United States downs Canada in finale of International Bowl XI

In the finale of International Bowl XI, the U.S. relied on a stout defense and big-play offense fueled by wide receiver Seven McGee to beat its foes north of the border 29-14 beneath the bright lights of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

From the opening kickoff, it was clear both teams were in for a hard-fought contest, exchanging blows early and often. After fumbling on its opening drive, the U.S. drew within striking distance when McGee (Rochester [N.Y.] East High School), who earned the game’s MVP honors, took a handoff 71 yards down to the Canada 7-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Gavin Kuld (High Point [N.C.] Christian Academy) found tight end Samuel Olson (Visalia [Calif.] Redwood High School) to give the U.S. a 7-0 first-quarter lead.

Following a long return on the ensuing kickoff, Canada responded with 13 play, 59-yard drive capped by a 1-yard plunge from running back Noah Anderson (Surrey, British Columbia) to knot the game at seven apiece.

Canada forced the U.S. to punt on its next drive but gave it right back to the Americans when U-19 defensive back Maximus Pulley (Bedford [Texas] L.D. Bell High School) picked off Canadian quarterback Noah Pelletier (Regina, Saskatchewan). Again, it was McGee (4 rushes, 93 yards, 2 catches, 36 yards, 198 all-purpose yards) who set up the second American score by hauling in a 15-yard dart from Kuld.

The next play, running back Nathan Turner (Nederland [Texas High School; 10 carries, 67 yards, TD) would muscle his way up the middle 9 yards for six. The Stars and Stripes used trickery to convert the two-point conversion, using McGee as the placeholder. Upon receiving the snap, he dashed right off tackle and beat the Canadiens to the pylon to put the U.S. up 15-7. However, it wasn’t drawn up that way according to U-18 National head coach Marc Beach

“It was a great call on my part,” Beach joked.  “He’s not a holder for his high school, and we repped it all week as I try to be as disciplined and organized as possible, but I turned around and all of a sudden I hear everyone screaming and they snap the ball so it looked like it was a drawn up play, but it wasn’t.”

Team Canada responded by marching down the field – this time in nine plays for 59 yards, but their attempted field goal before the half was blocked by U.S. linebacker Tyler DeLeon (Los Alamitos [Calif.] High School).

In the second half, the U.S. gave the Canadians a couple of chances to turn the tide by committing costly turnovers. The first came on its first drive out of the locker room when they went straight down the field, but a sloppy quarterback-center exchange on the Canada 1-yard line gave the ball back to Team Canada. On their very next possession, Kuld’s pass intended for McGee was intercepted by Tanner Reiber (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) on the first play of the drive. In both instances, the U.S. defense stepped up and held strong, giving the Canadian offense fits.

“We felt that the strength of our defense was our secondary,” Beach, who regularly serves as offensive coordinator at Tift County (Ga.) High School, said. “When you come into a game like this, you’re unsure of what they’re going to be doing offensively, but the group was awesome together and gelled quick.”

After its two turnovers, the U.S. offense returned the favor and went back to its big-play ways. With less than four minutes left in the third quarter, quarterback Bryce Drummond (Pawhuska [Okla.] High School; 8-11, 174 yards TD) hit a speedy Lemeke Brockington (Colquitt County [Ga.] High School) in stride for an 83-yard score.

Though the U.S. defense would surrender one more touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game, they made all the plays down the stretch and held tough to secure the gritty victory. Defensive standouts included Miles Kauderer (Demarest [N.J.] Northern Valley Regional High School; team-high 9 tackles, TFL), Pulley (6 tackles, INT), Jaiden Harris (Alexanderia [Va.] Mount Vernon High School; 5 tackles, pass breakup) and Zion Dayne (Lorton [Va.] South County High School; 4 tackles).

Powered by a dominant offensive line, running back Amir Pittman-Williams (Rocky Mount [N.C.] Northern Nash High School) iced the game with a 6-yard touchdown run with 4:01 left in regulation.

2020 marked the second consecutive year McGee received the most valuable player honor at International Bowl, which came as no surprise to Beach.

“He’s such a special player and has been a great leader all week long,” he said. “In the first team meeting, I had him talk to our team because he had played in this game a year ago, and I thought that went a long way for our guys. But back-to-back MVPs speaks for itself.”