 on redzone entries (Australia converted 3-for-3) and had 20 first downs (Australia had 21).

Whilst it’s futile to draw such simple comparisons when there are so many other variables in play, it’s fair to say that Brazil would be taking a similar amount of confidence, and positives, from their win as Australia would have. From the limited presumptions you could make, Brazil might be much closer to Australia’s level than many may think.

IFAF personally would be hoping for a close game, as there hasn’t been a single match which has been decided by less than 24 points so far up to this stage of the tournament. Whether or not that could happen when Australia face Brazil remains to be seen, but it’s a fair assumption that with the players and coaching staff that the Outback has at its disposal, Australia are clear favourites.

When asked about the potential talent differential and if it could lower their own gameplay, the players were quick to dismiss that notion.

“We’re playing for Australia; every challenge we get the boys want to rise for it. Our pride was a bit hurt after the France game, so we’re going to come out and give 100% so that’s not a problem.” Foley said.

Wide receiver Mitchell Besse agrees; “We haven’t faced them before and the scoreboards don’t show the full story so we’ve just got to go out and play our own game.”

Australia faces Brazil on Wednesday 15th July at 12pm (Thursday 16th July at 2am AEST).

Written by Chris Guscott – @Chris_Guscott

Spirited Outback Outclassed In France Defeat

Chris Guscott

Australia has received a harsh reality check in the form of a 53-3 defeat from France in the second round of the IFAF World Championships at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

Safety Damien Donaldson took out Australia’s MVP honours with 7.5 tackles, whilst cornerback Isaac Summerfield managed to pull in two interceptions. Outside of that, there wasn’t a whole lot to smile about as France put on an exhibition of execution, power and speed.

Potent kick returner Anthony Dable (158 kick return yards in two attempts) was at his usual explosive best for the French, whilst running backs Stephen Yepmo (110 yards, 2 TD) and Nicholas Khander (109 yards, 2 TD) wreaked havoc in either half to help France to their biggest win in World Championship history.

Quarterback Paul Durand (6/10, 73 yards, TD) was barely required in the wet weather before he was substituted out just before halftime, whilst his counterpart Jared Stegman (7/17, 74 yards, 35 yards rushing from 14 attempts) struggled to find targets and get the receivers to hold on when he delivered the right pass.

The French defensive line led by Mamadou Sy and Willy N’kishi consistently spoiled Australia’s plans, as they shut down the run on the front line and constantly forced Stegman to make hurried throws or scramble. Inversely, the French offensive line was efficient in it’s blocking, giving Yepmo and Khandar plenty of gaps to work with.

Whilst the match was controlled by France on the lines, Yepmo’s ability in the first half to execute a physical rushing game and run through tackles from linebackers and defensive backs was exceptional. He continuously opened up the playbook, and the French took advantage by using their receivers’ athleticism to turn short pass plays into decent yardage.

However, special teams played a crucial part yet again for the French. The opening drive started on Australia’s 27-yard line thanks to Dable’s return, and after Durand found tight end Kevin Mwamba for a 4-yard touchdown, Australia were immediately on the back foot.

The offence simply wasn’t switched on when the pressure was applied early. Stegman had both Garnham and Foley drop open passes to force a three and out on the first drive, giving France the opportunity to put up back-to-back scores. Whilst Australia managed to protect the endzone, Alexandre Sy’s 37-yard field goal made it 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Yepmo then exploded for a bustling 42-yard touchdown with the first play following quarter time, and Australia was well and truly on the ropes.

It then got the spark, and field position, it needed when Brad Bennett knocked the ball loose from French wide receiver Steve Delaval. Australia recovered the fumble, and settled for a field goal which helped regain some hope at 3-17 with 6 minutes remaining.

That lasted 90 seconds. Dable returned the kickoff untouched for a 92-yard score, and the French never looked back as the floodgates opened.

Khandar’s record-setting 88-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, which made it 40-3, was the icing on the cake for France. It was also was the final knife to Australia’s heart.

Australia all game struggled to move the chains against a stout French defence, converting on just 1-of-12 third down conversions. They didn’t reach 80 yards in either rushing or passing either.

Head Coach John Leijten saw the reality of the defeat for what it was.

