By Justin Rutledge | 04.06.16
To say that last weekend’s slate of matches was going to be challenging for the Crusaders would have been an understatement. The Division IV squad had a double-header against a tough Division III Buffalo side and Greensburg, the only team to upset the reserves in the fall. The Division II side battled a Buffalo team that had previously mangled every previous opponent and, unbeknownst to the Crusaders, a bitter snow storm.
The reserves started off the day of rugby against Greensburg with revenge in mind. Previously, Greensburg had gotten one over on an inexperienced Cleveland side and every player wanted to rectify that result and prove that they belonged firmly at the top of the table.
From the first whistle, it was apparent that Greensburg was out-gunned on both sides of the ball. When the Crusaders had the ball in hand every run broke the defensive line and pushed Greensburg back. Leg drive coming from the Cleveland runners required the visitors to commit more bodies to the breakdowns, forcing the remaining defenders to suck in towards the tackle. This left the Crusaders’ back line, which was dotted with waiting forwards as well, with ample room to make some deep runs. That is exactly what happened on multiple occasions as well. Backs Steven Anthony, Anthony Leeper, Mark Staron II and Ryan Sands scored tries from distance. Leading the scoring from the back line was Steve Fritsch, who had a pair of tries in the early match. Fritsch would have had another score but the touch judge on the far side of the pitch determined he had a foot in touch when evading would-be tacklers. Mo Pahulu and Tony Sessin II represented the forwards on the score sheet. Rory Walsh made quite the impact on his inaugural run with the Crusaders and had a five-pointer of his own.
The defense for the Crusaders held strong for the majority of the match as well. When Greensburg had the ball in hand the Crusaders consistently stopped the runners at or behind the gain line. When the pressure built up, Greensburg either coughed up the ball or booted it away. In either situation, the Crusaders welcomed the possession and went back on the offensive. When the ball spilled on the deck, the hosts made a habit of going straight into contact rather than moving the ball wide off the rip, but that only slowed down the coming counter attack.
When the Division II sides took the field as the main event of the afternoon the match was a tale of two halves that had the Crusaders coming out on top after an attitude adjustment at halftime.
The opening minutes of the match looked very promising for the Crusaders. Nine minutes into the competition, Tyler Best cut through the Buffalo defense with relative ease to score the first try of the match. It seemed as though the match would be a repeat of the first one, but the second try didn’t come as easily or as quickly. Five minutes later, it didn’t come. It didn’t come ten minutes later. In fact, Buffalo put the next points on the board. The only saving grace for the Crusaders was a conversion by Nick Viviani that had the hosts two points ahead nearly halfway through the opening session. From there the match was a messy back-and-forth contest uncharacteristic of the Cleveland side. The Crusaders found themselves playing into Buffalo’s hands, and the visitors were getting the better of the exchange. After the opening half, the score was much closer than it should have been and the coaching staff was not pleased.
After some passionate words from coaches Donnie Harbert and Brandon “Brandad” Wolfe, the Crusaders turned play around and did so quickly. Two minutes after the second half began, Joe Brown broke through the Buffalo defense for his first try of the day, followed shortly after by Nick Musarra and Tony Brown. The visitors scored about halfway through the second half to give themselves some hope, but the three try scorers from earlier put the match well and truly out of reach. Each one doubled up before the final whistle. David DiFrancisco successfully converted two tries.
Suffice to say, a statement was made on Saturday. The Reserves showed that their training had paid off and cemented their place at the top of the table. The Division II side showed that playing with discipline, aggression and speed can overcome even the strongest opponent and the roughest start to a match.
The weekend wasn’t all wine and roses for the Crusaders, though. The Reserves lost a close contest to the Buffalo Division III side but, more importantly, some bodies got dinged up in the process. Among the walking wounded are Nick Viviani and Dane Szente, who suffered leg injuries shortly before the second match. Among the injured parties for the reserves was Ryan Sands. The hope is that each will have a speedy and full recovery.
