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January 30, 2010

Team USA defeats The World 17-0

MORE: USA Football gets generous donations | Play-by-play from the game

Dallas Jackson is the high school sports expert for RivalsHigh.com. Send him a question or comment at DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him at twitter.com/rivalshigh.

It wasn't pretty, but Team USA made enough plays to defeat the World team on Saturday afternoon at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The 17-0 victory was as difficult as expected according to Team USA head coach Chris Merritt.

"We came together when we needed to," Merritt said. "We had no idea what to expect entering the game and had to make adjustments.

"We knew (the World team) would be very good and I think our guys were a little hesitant at the start."

As the half approached, it looked as though the teams would both enter the break scoreless.

However, Team USA would get on the board with a one-yard touchdown run by TCU commit Ethan Grant just before time expired.

"We didn't want to go in zero-zero," Merritt said. "That score really helped our team."

The touchdown was set up by two big plays with less than a minute remaining in the first half.

Following a stop on the World's 31-yard line, Florida commit Quinton Dunbar fielded a punt at the USA 20. Dunbar then retreated to the six before catching the corner and returning the ball all the way to midfield.

On the very next play, with just 32 seconds remaining in the half, Maryland commit Tyler Smith connected on a 50-yard pass to UCF commit Josh Reese. Reese fumbled as he approached the goal line but recovered the ball, allowing Grant to punch in the score with just 15 seconds left in the half.

"Tyler threw a great pass when we needed it," Merritt said. "We needed a spark, just in general, and that pass was it."

Smith ended the game 5-of-10 for 105 yards, while Grant gained just five yards on seven attempts plus the touchdown.

As the second half unfolded, Team USA began to separate from the World team.

"We were hesitant to start the game," Merritt said. "We didn't exchange information prior to kickoff so we didn't know what fronts they would use, what coverage schemes, nothing. We really had to feel them out."

Once the team felt comfortable, Merritt said, it was a different ballgame.

"The guys really got it together at the break," he said. "We made a couple of adjustments to what they were doing but I think it was just our kids getting comfortable on the field."

That comfort was evident on the first drive of the second half, as University of Pittsburgh commit Mark Myers led Team USA on an 11 play, 72-yard scoring drive.

The key play on the drive was a fourth and seven from the World's 31, as Myers would connect on a 25-yard pass to Sam Gagliano to put Team USA inside the World's 10 yard line.

"Sam was great all week," Merritt said. "I think a lot of schools missed the boat on him. He was great in practice and the kids voted him a captain. He was a pleasure to coach."

The next play, Oregon-bound running back Dontae Williams would follow the block of Iowa commit Alex Donnell and go into the end zone untouched for a six-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 14-0.

Williams ended the day with 52 yards on 10 carries and the touchdown.

Myers completed 7-of-10 passes for 79 yards in the contest, while Gagliano would secure three catches for 46 yards.

The up-and-down play of the quarterbacks was something that concerned Merritt entering the game.

"We had two quarterbacks that didn't take snaps from under center in high school," he said. "And we had two centers that were not that experienced in shotgun. One center had never snapped to a shotgun before.

"There were some different obstacles to overcome to say the least."

The story of the day, however, was the play of the defense, specifically the linebackers - led by the game's MVP Mike Hull.

"Mike was the first kid we asked to be a part of this team," Merritt said. "I think everyone can see why. He is the mental picture you get when you think of great Penn State linebackers."

Hull was all over the field in the victory, tying for the team lead in tackles with eight (Steele Divitto and Travis Williams), forcing a fumble, and making a spectacular interception to preserve the shutout as the World team was heading in for a score.

"The linebackers as a whole were spectacular," Merritt said. "Divitto, Hull, Williams and Heffernan were flying around. It is a position where you can point them in the direction and let them make plays."

The defense as a whole was tough, limiting the World team to 154 net yards and just ten first downs in the contest.

While the final score was not as overwhelming as those by his Junior National Championship team this past July, Merritt said he was impressed with this squad and would entertain the notion of continuing his relationship with USA Football.

"USA Football is a class organization," he said. "These events I have been a part of have been great and I will keep doing it as long as they will have me."

Results like this would indicate Merritt will be receiving a call in the future.

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