The Hamilton Steeltown Steelers are the NFL Flag Football World Champions for 2007. Having already earned the right to represent Canada, the under-14 team joined nine other nations from three different continents in New Orleans, and came away on top.
The final was played at the Louisiana Superdome – home of the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints – and the game was played before a scheduled pre-season game between the Saints and the Buffalo Bills. All ten youth teams were in attendance at the pre-season game as guests of the Saints, and were treated to field level sideline seats. What a thrill for the kids, and what a monumental thrill for Canada to have finally got the proverbial money off of their backs.
Canada has been to the finals of the tournament three separate times, including last year in Germany, and not come away with a victory. That isn’t to say that their performances have been disappointing, just that they had yet to bring home the gold. They certainly didn’t take the easy way out, this time around either.
After a convincing 34-6 victory over the Koreans in their first game, Canada faced a determined young Japanese team in game two. The Japanese were out for revenge after a difficult 22-21 defeat at the hands of the Mexicans in their first game, and came to play. They stretched Canada to the limit, but the young Steelers from Hamilton forged a tough 32-25 victory in game two.
That set up a ‘battle of the undefeated’ as the 2-0 Canadians faced the 2-0 Mexicans in both teams’ tough third match of the day. The notoriously high-scoring Mexican squad had posted 78 points in their first two matches, but it was their defense that would ultimately earn them a valuable 21-19 victory over Canada. The young Canadians had the opportunity to snatch victory in the final few minutes, but they couldn’t solve the Mexican defense as both teams battled attrition and each other, late in day two. The loss meant a 2-1 record, and a must-win situation for Canada when they faced China in their final round robin game on day two.
Canadian coach Matt Hill used the loss to provide some stern advice to his team, “Knowing we have to beat China – we have to go into the game thinking that we’ve played some pretty bad football, but knowing that hopefully we’ve got that out of our system. It is a must-win game; otherwise, we’re going home disappointed.”
Coach Hill added, “Mentally we were awful. I thought that showed when kids did not run some of their patterns, but at least we are still in contention for the semi finals.”
So how would the Canadian team respond to the tough love from their disappointed coach?
China came into the day two match-up with Canada, having split their first two games. They suffered a defeat at the hands of Mexico (46-33) and were victorious over Korea (33-26), so the young Chinese team also needed to win to have any chance of making the next round.
The result was never in doubt. The fresh, much sharper Canadian team rolled over China early, and staked out an unassailable lead. Though the game would finish 47-32, the score line was flattered by two late Chinese scores. The Canadian team had responded with conviction to Coach Hill’s call to action, and coasted into the semi-final with a comfortable victory.
Unfortunately, thanks to Canada’s loss to the Mexicans in the preliminaries, and the fact that Mexico thrashed Korea 38-13 in their final round robin match, Canada would be seeded second in Group A behind the young Los Diablitos team that they had lost to. That meant a semi-final date with the winner of Group B, and the heavy favorites, the undefeated team from the United States.
The American team was represented by Michael-Ann Russell JCC from North Miami Beach, their third trip to the Flag Football Championships in the last four years. They won the event in 2004, and were runner-ups in 2005, and leading up to their 2007 semi-final bout with Canada, they had been dominant in their preliminaries. The only stretch they experienced was a tough 26-20 game from the defending champion Thai team in game two, the teams from the United Kingdom and Austria, failed to register a point (32-0 and 28-0 respectively), and the young team from Spain was outclassed 41-13.
Both Canada and the U.S. came out with their offensive weapons firing on all cylinders. One team would score, the other would respond. By half-time, they were dead-locked at 26 each. Surely the offensive dominance had to wane in the second half? In the high-flying game of Flag Football? Maybe not.
The teams traded scores, then again, and the score was even at 39-39 as they reached the two minute warning. With the result still very much in the balance, the Americans had the ball, could they take the lead? Not if Canadian Alexandra Petermann had anything to say about it, and apparently, she did. She sacked U.S. quarterback Gavin Block, forcing an interception (by Alex Hill), and gave Canada the ball back in the waning moments.
Quarterback Alex Hill hit his favorite target of the tournament, Lucas Mancini, to give Canada the ball at mid-field with just fourteen seconds remaining. Then with just seven seconds left, Mancini pulled in another Hill pass for the all important touchdown, and a 45-39 lead.
The U.S. team would have one more opportunity, but it was thwarted again by another Petermann sack.
The victory and berth in the final were secure for Canada, and the upset was complete. The young team from Hamilton had stopped the young Americans from North Miami Beach from advancing to their third final in four years.
In the other semi-final, the Mexicans faced the defending champion Thai team from Chaopraya Wittayakom Middle School. The game was equally as thrilling, and hard-fought, as Thailand drew within one point with a touchdown in the final seconds. They missed the conversion, and lost a heart-breaking 34-33 decision. Mexico was through to the finals, and Canada would get a chance to avenge their only blemish of the tournament.
The final started auspiciously for Canada. Mexico scored on just the second play of the game, when Kevin Palomino pulled in a pass for a touchdown. Alan Mendoza added an extra point, and Mexico had a 7-0 lead.
The teams traded possessions before quarterback Hill hit Chris Johnson with a touchdown pass, that Jaclyn Carbone converted for Canada, and evened the teams at 7-7.
From that point on, it was pretty much the Hill / Mancini show. The two hooked up for a touchdown in the second quarter to give Canada a 14-7 half-time lead. After the break, Mancini caught two more Hill touchdown passes to take an impressive 27-7 lead.
Cruising offensively, Canada’s Petermann put it in overdrive defensively for Canada. She racked up two more sacks against Mexico, and firmly established herself as the tournament’s most valuable female player. Mexico did manage to score again late, but it wasn’t nearly enough as Canada claimed a 27-14 victory and a World Championship.
Canadian quarterback Hill, who is the brother of Canadian coach Matt Hill, was named the tournament’s most valuable player. It was his turn to speak for the Canadian team after the victory, “We are proud to win for Canada and for our families who have been fantastic the way they have supported us here. It was fantastic to play in the Superdome and we believed all along, even when we weren’t playing well or when things were going against us that we were going to win.”
So after finishing as runner-ups in three of the previous seven Flag Football World Championships (FFWC), Canada finally got the monkey off of their back, and came home victorious.
Canada now holds the distinction of having earned the last two NFL youth football world championships. On top of this victory at the FFWC for the under-14 team, the Canadian under-19 team won the NFL Global Junior Championships (NFL-GLC) in February. It was actually the third year in a row for the under-19 team.
Team Canada has been in the final in all four of the last two world tournaments (FFWC and NFL-GJC).
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Mark Solway