A big thanks goes out to the friends, fans and family that came out to support the club, especially in the cold weather. A special thanks goes out to the club members that dusted off the cleats and came in to support the Reserves in the final match of the day.
The Reserves will host Canton on April 9. Let’s pack the park again. Come one, come all. #JoinTheCrusade
By Justin Rutledge | 03.30.16
Saturday is a rugby day, and on April 2nd the Crusaders will be welcoming two opponents for the team’s biggest test so far. The first will be hosting Buffalo, while the reserves will take on Greensburg and Buffalo’s Division III side.
Buffalo fields two sides, much like the Crusaders. The difference is that one side competes in Division II and the other is in Division III. All this means is that this Saturday’s set of matches should be a strong challenge for the Cleveland boys.
On paper, the Division II sides for Cleveland and Buffalo have had similar success. Like the Crusaders, the Buffalo DII side won the majority of the 2015 fall matches, and did so in commanding fashion. A number of those victories came without the other team putting up a single point.
While Buffalo has had success in the Empire Division, the team has never played the Crusaders; and the hosts are preparing to take a win away from Saturday’s encounter. The Crusaders have brought the beef for the weekend, especially in the forwards. Spectators can expect the pack to be spread across the field and targeting defenders’ soft shoulders to break the line and connect with support runners. Tony Brown and Joe Brown are always running threats. Dane Szente, Justin Isaacs and Tom Nemeth will be anchoring the scrums as the front three, and the hits will only be coming harder once those three hit full stride. The speed for the Crusaders’ back line is set to be on display as well. Derek Imes will be delivering the ball to Nick Viviani as usual, leaving the flyhalf with a number of running threats to choose from in the line. He could have Tyler Best or Bill Regan challenge the defense in the center of the field, or release Scott Wallace or Preston Lowden on either of the wings and test Buffalo’s speed. Nick Musarra will also be lurking in the backfield to add his touches to the offense.
The reserve side continues its league play on Saturday against Greensburg. The Crusaders’ Division IV currently sits atop the table, but Greensburg is one point behind so a lot is up for grabs in this match. On top of the placement implications, Greensburg is the only blemish on the reserves’ sterling fall record.
The Crusaders side that will take the field Saturday is much different from the one that Greensburg saw back in 2015, though, and the players are ready to avenge the fall result. Adam Thompson will join Allen Lee and Tony Sessin II in the front row. Scott Mesi will also be making his Crusaders debut and will likely inject even more intensity into the reserves’ pack. Miles Papa and Mo Pahulu will likely be a guiding presence in the pack as the elder statesmen of the group. Anthony Leeper has settled in nicely at flyhalf for the reserves and will be directing traffic on the field, and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal. He has got two Steves that can do damage to an opposition’s defensive line. Steve Fritsch will likely be using his size and speed to dispense with would-be tacklers, while Steve Wolnik will be looking to speed past the opposition. Ryan Sands will be playing fullback Saturday. The versatile player has had time at scrumhalf and wing, but he should be a substantial threat with the no. 15 shirt on Saturday. Mike Mesi will also be making his Crusader debut Saturday on the wing.
Since the start of the spring preseason, the Crusaders have been tightening the screws and smoothing out the rough edges in the area of the team’s execution. Buffalo and Greensburg are set to be solid tests for how well that process has gone, especially on the defensive line and in the set pieces. Where the Crusaders give up some size, the plan is to employ technique and speed to gain the upper hand.
The reserves will bookend the weekend’s events, playing Greensburg at 11:30am and the Buffalo DIII side at 2:30pm. The main event will take place at 1:00pm when the Crusaders’ DII side takes on the Buffalo DII side. Matches will take place at the Cleveland Metroparks Pitch, one mile south of Squire’s Castle on the corner of Ox Lane and River Road.
Come catch a full day of rugby action. #JoinTheCrusade
|April 2, 2016||1:00 PM||Friendly||2016 Spring|
|Cleveland - Metroparks - Ox Bow Ln Chagrin River Rd|
|Chagrin River Road, Gates Mills, OH 44040, USA|
|8||Anthony Brown||Number Eight||0||0||0||0|