By Justin Rutledge | 9.30.16
Recently the Division II side of the Cleveland Crusaders went on the road to face league newcomers, Grand Rapids Gazelles. Though Cleveland got the win, it was another less-than-perfect performance that saw Grand Rapids get its first points of the season. Cleveland won emphatically, 62-14.
The offense from Cleveland was comprehensive, when it got going. The stop-start nature of the offense prevented the Crusaders from hitting full stride and maximize on all the available scoring opportunities.
Throughout the match, Grand Rapids was able to disrupt the phases of play Cleveland tried to put together by putting pressure on the breakdown and stripping unprotected balls from runners. There were a number of occasions when the Crusaders squeezed through gaps or narrowly rounded the corner, only to have the ball appear on the other side of the breakdown. When the Gazelles didn’t steal away the ball, there were times when the Crusaders squandered scoring opportunities and gave away possession. After a long run that landed the Crusaders in a swampy corner of Grand Rapids’ territory, a rush of blood led to an unsuccessful series of pick-and-go balls.
When the Crusaders made the most of offensive opportunities, the team looked more like it did last year – a team that took no prisoners and abused defenses. Center Steve Fritsch had a number of hard runs throughout the day. One such run saw the BGSU alumnus leave bodies in his wake, only to come up short of the try line. The Crusaders took advantage of the fractured defense shortly after and scored. The Crusaders also showed the ability to salvage a situation and make something out of nothing on Saturday. After a run at the Grand Rapids defense resulted in a turn over that was stolen right back in a messy manner, flyhalf Nick Viviani took control of the situation, moved the ball and put his team in the try zone.
The Crusaders defense dictated the match. When it operated at full tilt, Grand Rapids stood no chance at moving forward – let along scoring. When discipline faltered and penalties piled up, Grand Rapids looked like a much better team than they actually were.
Line speed is a hallmark of the Crusaders’ defensive philosophy; and when it is operating in full effect it is difficult for teams to make ground. Such was the case for Grand Raids. At one point in the match, the Gazelles put together an impressive set of almost ten phases of uninterrupted play – a true credit to the team’s ball security at the breakdowns. Unfortunately for the Gazelles, the only movement made during this stretch of time was backwards. Runners from Grand Rapids caught the ball flat-footed and weren’t able to make any ground before there was a Cleveland defender closing in to make a tackle. The Cleveland back line was champing at the bit to make tackles all day and snuffed out any attempt at moving the ball wide.
The offensive hunger came back to bite the Crusaders throughout the match, which gave Grand Rapids all its offensive momentum and scoring opportunities. Early in the match, the Crusaders’ defenders were constantly called for being offside at the breakdown. The referee saw that players were, literally, a finger over the offside line and penalized every offender. Cleveland failed to adapt early or often enough and the Gazelles took every meter given.
The Crusaders came away from Grand Rapids with a bonus-point win, an important consideration as the team jockeys for position in the league standings. At the moment, the Crusaders are two points out of first place so the next few matches and points are critical The DII side is off this coming weekend, but the Division III side will be hosting a tough Akron side.
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