Photos: USA Football/Ed Hall Jr.
For the fourth time in five tournaments, Team Japan – and defensive lineman Yasuo Wakisaka – find themselves in the IFAF World Championship gold medal game after their easy 35-7 win over Mexico on Wednesday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
In their other three trips to the final – Japan and Wakisaka – have brought home the gold medal twice and the silver once.
In fact the only time they have missed the final was in 2011 in Austria where they finished third earning the bronze medal.
Make no mistake though; Japan, which is 11-3 in IFAFWC history, had its sights set on winning its fourth trip to the final and is not intimidated by the United States team that beat them handily a few days ago.
“One of the reasons why I’ve been continuing in the tournament is to show how good Japanese football is to the world,” the 46-year old Wakisaka said. “I think this will be my last chance. I want to do my best and hopefully win.”
If Japan plays like it did against Mexico, there’s a solid chance Wakisaka and his teammates could hoist the trophy once again.
Japan hit Mexico early and often as Tetsuo Takata connected with Takashi Kurihara for 70 yards a mere 79 seconds into the contest. The two hooked up again later in the first quarter on a 10-yard score taking a 14-0 lead into the second quarter.
They did not let up then as Naoki Maeda found the end zone on a 17-yard pass from Takata, and Japan (1-1) walked into halftime up 21-0. The offensive fireworks continued in the second half and by the end of the game, Japan had put up some impressive numbers.
Takata completed 17-of-24 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns, while Kurihara registered four catches for 87 yards and the two scores.
The running game matched the aerial attack as Japan’s backs averaged 6.4 yards per carry, while Taku Lee (7 carries, 31 yards) and Ryo Takagi (9, 26) each recorded touchdowns.
“They’re a very ordered team,” Mexico linebacker Fernando Lozano said. “They had each play very well timed, and we played in a very disorganized way.”
Japan’s defense was impressive as well as defensive linemen Ryota Takahashi (5 tackles, sack) and Tori Hirasawa (4½ sacks, two tackles for loss) were constant problems for Mexico’s offense.
Their constant disruption forced Mexican quarterback Roberto Vega (11-of-21, 136 yards, touchdown) into four interceptions and caused havoc all afternoon.
“We don’t have good size, so we swarm the ball,” Japan head coach Kiyoyuki Mori said. “We go out and get the ball. They never give up.”
The win brings a few interesting matchups as Japan will play the United States (3-0) on Saturday after Team USA annihilated France 82-0 in the late game Wednesday.
The U.S. picked up an IFAF record 580 yards in a 43-18 win against Japan on Sunday and has never lost a tournament game. That includes two wins against the Japanese.
“The first game, we completely lost to the United States,” Mori said. “I made some bad decisions as coach. I want to show them how good we can play. This will be a good opportunity, but we have to play as good as possible.”
Next up for Japan is the USA who walloped France 82-0. That game is Saturday July 18, 7 PM.
With info and excerpts from Brad Bournival from USA Football.