By Cole Bredahl
Team Japan used a strong passing game and created costly turnovers to defeat the U.S. Under-17 National Team, 28-20, in Arlington, Texas at AT&T Stadium.
Quarterback Ozora Niwayama and receiver Takatomo Suzuki, the game’s MVP, were an unstoppable duo, connecting for 134 yards and a touchdown. Japan head coach PJ Gibbs loved the chemistry between the two.
“They had a great week in practice,” Gibbs said. “The acumen and intelligence of Niwayama was phenomenal. These kids are sponges. You tell them to do something once and they do it a million miles an hour.”
Tomoaki Yokoyama and Akira Takizama got in on the touchdown party with each catching a score from Niwayama. Running back Mitsuki Yasumura also got it done on the ground with 51 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
The U.S. team never gave up and put together impressive drives, but often they ended due to turnovers. The Japanese offense recovered two fumbles and picked off two passes, including the last second Hail Mary to end the game. Gibbs, a defensive coordinator at Palmetto Ridge High School in Florida, prepared his defense for the Americans.
“We knew coming in they have tremendous athletes on the other side,” Gibbs said. So, were going to have to create other opportunities for our offense. It may have looked like we were multiple in what we were doing, but we were actually pretty basic. It took away a lot of the quick stuff they wanted to run.”
Gibbs’ defense did an excellent job shutting down the passing game for the U.S., allowing just 67 yards through the air. Gibbs said he knew he would have to worry about the two U.S. quarterbacks, Chris Parson (Duncanville [Texas] High School) and Justin Strong (Northwest [Texas] High School).
“The two quarterbacks are a heck of athletes,” Gibbs said. “They are going to be big-time college football players. I told both of them that at the end of the game.”
The victory left the head coach speechless for his players as he reflected on the memories the squad from Japan created at International Bowl.
“I am so overwhelmed with the amount of happiness I have, not for me personally,” Gibbs said. “Those kids flew 12 hours to get here. They will remember this for the rest of their life.”
Gibbs, who also serves as a USA Football Master Trainer for the Heads Up Football program, has coached in the International Bowl before, but this year marked the first time he was the head coach of an international team.
“[Japan’s] coaches and general managers were so welcoming to us and helped us translate. I told the [coaches] I brought with me that it was going to be the easiest week of practice of your life because you tell them something once and then the translator tells them and its done,” Gibbs said. “When they do something wrong, they apologize to you. It was an unbelievable experience I am never going to forget.”