By Justin Rutledge | 04.28.16
“From here on out, we get everyone’s best shot.” These were the words of Head Coach Donnie Harbert when speaking to the Cleveland Crusaders at training this week. Both sides successfully progressed past the first round of playoffs over the weekend, and the coaching staff wants to ensure that the players don’t become cocky and complacent. The Division II side shocked Wisconsin by securing a 31-27 win on the road, while the Reserves asserted themselves over Grand Rapids and getting a 26-5 win.
While these achievements are impressive, they are but the first step in what is sure to be a long journey for the club as it pursues two Titles. With that being the case, the opponents will only get stronger and the competition tougher. This weekend, the Division II side will face the South Side Irish out of Chicago, Illinois, while the Reserves will make a shorter trip to Findlay, Ohio to face Findlay SCARS. Both opponents boast impressive records and will be challenging opponents for the Crusaders.
At the conclusion of the competitive season, the South Side Irish sat stop the Central region of the Men’s Midwest Division II standings, having achieved a 7-1 record in the regular season. The Irish started off the season with an impressive shit-out win against the Chicago Riot. After that 57-0 smashing, the Irish kept up the pace and performances. Most notably, the Irish bounced back from an early loss to the Indianapolis Impalas and held on to get ins in three close results against the Chicago Blaze, Lincoln Park and Green Bay Celtics, respectively. These four results speak to the team’s mental toughness and means they won’t be a team that will easily break under pressure. In the team’s wins to this point, the Irish have scored an average of 41 points on opponents so the Irish’s execution will definitely be on point on Saturday. Compare that with the fact that the Irish only yielded about 16 points per match in the regular season and the defense for the Irish begins to look as formidable as its offense. Knowing that the Green Bay put up nearly twice as many points up in the first playoff match shows that said defense is not impenetrable.
The Findlay SCARS are also tops in their field, sporting a perfect 5-0 record in the Buckeye region of the Men’s Midwest Division IV. Though Finlay hasn’t played many matches in its league, the success the team has achieved is undeniable. Forfeits aside, Findlay earned three wins in the regular season, four including the recent playoff victory against Greensburg. In four matches, Findlay racked up almost 150 points and gave up a fraction of that. Greensburg made the biggest dent in Findlay’s armor by scoring 19 points in the teams’ playoff clash. To put things in perspective, the Columbus Coyote are the third place team in the division, and the only one to play Findlay twice. The Coyotes gave up 109 points in the season. Findlay accounted for 85 of those points. The fact that Findlay has played so few matches and managed to accumulate so many points says two very important things about the state of the team. First, they are more likely to have fresh legs and reserves that are unmarred by injuries. Second, the team must be well drilled, fairly disciplined and able to execute the offense effectively without having much live practice.
What will separate the Crusaders from the weekend’s opposition is the fact that they have been truly tested on the way to this point and passed nearly every one.
The Division II side’s path to this point has been similar to that of the Irish. The Cleveland players suffered losses during the regular season but earned a playoff spot regardless. This year has been a proving ground for the new Cleveland side, and to this point they have proven too much for most teams to handle. Like the Irish, the Crusaders’ regular season wins look like a buzz saw ripped through the region. Saturday will determine which team’s streak continues.
Unlike Findlay, the Reserves have supplemented their porous schedule with other challenging competition, from Pittsburgh to Buffalo. Some of the players have even had the opportunity to compete in extra-curricular competitions. The Reserves have had the chance to play with and against high-level competition, forcing the players to be extra sharp on offense and stronger on defense. This preparation could be the difference-maker on Saturday in Northwest Ohio.
Both teams take the field on Saturday at 1:00pm. Results will be posted when available. Stay tuned for roster announcements and match results. #JointheCrusade