AUSTIN, Texas – Demarcus Ayers (Lancaster, Texas) wasn't even supposed to be playing for Team USA in the IFAF 19-U World Championship.
Ayers caught seven passes for a 115 yards and a touchdown for Team USA.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Washington State commit said his coaches at Lancaster were skeptical about their top offensive skill player putting on pads during the summer. Ultimately head coach Chris Gilbert gave his blessing, and thankfully for Team USA he did.
Ayers was named Team USA's MVP of their opening round 27-6 win over American Samoa with seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. The passing game wasn't clicking on all cylinders for the Americans, but Ayers proved to be a reliable target for Memphis commit Brayden Scott as he gave Team USA enough big passing plays in the game to advance to Wednesday's semifinal game against Austria.
Ayers' effort was needed with Notre Dame commit Rashad Kinlaw going down midway through the first half with an ankle injury. Ayers knew he needed to step and provide a spark, and he did in a big way.
“When Rashad went down, I went over the sideline and told him that I had him,” Ayers said. “My coaches at Lancaster did a great preparing me for this moment. I felt like I had to come out and represent Lancaster and my family and I feel like I did a good job.”
Ayers proved to be one of a few Team USA players to provide a spark in the win, a game that was overshadowed by over 200 yards in penalties and just a 1-for-7 showing on third downs. Ayers had a 43-yard catch early in the first half that led to a Scott touchdown run – the first score of the game – and also had a seven-yard touchdown grab on a fourth down early in the second quarter.
The coming out party for Ayers had to be a welcomed sign for Washington State head coach Mike Leach, who Ayers said is the main reason why he picked the Pac-12 Cougars.
“Growing up in Texas you watch Texas Tech and you know that Mike Leach has great offenses where he'll throw the ball,” Ayers said. “He's the reason I committed. I want to help him get the program established and hopefully show that guys from Texas can go up there and play in his offense just like they could have when he was at Tech.”
Running game coming around
Dajaun Drennon helped lead a stout second half defensive effort.
While the Team USA offense sputtered during a large stretch in the middle of the game, a welcomed sign was the way the running game was clicking in the second half.
Top247 running back Tarean Folston (Cocoa, Fla.) led the charge from the midway point of the third quarter on, rushing for 40 of his team-high 54 yards over the final quarter and a half. Notre Dame commit Hunter Bivin (Owensboro, Ky./Apollo) said when the passing game couldn't get going, there was an emphasis placed on the offensive line to get the rushing attack going.
“Coach (L.D.) Williams told us to dig in, put our hand in the dirt and start knocking people off the ball,” Bivin said. “We took it as a challenge, and Tarean did a great job of finding the holes and making the most out of his carries.”
Folston had two touchdowns called back, including a touchdown catch on screen pass in which he helicopter flipped into the end zone, but scored early in the fourth quarter on a one-yard touchdown run.
Defense comes to play in the second half
American Samoa had seven offensive possessions in the second half. Those ended in four three-and-outs, a turnover on down, an interception and a fumble.
“The defense will never admit it, but they played a helluva game,” Brayden Scott said. “Those guys finished this one off for us.”
Three-star defensive end Dajaun Drennon (Slickerville, N.J./Timber Creek) got consistent pressure on the quarterback while Ole Miss commit Herbert Moore (Memphis, Tenn./East) and Kentucky commit Jacob Hyde (Manchester, Ky./Clay County) consistently reestablished the line of scrimmage to allow the linebackers to fill holes and make plays.
“I think in the first half we were trying to just get adjusted, I know I was,” Drennon said. “I think once we got settled in and got the blood flowing, we were just able to go out and play football.”
New quarterback added to the roster
With Missouri commit Trent Hosick leaving Team USA due to personal reasons, USA Football has added three-star sign caller Cameron Birse (Danville, Calif./San Ramon Valley) to the roster.
Rashad Kinlaw had been the backup quarterback, but his ankle injury has left his availability for Wednesday's game in doubt. Demarcus Ayers is now the likely emergency quarterback, a USA Football source said.