AUSTIN, TX -- When Florida State commit Jesus Wilson fielded the opening kickoff for Team USA and promptly took it 73 yards for a touchdown, it looked like the Americans might run American Samoa right off the Burger Stadium field on Saturday night in the opening game for both teams in the IFAF U-19 World Championship.
Six minutes later, when quarterback Brayden Scott, a Memphis commit, took a keeper one yard, those feelings were further substantiated. However, American Samoa held tough throughout the game to keep the score a respectable 27-6 when the final buzzer sounded and Team USA walked off the field with a victory.
For the defending champion American squad, Washington State commit Demarcus Ayers was a revelation at wide receiver. A quarterback at his high school in Lancaster, Texas, Ayers set up the first offensive touchdown for Team USA with a 43-yard reception that led to the Scott sneak and converted a big-time fourth and goal early in the second quarter that stretched the lead to 20-0.
Named the Team MVP, Ayers finished with a team-leading seven catches for 177 yards, the touchdown catch, and another 25-yard reception that helped put Team USA in position to score the game's final touchdown. The final grab included a spin to elude one defender and then an open-field juke to shed another would-be tackler.
An interception by Darrius Sims helped clinch the victory, which was somewhat in doubt late in the second quarter after Samoa scored a touchdown aided by a late hit penalty on linebacker Reggie Spearman and two more Spearman personal fouls helped the following Samoan drive.
Head coach Pooh Ta'ase then reached deep into his playbook for a couple of trick plays. On the first, a running back took the toss out wide before looking downfield for a wide receiver, but the pass was broken up by safety Cameron Walker. Then, on the following play, Ta'ase dialed up an end around that had worked earlier, but with a twist -- the receiver was throwing the ball again. Again Walker was in position, this time securing the interception at the USA 15 yardline to end the scoring threat.
It wasn't the first Samoan threat that went for naught in the first half, either. Several effective passes and some tough yards gained on the ground took American Samoa inside the USA redzone on their second possession of the game, but a fumble by running back Faafouina Sitigate was recovered by Texas A&M pledge Reggie Chevis.
Overall, it was a rather sloppy game marred by 24 total penalties for almost 300 yards, including 16 flags thrown on Team USA, which cost head coach Steve Specht's group 200 penalty yards, mistakes the team can not afford to make in a potential championship meeting with Canada, which features a big, strong defense that throttled Sweden on Saturday.
And despite the early lead, the American team faced its own share of adversity. One of the two quarterbacks on the roster, Missouri commit Trent Hosick, left the team recently to return home for family reasons, leaving wide receiver Rashad Kinlaw the back-up quarterback. But Kinlaw suffered an ankle injury and left the game, making defensive back Darrius Sims the new back up.
USA Football is currently efforting to add another signal-caller to the roster, but has not released names of possible candidates. The lack of preparation time will probably relegate the new Team USA member to an emergency replacement for Scott in case of injury -- still a valuable role at this point.
Linebacker Ike McDonald also left the game with a leg injury, but was walking under his own power following the contest.
Team USA will return to the Burger Stadium field on Wednesday at 8 pm CST to take on Austria, Saturday winners against Panama.