It took Team Australia until their fifth match in international competition, but they defeated Sweden 7-0 in a defensive battle and won their first ever game to finish seventh 2022 IFAF Women’s World Cup in Vantaa, Finland.
The game was a nail biter and neither team could get into the end zone until Australian HC Kevin Wilson called a tricky misdirection play on second and 14 from Aussies own 26 yard line. Quarterback Danielle De Groot faked a jet sweep around right end to wide receiver Riley Hodgson, but instead flipped the ball to running back Casey Byrne, who stayed behind her as the play unfolded, and Byrne ran left, slid through the line and raced 71 yards for the score. The Australians had tried the same ploy on the previous play, but De Groot’s fake hit on Hodgson, causing the ball to pop up, forced De Groot to fall on the ball for the four-yard loss.
Team Australia came close to scoring again as the game clock ticked down. On fourth and nine from Swedish 42 yard line, Australian player Delenn Palmer started the ball to Sweden’s Anna Hedström who muffed the punt at her own six-yard line. When Hedström tried to get the ball back, Australia’s Dania Herdman slid into the mound and booted the ball causing it to ricochet off Sweden’s Nathalie Bengtsson, and then the one Australians arrived in force to recover the fumble. Defensive tackle Marissa Hayes came off the mound with the ball on the Swedish 20-yard line. After doing two intermediate dives, De Groot took a knee and let time run out.
The teams had played an even game before Byrne went on his touchdown jaunt. For the game Australians had 129 yards rushing and 165 yards passing, for a total of 294 yards of offense. The Swedes rushed for 87 yards while throwing for 137, for a total of 224 yards. Aside from Byrne’s gallop, the Swedes had surpassed their opponents. Sweden had nine first attempts and Australia six.
Team Australia Byrne led all rushers with 91 yards on nine carries, including the long touchdown. Quarterback Isabella Paholek completed seven of 20 passes for 34 yards and ran for another nine yards on six carries. Wide receiver Riley Hodgson caught three passes for seven yards, and also carried the ball on three jet sweeps, which helped set up the winning run, for 21 yards.
Australian linebacker Rachel Ware led tackles with 8.5 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for losses. Laura St. Ruth added six tackles with one tackle for a loss. Rhyanna Edbrook finished opposing runners 5.5 times including a tackle for a loss. Linebacker Kelli Whitehead (2.5) and defensive tackle Marissa Hayes (3), also had tackles for losses. Herdman had an interception, and two pass breakups, and St. Ruth broke up another.
For Team Sweden, Hedstrom carried the ball 14 times for 50 yards. Elin Luuk had 19 yards on six carries. Quarterback Linda Widberg completed nine passes for 50 yards and had one interception. She called her own number 11 times and had 10 yards rushing. Hedström also led Swedish receiver with five catches for 28 yards, and Selma Lindén caught two for 21.
Team Sweden the defense was led by defensive tackle Johanna Aspenberg who had 6.5 tackles, with 2.5 for losses. Defensive end Frida Åkesson recorded five tackles including one tackle for loss. Seven other players, including Elin Thimfors, Gabriella Brönnegård, Hedvig Palocci, Elise Lefvedahl, Sara Hilgers, Herdman, and Luke had tackles for losses.
Australia traveled far and had to overcome covid restrictions which made exercise at home difficult. After the game, Coach Wilson reflected on it:
“It has been a great journey for the girls. They really deserve this.”
Game MVP Byrne credited his teammates.
“It’s mostly the defense that kept us in the game.”
Swedish game MVP Åkesson:
– It was so much fun playing in defense today. It was sad that the offense didn’t put up more points, but I think we had a great game.”
Team Sweden HC Patric Malmström was not satisfied:
“Devastating. We didn’t come through. We didn’t do what we were supposed to, so this is a really tough loss. One of the worst of my career.”
Team Australia will have the chance to enjoy their victory and perhaps build on it for the next WWC. Team Sweden will likely have the chance to avenge their first leg loss against Finland when the two meet for their annual match.