Two touchdown runs by diminutive New Zealand running back and game MVP Dan Tavaga, who ran for 141 yards on 12 carries, and some stout defense inside the red zone helped the Iron Blacks overcome three first-half turnovers and a 7-6 deficit to earn a trip to Canton, Ohio in June.
‚We’ve been building up for this since August, so the guys have done a lot of work for it and they were ready mentally as well,” said New Zealand head coach Michael Mau’u.
‚We knew we were going to be up against it and Australia came out like we expected – big and fast, played smart football and in the end it was just execution that won it for us on offense and some special runners.”
Seven countries – USA, Canada, Japan, Germany, Sweden, France and New Zealand – have now qualified for the summer tournament, which will kick off at Fawcett Stadium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on June 27 and play through to July 5. One from the Bahamas, Panama or Mexico will complete the eight-nation, four-continent line up.
Tavaga opened the scoring for New Zealand on the fourth play of the game when he followed right guard Behlow Matia pulling around left end, broke tackles by the pursuing Australian defenders and then sprinted away from the secondary to complete a 59-yard touchdown play. The extra point attempt by Hiroyuki Tanaka was blocked.
Mau’u successfully scripted plays for the opening Ironblacks drive and explained: ‚We set it up with our wing formation, then we went to trips and we thought that would set up the Aussies to bite hard on the pass. We knew that Dan had the speed, so once he got to the outside and got those big linemen coming through, that was it.”
It was not until the third quarter that Australia capitalized on a turnover when Dean Borghuis motioned into the backfield from the left slot, took a pitch around the right end, cut upfield and hurdled two defenders before reaching the nose of the ball across the goal line for a 13-yard touchdown. Prill’s extra point gave the home side a 7-6 lead.
The next Ironblacks drive proved to be the game-winner. Receiver Josiah O’Connell had to leap to catch a 29-yard heave from Pasa-Sioka, but held on despite the attention of safety Scott Rogers to set up the Ironblacks at the Australian 17. On the next play Tavaga darted through the middle of the line, eluded McFadzean while drifting to the right sideline then beat the pursuit to dive into the end zone untouched. Tanaka’s extra point was wide left, but New Zealand had the decisive 12-7 lead.
Australia head coach John Ludvigson was somber after the game, saying his close-knit side was starting to comprehend just how close it had come to qualifying for the World Championship.
‚I’m disappointed, but not in the boys,” he said. ‚They boys gave everything that was asked of them. They played their hearts out and New Zealand played a fantastic game.”
Tavaga was the standout for New Zealand, with guard Digger Penetito also having a strong game. Hellesoe recorded 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks to lead the defense, while Bragovits chipped in with eight tackles and half a sack.
Tavaga said he was surprised by the intensity of the clash, especially the response of the Australian defense to his first touchdown run.
‚It was pretty hard,” he said. ‚I never thought it was going to be that hard. After that first touchdown I thought it was going to be pretty easy, but they came back pretty hard.”
For Australia, Borghuis rushed for 58 yards on seven carries and also caught a 24-yard pass. McFadzean paced the defense with eight tackles, while Jesse Williams was a destructive presence at defensive tackles, recording seven tackles and forcing one turnover.
During the next few weeks, the New Zealand staff will start to focus on the IFAF Junior World Championship.
‚The realistic goal for the trip is to get our players seen,” said coach Mau’u. ‚We want to make sure that we aren’t the easy-beats of the World Cup. We’ll bring a lot of passion and gain a lot of fans as we go. It might be a simple brand of football, but we have to get what works for us, not try something that’s over the top.”
1st quarter New Zealand – Tavaga 59-yard (kick blocked)
2nd quarter No Score
3rd quarter Australia – Borghuis 13-yard run (Prills kick)
4th quarter New Zealand – Tavaga 17-yard run (kick failed)
Rushing: NZ: Tavaga 12-141 (2 TD), Gandy 12-40, Pasa-Sioka 5-16; AUS: Borghuis 7-58 (1 TD), Monea 10-17, Tumata 3-11, Russell 5-5, Pappas 4–6, Rusby 15–8.
Passing: NZ: Pasa Sioka 1-6-29-2, MacAskill 0-1-0-0; AUS: Rusby 5-9-27-0, Prill 0-1-0-0.
Receiving: NZ: O’Connell 1-29; AUS: Russell 3-2, Borghuis 1-24, Beyer 1-1.
Interceptions: NZ: None; AUS: Townrow, Rourke.
Tackles: NZ: Hellesoe 12, Bragovits 8; AUS: McFadzean 8, Williams 7.</http:>