Unstoppable and undefeated, the Team U.S.A. men's flag football team made history Thursday night.
In a back-and-forth battle rife with touchdowns and low on defense, the United States defeated Team Italy, 46-36, to win the gold medal at The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama. With the triumph, the U.S. men became the first World Games flag football gold medalists.
“Unbelievable. I'm holding in tears because I really don't know how to feel,” U.S. quarterback Darrell Doucette told NFL Network's Stacey Dales after the game.
The U.S. finished its run to gold at a perfect 6-0 (including a forfeit win in the quarterfinals), which was a telling mark as it won its fifth consecutive gold medal in international play to give the club its record sixth overall championship.
Doucette had five total touchdowns to lead the U.S. in the nonstop touchdown fest. He threw four and caught one as the U.S. and Italy offenses were stopped on just one drive apiece, with a James Calhoun interception for Team U.S.A. in the second half proving pivotal. Calhoun's interception gave the U.S. the opportunity it needed to build a cushion, which it did by going up, 46-30, with less than seven minutes to play.
Bruce Map had three TD catches for the U.S., and the versatile Ladderick “Pablo” Smith had a passing score and a rushing touchdown after scoring four times in his team's semifinal triumph.
Another pivotal factor in the American win was going 5 for 6 on point-after attempts, all of them of the two-point variety, while Italy, which was led by quarterback Luke Zahradka's six-TD performance, was 0 for 5 on PATs.
After Italy scored on the game's first drive, the U.S. didn't buckle, relying on big plays and and an aggressive approach to deliver offense in abundance.
“We gonna always hold each other accountable and have each other's back,” Doucette said.
Italy scored on the game's opening drive when American-born players Zahradka and Jared Gerbino hooked up for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead. Just like that and the teams were off to the races.
The U.S. wasted no time answering, with Doucette finding Map wide open on a bomb to take the ball inside the 5-yard line. On the next play, Doucette and Map connected again, this time for a 3-yard TD. With a successful two-point conversion following, Team U.S.A. was up, 8-6.
Another TD pass by Zahradka, who literally played with the playbook in his back pocket, concluded another methodical scoring drive for Italy and subsequently set up another quick-strike drive for the U.S. Just a few plays after Italy went back ahead, 12-8, the United States was back up. Doucette hit Map once more, this time on a shovel pass, and Team U.S.A. scored its second straight two-pointer to take a 16-12 advantage.
The first half ended in a 24-24 tie as a touchdown was scored on all seven possessions.
Italy had the last possession of the opening stanza and Zahradka hit Gianluca Santagostino in the back of the end zone on the final regulation play to tie it. Though Italy got six on each of its possessions, it also came up empty on each PAT, leaving the game tied at the half.
Getting the ball to open the second half, the U.S. once again hit quickly, scoring on the opening play when Doucette found Laval Davis for a 45-yard score. Another two-point score put Team U.S.A. up, 32-24. The U.S. men would never trail again.
Italy kept on coming, though, picking its way down the field in familiar fashion to cut the U.S. lead to 32-30, but familiarly missed the PAT.
With the U.S.A. men's flag football regaining possession and holding the lead, it left the door open for the Americans to take a two-possession lead. Smith tip-toed into the end zone on a dazzling TD run for a 38-30 lead, but the U.S. missed on two.
It made no matter, as Calhoun came up huge with an interception to make the first defensive stop of the game.
On the ensuing play, Smith hit Map for a touchdown. With a successful two-point conversion following, the U.S. was up, 46-30, with less than seven minutes to play, which proved to be enough to close out the win and make history.