Canada beats Japan to claim third consecutive IFAF World Junior Championship gold medal

Photo courtesy: IFAF/NFL Canada

Team Canada is on top of the world once again, defeating Team Japan 20-9 to win the IFAF U20 World Junior Championship on Saturday in Edmonton.

The victory marked the third consecutive gold medal for the Canadians, building off victories in 2018 over Mexico and 2016 over the USA. The team, which was led by head coach Warren Craney, defeated Brazil 110-0 in the quarterfinals and Austria 27-20 in the semis en route to winning the country’s fourth-ever title on home soil at Commonwealth Stadium.

The Japanese, who made their return to the podium for the first time since 2012, took an early lead in the game off a Yudai Naka field goal but struggled to get their passing game going. Tournament defensive MVP Benjamin Blaise swung the momentum with a big interception late in the opening frame and Canadian quarterback Pepe Gonzalez found receiver Nathan Carignan while rolling left on the first play of the second quarter to seize control.

An interception from Asahi Sakai kept Canada from extending their lead at the end of the first half but the home side finally found their patented ground game after the intermission. Charles Fortin and Mika Lapostolle churned out hard yards to help set up a 34-yard Jayden Rice field goal in the third.

Safety Isaac Pepin snuffed out a promising Japanese series with an interception, before the game seemed to turn at the start of the fourth quarter. The visiting underdogs elected not to burn a time-out before the teams switched ends and allowed Canada to punt with a driving wind at their back, resulting in a huge field position flip when Raphael Aube tackled the returner deep in their own end.

Japan never seemed to recover its footing and Lapostolle broke a huge run off the left side on the next Canadian series to help set up a chip shot for Rice. The Cegep Vieux Montreal product did the same with three minutes remaining in the game on a pivotal third-and-two, this time finding paydirt himself for the backbreaking score.

Backup quarterback Nobuaki Kobayashi, who stepped in for the injured Kei Kikuchi earlier in the half, mounted a response, finding Yosei Takahashi for the Asian champions’ lone major. However, the extra point was missed and Blaise recovered the onside kick, allowing Gonzalez to kneel out the rest of the clock.

While Canada’s victory re-established its status as the dominant power in international football, this tournament marked a historic turning point for the sport outside North America. Earlier in the day, Team Austria defeated Team USA 35-25 in the bronze medal game, knocking the Americans off the podium for the first time ever.

Team Canada 2, which was included in the tournament after several other nations were forced to drop out due to financial and logistical reasons, finished in fifth place with a 45-7 victory over Australia. Panama defeated Brazil 50-14 in the seventh-place game.

The IFAF U20 World Junior Championships had typically been played every two years before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a six-year hiatus. Canada is the most successful team in the history of the tournament, winning four golds and two silvers in six appearances.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.