“I think the scoreboard tells it all. We knew France was a very good football team… They out-executed what we were doing and the score reflects that.” Leijten said.

Referring to the offensive struggles: “They didn’t do anything in particular, they just had a really good defensive line… They have a whole stable of great defensive linemen, and that was our problem; that our offensive line struggled today with either running the ball or passing it.”

The focus then shifted to Wednesday’s clash against Brazil, and Donaldson was optimistic about their chances.

“It’s always going to be tough to bounce back after a loss like we suffered today, but I think the guys will really want to play hard in the next game so that we get to play another game after that. So we can get two more wins and make this a winning tournament.” Donaldson said.

Australia’s match against Brazil will kickoff at 12pm local time (Thursday 16th July at 2am AEST).

Written by Chris Guscott – @Chris_Guscott

9 Records Aussies Almost Broke in South Korea Win (and 1 Which Was Broken)

Photo: USA Football/Ed Hall Jr.

Chris Guscott

Australia’s 47-6 victory over South Korea was an iconic moment for the sport in Australia, and will be remembered for years to come. With a win this size however, you’d expect that the whole world would sit up and take notice of it’s historical significance.

Incredibly though, their 41-point win was not even in the top 10 for largest margin of victory at the IFAF World Championships. However, there were 10 different records which now need readjusting following Thursday’s match. Let’s start with the one that was broken:

1) Most touchdowns thrown in one game – Jared Stegman with 4 (New IFAF World Championship Record)

Stegman was voted MVP for a reason; not only did he create yardage with his feet on scrambles and read option plays, he also threw four touchdowns and helped create a scoreboard avalanche. Whilst two were on quick screens, and another was wide-open on the one-yard line from a South Korean miscommunication, Stegman certainly deserved his record after correcting his early nerves to guide Australia to victory.

And now for the records that were almost broken:

2) Most individual rushing yards in one game – Conor Foley with 132 (2nd all-time)

Foley’s brilliant display of quickness, elusiveness and toughness was a masterclass, and was part of a pivotal turning point in the early stages of the match. It was hard to keep count of the amount of missed/broken tackles he forced on South Korea, and the extra space/yardage added up the 2nd most of all time. However, Foley will need to almost double his effort to beat the current record holder Lars Gustafsson (232 yards in 1999).

3) Least rushing yards allowed by a team in one game – Australia with -21 (2nd all-time)

Not allowing a single yard, and even gaining yards from another team’s offence, is no mean feat. Whilst South Korea isn’t known as a strong rushing team, the ability to clamp down on a rushing attack to such effect shows a high level of execution and determination from the Outback. When the defensive line wasn’t breaking through, both linebackers and defensive backs alike were quick to attack. As a result, South Korea never had a rush more than 5 yards long.

4) Most individual Tackles For Loss (TFL) in one game – Damien Molloy with 3.0 (equal 2nd)

Molloy was clearly one of Australia’s best defenders in a dominant shutdown effort. Not only did he tally 6 solo tackles to lead all defenders, he also almost equaled a highly impressive record with 3 tackles for loss. As a safety, it’s even more impressive. Molloy’s aggression and instinctive play set a tone for the team to follow, making for a miserly rush defence and entertaining viewing.

5) Most rushing yards per attempt in one game (min 7 attempts) – Conor Foley with 12.0 (3rd all-time)

It’s one thing to accumulate 132 yards, but it’s another thing to only need 11 attempts to do it. Averaging 12 yards per carry means an automatic first down whenever the team called upon his number; Stegman highlighted in his post-match interview how important it was that the running backs were making linebackers miss on their tackles, and Foley’s ability to do that helped him find green grass and extra yardage as a result.

6) Longest touchdown run – Conor Foley with 52 yards (4th all-time)

AND

7) Longest run from scrimmage – Conor Foley with 52 yards (5th all-time)

What a tremendous run this was. Foley seemingly cut in and out of every South Korean defender he could find, and made the early tournament highlight reel on his way to another top 5 placing in the record books.

8) Least first downs allowed in one game – Australia with 5 (5th all-time)

9) Least amount of total yards allowed in one game – Australia with 69 (6th all-time)

10) Most rushing yards by a team in one game – Australia with 247 (7th all-time)

Written by Chris Guscott – @Chris_Guscott