IFAF WWC: Team Australia outlasts Team Sweden for historic win

It took Team Australia until their fifth game in international competition, but they defeated Sweden 7-0 in a defensive battle, winning their first ever game to finish seventh in the 2022 IFAF Women’s World Championships in Vantaa, Finland.

The game was a nail-biter with neither team able to penetrate the end zone until Australian HC Kevin Wilson called a tricky misdirection play on second and 14 from the Aussie’s own 26 yard line. Quarterback Danielle De Groot faked a jet sweep around the right end to wide receiver Riley Hodgson, but instead flipped the ball to running back Casey Byrne who remained standing behind her as the play developed, and Byrne ran to the left, slipped through the line and raced 71 yards for the score. The Australians had tried the same ruse on the previous play, but De Groot’s fake hit Hodgson, causing the ball to shoot up, and De Groot was forced to fall on the ball for the four yard loss.

Team Australia WR Riley Hodgon #88 Photo: Jari Turunen

Team Australia came close to scoring again as the game clock ticked down. On fourth and nine from the Swedish 42 yard line, Australian punter Delenn Palmer booted the ball to Sweden’s Anna Hedström who muffed the punt at her own six yard line. As Hedström tried to recover the ball, Australia’s Dania Herdman slid into the pile and booted the ball causing it to ricochet off of Sweden’s Nathalie Bengtsson, and then the Australians arrived in force to recover the fumble. Defensivtackle Marissa Hayes emerged from the pile with the ball on the Swedish 20 yard line. After running two middle dives, De Groot took a knee and let time expire.

The teams had played an even game before Byrne went on her touchdown jaunt. For the game, the Australians had 129 yards rushing, and 165 yards passing, for a total of 294 yards of offense. The Swedes rushed for 87 yards while throwing for 137, for a total of 224 yards. Aside from Byrne’s gallop, the Swedes had outgained their opponents. Sweden had nine first downs and Australia six.

Team Australia’s Byrne led all rushers with 91 yards on nine carries, including the long touchdown. Quarterback Isabella Paholek completed seven of 20 passes for 34 yards and ran for another nine yards on six carries. Wide receiver Riley Hodgson caught three passes for seven yards, and also carried the ball on three jet sweeps, which helped set up the winning run, for 21 yards.

Australian linebacker Rachel Ware led tacklers with 8.5 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for losses. Laura St. Ruth added six tackles with one tackle for a loss. Rhyanna Edbrook stopped opposing runners 5.5 times including a tackle for a loss. Linebacker Kelli Whitehead (2.5) and defensive tackle Marissa Hayes (3), also had tackles for losses. Herdman had an interception, and two pass breakups, and St. Ruth broke up another.

Team Sweden RB Elin Luuk #23 Photo: Jari Turunen

For Team Sweden, Hedström carried the ball 14 times for 50 yards. Elin Luuk had 19 yards on six carries. Quarterback Linda Widberg completed nine passes for 50 yards and had one interception. She called her own number 11 times and had 10 yards rushing. Hedström also led the Swedish receivers with five catches for 28 yards, and Selma Lindén caught two for 21.

Team Sweden’s defense was led by defensive tackle Johanna Aspenberg who had 6.5 tackles, with 2.5 for losses. Defensive back Frida Åkesson recorded five tackles including one tackle for loss. Seven other players, including Elin Thimfors, Gabriella Brönnegård, Hedvig Palocci, Elise Lefvedahl, Sara Hilgers, Herdman, and Luke had tackles for losses.

Australia traveled a long way and had to overcome COVID restrictions that made practice at home difficult. After the game Coach Wilson reflected on that:

“It’s been a big trip for the girls. They really deserve this.”

Game MVP Byrne credited her teammates.

“Mostly defense is what kept us in the game.”

Swedish game MVP Åkesson:

“It was so fun playing on defense today. It sucked that the offense didn’t put more points in, but I think that we had a great game.”

Team Sweden HC Patric Malmström was not happy:

 “Devastating. We didn’t come through. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do, so this is a really tough loss. One of the worst in my career.”

Team Australia will have the chance to savor their victory, and perhaps build on it for the next WWC. Team Sweden will likely have the chance to avenge their first-game loss to Finland when the two meet for their annual game.

Russ Crawford is an Associate Professor of History at Ohio Northern University in Ada, OH. He has published three books: Women’s American Football: Breaking Barriers On and Off the Field (2022), Le Football: The History of American Football in