A classic clash at the UPC Arena in Graz saw the teams match each other drive for drive until virtually the last play of the first half and while Canada led 17-14 at the interval, Japan did not put their noses in front until the third quarter.
“This was an amazing football game and we got the glory today,” said Canada head coach Larry Haylor.
Running back and Canada MVP David Stevens, who rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, added: “We were lucky to come out with a victory. We’re tired after three games in only a few days, but we have good depth and we’re confident right now.”
Japan missed out on a berth in the Gold Medal Game for the first time since the competition began, having been crowned champions in 1999 and 2003 and lost to USA in the final in 2007.They will now take on Mexico for Bronze in Vienna on Friday.
“I am very proud of my players and they did a good job,” said Japan head coach Kiyoyuki Mori. “But at the same time we are very disappointed not to be in the final.”
Both teams scored on their opening possession. Running back Matt Walter had three attempts to score on the ground repelled as the Japanese defense held. Canada then Canada gambled on fourth down and a two-yard pass from Mike Faulds eventually landed in the hands of a diving Michel-Pierre Pontbriand in the end zone after a deflection and Canada led with 5.38 remaining in the first quarter.
Japan was more economical with the end zone at their mercy and on second and goal Yasuhiro Maruta took a side step to the left and raced in to score from a yard out and tie the game after a successful extra point. Japan tried to catch Canada off-guard with an onside kick but failed to recover. Canada was unable to capitalize on good field position and both teams twice traded punts.
MVP Stevens ran off tackle on a four-yard run to the right side for six more points and a 14-7 lead with 1.22 left to play in the half, but again Japan replied. A Tetsuo Takata pass to Michihiro Ogawa opened up the field and the quarterback then went to Takuya Furutani with a 15-yard toss to again level the scores.
Canada worked the clock well to set up Lirim Hajrullahu for a 32-yard field goal to close the half and lead 17-14 at the interval.
Japan methodically moved downfield to open the second half. A superb diving catch by Ken Shimizu moved the ball to the Canada 26 and Japan then lined up in the wildcat formation and ran a reverse to put the ball back in the hands of Takata and his pass found Furutani at the 11.
Two runs and an incompletion failed to beak down Canadian defenses and Japan settled for a 23-yard Daisuki Aoki field goal to tie the game for the third time at 17-17.
Japan defensive back Koki Kato produced his third interception of the tournament and that led to another Aoki field goal, this time from 29 yards, and Japan’s first lead at 20-17. But Matt Walter responded with a three-yard rushing touchdown as Canada reclaimed the lead 24-20.
Japan was backed up near the end zone, but rallied to drive and score to again move ahead, this time by 27-24. Yasuhiro Maruta found a hole and a first down at the 25 then passes to Nori Kinoshita and Ogawa drove the ball to the Canada 30 with six minutes to play. Kinoshita was pushed out at the two by Troy Adams and from there on first and goal, Tomokazu Sueyoshi punched in for a touchdown.
Canada replied immediately as Faulds was forced out of pocket but hit Stevens on a stunning 72-yard connection and then from their own first and goal at the one, Canada scored what proved to be the winning touchdown as Walter broke the plain with 3.31 remaining.
“I just tried to get open down the sideline and the quarterback did a good job of looking up and seeing me,” explained Stevens. “And I was lucky enough to catch the ball and then instinct just kicked in and I ran hard almost getting to the endzone. But looking at it now it’s probably a good thing I didn’t make it in, because we used more of the clock.”
The Canadian defense held firm as Japan went for glory on fourth down but a pass bounced off the hands of Ogawa, then on the game’s final play, Julien Hamel intercepted to close the victory.
Canada vs. Japan 31:27
Date: July 13, 2011
Stadium: UPC Arena
Link: Game Statistics