CANTON, OHIO - Team Sweden quickly found that it could giveth and taketh away Wednesday in the second round of the 2009 IFAF Junior World Championship at Fawcett Stadium.
After being burned by an early interception, Sweden took an interception of its own and a fumble recovery to the end zone and relied on big defensive plays all game to stop France 24-14.
"It is a little bit simpler to get emotional on defense," Sweden coach Jan Jenmert said. "I think both sides did a pretty good job of getting the emotions in the game at least. Obviously they really played good on defense and they felt secure enough to make plays."
Sweden (1-1) will now face Germany (1-1) at 4pm on Saturday in the fifth-place playoff at Fawcett Stadium, which is a rematch of the 2008 European Junior Championship final that Germany won 9-6 in Seville, Spain. France (0-2) will take on New Zealand (0-2) in the seventh-place playoff at 1pm.
Sweden's first possession of the game ended badly when France put quarterback Andrée Jenmert under immense pressure. Flushed from the pocket, Jenmert, in an attempt to get rid of the ball, flung it into the chest of French defender Freedom Maitrel. The 5-foot-10, 220-pound defensive lineman rumbled 21 yards to give France a 6-0 lead with three minutes and 31 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The interception set an early trend for the game that would soon turn in Sweden's favor. After Swedish kicker Mattias Kjellson brought his team back within three points with a 37-yard field goal, it was the Swedish defense that began to make big plays.
With two minutes and seven seconds remaining before halftime, Swedish linebacker Henrik Oervell, Sweden's MVP of the game, snuffed out a French screen and intercepted the pass, returning the ball 42 yards for touchdown. The extra point made the score 10-6 in favor of Sweden.
"I just grabbed my guard and I saw him pulling out like he was setting up a screen pass. So then I was just lucky to be there," Oervell said. "The quarterback overthrows the running back a little bit, so I just found myself having the ball in my hands and just running for my life."
Unfortunately for France, its starting quarterback was unable to make it to the field Wednesday. The loss of Maxime Sprauel, who injured his knee within two minutes of the end of Tuesday's practice, was a heavy blow to Team France, according to coach Olivier Moret.
"It's terrible for us because first, for the other game against USA, I had to prepare a team knowing the score would be difficult for us," he said. "The second game, I lost my starting QB yesterday. I can't say we have a lot of luck in this tournament."
Sweden added another defensive touchdown before the first half ended. Linebacker Max Nyberg scooped up a French fumble with 37 seconds remaining and took it 51 yards for the score.
Sweden comfortably led 17-6 at halftime though outside of a of a 42-yard touchdown pass from Swedish quarterback Fabian Soederberg to Sebastian Gauthier to make the score 24-6, France dominated the clock and the tempo of the third quarter.
With less than nine minutes remaining in the game, France gave themselves a chance when running back Thomas Ruiz leaped over Swedish defenders at the goal line for a three-yard touchdown run to make the score 24-14. Ruiz finished the game with 54 yards on 12 carries.
But another interception in the fourth quarter, this time by Sweden defensive back Ville Olsson, all but sealed the victory for Sweden.
France marginally out-gained Sweden by two yards, but it was the big defensive plays for Sweden that made all the difference. Hampus Hellermark led Sweden with 144 rushing yards on 18 carries.
Photo credit: Shawn Hubbard Photography