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