By Justin Rutledge | 04.16.17
To say that the last two weekend have been good to the Cleveland Crusaders would be an understatement. After less-than-stellar performances in Savannah and against Scioto Valley, Cleveland’s Finest Rugby Club responded, rebounded and took control of their respective destinies.
For the Bluesaders, that meant putting in wins against Akron and South Pittsburgh. For the DII side, this turnaround took the form of snuffing out Buffalo and traveling to Lemont, Illinois to secure a home playoff match in a full weekend of play.
The Bluesaders celebrated April Fool’s Day on the road and headed due south to the Rubber City to bounce back and start of the spring leg of the season with a win. That’s exactly what the team did. Cleveland took the field with the intention of doing damage, and that’s exactly what happened. The strikes came fast and furious, and from all over the field. Prop Adam Thompson opened the Crusaders’ account as he rumbled over the whitewash for the team’s first five-pointer. After softening up the defense and exhausting the opposition’s reserves, the speed merchants took over and ran riot for the remainder of the match. Scrumhalf Ryan Sands evaded defenders on two occasions to get over for the line and keep the scoreboard ticking over. From there, Tommy Walsh made his mark on the scoreboard. The Outside Center exploited weaknesses in the defense to put a pair of tries on the board. One of the most seasoned members of the Bluesaders, Wing Steve Anthony, had the final say in the match. Anthony out-paced his opposite number and keep the match out of Akron’s reach. Fortunately, the Bluesaders got the job done on the field, because the ball couldn’t quite find the uprights from the tee. In addition to his two tries, Walsh added a conversion to his team’s total. At the final whistle, Cleveland had notched its first win of the Spring, 27-15.
The Bluesaders hit the road again April 8 to face the South Pittsburgh Hooligans. The Hooligans sat squarely at the bottom of the table, one slot above Akron, and had suffered a loss to Cleveland earlier in the season. When the van arrived at the pitch, the Bluesaders intended to hang another loss on the Hooligans. The match was another comprehensive result in Cleveland’s favor. The pressure from the offense was intense from the jump and resulted in players putting points on the board. Inside Center Joe Wollerman and Fullback Bryan Liberatore both doubled up on the day and put distance between Cleveland and the Hooligans. From there, the forwards added to the team’s try count. Flanker Allen Lee went for a run and put another five on the board. Finally, the big boys had their say on the scoreboard. Props Adam Thompson and Jordan Walker both scored tries before the final whistle sounded. Cleveland’s conversion game was a bit stronger in Pittsburgh. Wollerman and Sands both knocked over conversions to add another four points to the team’s total. These contributions brought the final tally to 39-12 in favor of the Bluesaders.
The Division II side, likewise had two good weekends. The first weekend was for pride, the second for playoffs. Both were equally important, and both went well. In a comprehensive victory, the Crusaders hosted Buffalo in its final tune-up match of the season. Eager to right the ship, the Crusaders laid into the visiting New York side and came out the other end with more than more than 60 points accumulated and yielding only three. High on that result and a good week of practice, the Crusaders rode into the Chicago area to take on two new opponents to secure a home playoff match and jockey for some positioning in the standings. The Crusaders faced Metropolis Saturday, followed by an early encounter with the Chicago Blaze. In both matches, defense controlled the tempo and the offense flowed from there. It was the Doug Rawlings and David DiFrancisco show the whole weekend. Together, the two accounted for more than ten tries between the two matches. At certain points, it seemed as though the competition was between those two rather than the opposing teams. Steve Burke, Stephen Fritsch and Nick Musarra also represented the back line on the scoresheets throughout the weekend. For the forwards, Tom Nemeth and Joe Brown put up some points in the team’s decisive victories. When the weekend ended, the Crusaders managed to take home a 71-5 win over Metropolis and a 57-5 win over the Blaze.
Though the club is riding high on these two successful weekends, there is still work to be done. There are still two more matches remaining in the Bluesaders’ Spring season; and the DII side has a playoff run to continue – not to mention a match against a local college side. Both sides have areas that need to be tightened up if this kind of success us supposed to continue. For now, the Crusaders’ players will tend to their bumps and bruises before getting into the next week of practices. For more details, scores and updates, don’t forget to #JoinTheCrusade on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.