International Bowl X: US Under-17 National Team edges Team Japan in come-from-behind thriller

For three hours Friday, the U.S. Under-17 National Team and Team Japan made AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas resemble its next-door neighbor – the amusement park “Six Flags Over Texas” – as the U.S. earned a 28-24 win with thrills, hills, swerves and nerve

Separated by 5,500 miles of Pacific Ocean waters, the teams combined for a whopping 752 offensive yards and 34 first downs with five lead changes in four heart-thumping quarters of International Bowl X action.

U.S. quarterback Xavier Copening of Avon Old Farms High School in Endfield, Conn., earned the game’s MVP honors with a pair of game-changing plays. He was the game’s leading rusher with 124 yards on only five carries, including TD runs of 41 and 57 yards. The U.S. win avenged for Team Japan’s 21-6 victory in last year’s International Bowl.

Copening’s second score came with 3:37 left in the game and delivered a 28-24 U.S. lead, marking the contest’s final points, although that was in doubt until the waning seconds.

A Japanese jump-ball pass into the U.S. end zone with 13 seconds left had the stadium holding its collective breath until U.S. cornerback William Mitchell III of Parkview (Ga.) High School secured the interception, wrestling the ball away from Team Japan receiver Shogo Tsukazaki.

“Xavier and Chase (Silva) came up with two big plays there in the second half,” said U.S. Under-17 National Team head coach Marc Beach of Tift County (Ga.) High School. “They came up to make big plays when we needed it. And the pick on the last play – that was a great play. The bad thing is I’ve got to play that kid (Mitchell) in the regular season in Georgia.”

With 1:41 left in the third quarter on the U.S. 19-yard line and the Americans ahead 14-10, U.S. QB Chase Silva of Longmont (Co.) Skyline High School faked a handoff and galloped outside for 77 yards past an aggressive Japanese defense with key blocks from tight end Tahliq Jackson (Guthrie [Okla.] High School) and running back Will Towns (Jackson [N.J.] High School). Silva’s run put the ball on the Japan 4 and the U.S. scored two plays later on a two-yard run by running back Scott Woods II of Lorton (Va.) Hayfield Secondary School for a 21-10 American lead.

Team USA RB Scott Woods II Photo: USA Football

Woods punished the interior of Japan’s defensive line for 96 yards on 10 carries with a pair of touchdowns, but his hard-nosed runs were almost overshadowed by a fumble with 1:32 to go in regulation as the U.S. was running out the clock on the Japan 13-yard line. Japanese defensive tackle Ren Mizutani stripped the ball from Woods and recovered it, giving Japan quarterback Ozora Niwayama one last chance to score before Mitchell’s strong-armed interception.

Team Japan QB Ozora Niwayama Photo: USA Football

Team Japan QB Ozora Niwayama Photo: USA Football

U.S. linebacker Hall Edmonds of Broomfield (Colo.) High School led all players with 11 tackles, including 1.0 of the Americans’ 5 sacks. Defensive end Tunmise Adeleye and linebacker Gage Maples of McQueeney (Texas) Alamo Heights High School both notched 2.0 sacks. Japan’s Niwayama scrambled often, unable to get comfortable with 17-of 41 passing for 202 yards and a TD along with the Mitchell pick. The Japanese signal-caller rushed 15 times for 50 yards, mostly to avoid blitzing U.S. linebackers.

The U.S. coaching staff went heavy on second-half blitz calls as Japan entered the third quarter leading 10-7.

“We had to change the tempo somewhere and just put our guys in man (coverage),” Beach said. “We decided to blitz and get after them. It was a great game.”