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United States 59, Japan 12

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By Brad Bournival

CANTON, Ohio – Once the train was engaged, it was near impossible for Japan to keep up.

By the time the gold medal game of the International Federation of American Football World Championship was over, the United States was looking at its third straight title.

It came in a tidy 59-12 win over two-time champion Japan and was a result of one big play after another.

“We’re world champs,” U.S. game and tournament MVP wide receiver Trent Steelman said. “That’s what America does. We play football. We came in with the mentality that we’re going to teach the rest of the world that this is our game, and we did that for four games straight games.”

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Playing in just its fourth game as a team and in front of 5,500 fans, including national champions J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones of Ohio State, the United States (4-0) looked like a veteran squad that had been together for years as each member won a gold medal for the first time in his career.

It came in just about every facet as defense was responsible for three touchdowns – a 75-yard pick six by David Guthrie (New Mexico/Tenmile, Ore.), a 36-yard fumble recovery by Kyle Olugbode (Stanford/San Jose, Calif.) and another fumble recovery by Alex Gross (Columbia/Kettering, Ohio)

It came with touchdowns from eight players, and it came with 413 yards on 62 plays for an average of 6.7 yards.

Offense once again was at a premium as Steelman (Army/Bowling Green, Ky.) led all rushers with 56 yards and a score, while Dylan Favre (Tennessee-Martin/Kiln, Miss.), Aaron Wimberly (Iowa State/Duluth, Minn.) and Kevin Burke (Mount Union/Westlake, Ohio) added rushing scores.

Tight end Ernst Brun (Iowa State/Stone Mountain, Ga.) registered the only receiving touchdown as the United States once again showed its dominance.

“It just goes to show how good Americans are at football,” Burke said. “This is our sport. We invented it, and we’re going to be the most dominant in the sport for years and years upon decades.

“When this team got together the very first day about three weeks ago, I knew it was something special. Yeah, we have our miscommunications here and there and that comes with it. But when it’s all said and done, we’re gold medalists, and no one can stop us offensively or defensively.”

Not lost in the complete-game effort by the United States was its third IFAFWC title in as many tries. The U.S. didn’t participate in the 1999 and 2003 games, but since joining the championship it has won every time.

The 2015 team was its most dominant in terms of points (214) and kept the Americans undefeated in IFAF play through 11 games.

The 11 games won matches Japan’s for most wins by a country, though Japan has lost four times – three of them to the United States.

“It’s incredible to be out here and represent your country,” Guthrie said. “Playing football is something we’ve been doing since we were 6 years old. We’ve been playing in Pop Warner leagues, so it’s awesome to see everything click. We’ve only been together for three weeks. To come together in that short amount of time, it shows a lot about this team, a lot about this country.”

Steelman logged 18 catches for 258 yards and two scores, rushed for 66 yards and a score, and recovered a fumble for a touchdown over four games to earn his All-Tournament MVP nod.

Also picking up first-team selections were Burke, Wimberly, Brun and offensive lineman James Atoe (Washington/The Dalles, Ore.) on offense.

Defensive lineman Jack Sherlock (South Dakota State/Chicago), linebackers Steve Kurfehs (Texas-San Antonio/San Antonio), Gross and Guthrie also picked up first-team nods as did defensive back Robert Virgil (University of Sioux Falls/Elk Grove, Calif.).

“It’s a credit to our players and how smart they are and adaptable they are in the systems that they come from and then to our coaches who did a great job of packaging things together,” USA head coach Dan Hawkins said. “We ran this like a team, not an all-star team. We wanted a full complement of offense, defense and special teams. We just have continually gotten better, and that showed up in the France game (an 82-0 win) and showed up here today.”

For Japan (2-2), it was a second silver medal finish after a bronze medal performance in the 2011 games and the country’s fifth medal in as many tournaments.

While it’s an incredible accomplishment in and of itself, Japanese head coach Kiyoyuki Mori wasn’t offering excuses for the 47-point loss.

“We need to improve more physically and technically,” Mori said. “I’m very proud of our players, but Japanese football has to improve more. We have to improve everywhere, offense, defense and special teams.”