SALTILLO, Mexico - Ithaca linebacker Mark McDonough recovered a blocked punt in the end zone and Millikin's Mike Lindsey returned a fumble for a touchdown as the United States used a suffocating defense to defeat Mexico 37-5 in the 2001 Aztec Bowl in Saltillo, Mexico.
Buena Vista punter/placekicker Carlos Martinez was named the U.S. MVP by the media in attendance as he averaged 55.2 yards per punt to consistently pin Mexico deep in its own end.
"It's an honor to be chosen MVP," Martinez said. "Especially being with such a bunch of great athletes. We won as a team today and this is a tremendous honor."
The game was the fifth in the series between the two countries and the U.S. has won all five meetings. This year's game marked the first time that Mexico failed to score a touchdown against the United States.
U.S. coach Ron Schipper called the defensive performance dominating and praised the work of the 42 NCAA Division III players who made up this year's version of team.
"Our defensive speed was obvious," Schipper said. "Mexico couldn't handle us up front and we were as well prepared as we've ever been this year. The kids blended well.
"It's remarkable that you can bring 42 players from 42 schools together like this and have that kind of performance. It's a testimony to the kind of players we have in Division III that they can do this."
Martinez opened the scoring with a 35-yard field goal less than 3 minutes into the game following a fumble by Mexico on the game's first play from scrimmage. Heidelberg's Pete Gordon knocked the ball loose and Brockport State's Jason Johnson recovered it at the USA 20. Three plays later Martinez converted to give the U.S. a 3-0 lead.
On the U.S.' next series, Wesley's Jason Visconti found Hardin-Simmons wide receiver Kirk Rogers alone behind the Mexico defense for a 36-yard touchdown. A bad snap on the PAT kept the score at 9-0 with 8:55 to go in the first quarter.
On Mexico's next series, Mike Lindsey dropped quarterback Humberto Castellano for a 12-yard loss to force a punt and Gordon's 27-yard punt return set the U.S. up at Mexico's 29. Allegheny's Shane Ream carried the ball on four successive plays to run the ball down to Mexico's 5-yard line before California Lutheran's Chris Czernek threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Otterbein tight end Jeff Gibbs. Martinez's extra point made it 16-0 with 4:25 to go in the first.
Mexico finally got on the board midway through the second period on a 35-yard field goal by Nestor Rodriguez after a seven-play Mexico drive.
Centre's Brian Britt broke loose on a 49-yard kickoff return to give the U.S. the ball at midfield, but Mexico's defense forced another punt. Mexico did pick up two first downs on the drive but McDonough ended the threat when he pressured Mexico's quarterback into a hurried incompletion near midfield to force a punt and end Mexico's last serious first half threat.
Mexico took the wind in the second half, hoping to stifle the United States offense. But the U.S. found the end zone twice in the third quarter. Mexico went three-and-out on its first possession, and on the ensuing punt, Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Jay Hoyord swooped in to block the attempt and McDonough fell on the loose ball in the end zone to give the U.S. a 23-3 lead and quiet the Mexico crowd.
The United States was unable to sustain a drive on its next series, but the Americans were still able to extend their lead on Mexico's next possession when Benedictine's Mike Gardiner and Defiance's Nate Schaublin sacked the Mexico quarterback and knocked the ball loose. Lindsey picked it up and rumbled 29 yards for the second defensive score of the quarter. Martinez's PAT made it 30-3 with a little more than 4 minutes left in the quarter. Mexico got its final points of the day on the first play of the fourth quarter when a bad U.S. snap on a punt resulted in a safety, making the score 30-5. After yet another three-and-out for Mexico, Czernek and Ream went to work on a tiring Mexico defense. Czernek, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday on Saturday, hit Ream running free down the middle of the field for a 46-yard gain down to Mexico's 16-yard line. The Allegheny running back then carried the ball on three consecutive plays to give the U.S. a first-and-goal at Mexico's 6-yard line. Three plays later, Czernek found Rogers on a fade route in the corner of the end zone to make the score 37-5.
On the day, the United States outgained Mexico 265-121 in total offense and outrushed Mexico 101-15. Wesley's Visconti completed 6 of 12 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. Ream led the team in receiving yards with 46 and rushing yards with 48. Rogers caught two passes on the day, both for touchdowns, to become the first U.S. player to catch two TD passes in the Aztec Bowl. Czernek is the first quarterback to throw for two scores for the U.S.