By Justin Rutledge | 09.15.15
This weekend was the biggest in Crusaders history, short as that history might be at the moment. Both sides were traveling far from home to try and unseat their division’s respective champions. The Crusaders braved the lawless northern wilds to face the Detroit Tradesmen, while the BlueSaders went south to kick off the Division IV season against last year’s champion, the Canton Maddogs.
The Crusaders’ Division II side knew going up to play the Tradesmen would be a fight, but the players and coaches didn’t know how right they were. High-impact play aside, the Tradesmen resorted to cheap tactics that cost both teams big. Fortunately for the Crusaders, they persevered, kept their discipline and played hard against the hosting Tradesmen. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, their effort and integrity of play was not enough to get the win.
Inconsistency was the undoing of the Crusaders on Saturday. On offense, runners found themselves trying to make the extra offload at times or putting up an errant pass. As good teams will do, the Tradesmen capitalized on the errors and made the Crusaders play. In one instance, a deep run was undone by an offload that went into a Detroit player’s hands and resulted in points for the host team. The loose ball issues also manifested themselves at the worst times when the centers for the Crusaders would attack the defensive lines. There would be times when one of the Cleveland centers would run a beautiful line at an unprepared defender only to have the ball squirt out. The most heartbreaking instance had the Crusaders threatening the try line but unable to retain control when trying to touch down for the five-pointer. There were also times when the offense lost its shape and diverted from the planned pattern. This limited how much the Crusaders could advance when trying to get into the defense and get some tries.
Defense was also an area of concern at times on Saturday. Rather than tackling low and taking runners to the ground, Crusaders defenders found themselves choke tackling for the most part. Runners from the Tradesmen used the extra time on their feet to offload the ball and link with their teammates to get extra yards. The defensive line also had some issues guarding the breakdown. While they guarded the pick-and-go attempts of the Tradesmen for the most part, there were times when they were caught napping and the Tradesmen got cheap yards and made life difficult for the Crusaders.
When things went well for the Crusaders the Cleveland side looked to be more than a match for the Tradesmen. The forward pack for the Cleveland Crusaders brought pressure to their opposition in every point of the game. IN open play, runners attacked with aggression and supported well, providing clean rucks for the most part. This support paid dividends on multiple occasions, especially when Scott Liechty grounded his team’s bonus-point try at the end of the match following a stint of sustained pick-and-go pressure. The engine room of the big men stood strong in the scrums and barely budged when put under the gun by their oversized opposition. On defense, they didn’t allow themselves to be pushed around when attacking runners tried to get yards from the base of the ruck.
When the speed merchants were on display Saturday they did not disappoint either. Following a score by the Tradesmen, Nick Viviani orchestrated a smooth back line movement that put Scott Wallace into space on the sideline. The only thing more beautiful than the execution of the play was the helpless look on the defenders’ faces as Wallace went past them for his team’s five points. Tyler Best made a menace of himself for the entire 80 minutes. On offense he peppered the line with decisive attacks, while he was a stalwart on defense. Best broke down the defense in front of him and put in a try after another direct run in the dying minutes of the match – he had come close on a number of other occasions.
Composure kept the Crusaders in the match. Despite exchanging scores and being down for the majority of the match, the men from Cleveland never lost faith or turned on each other. After a cheap shot that sent a player to the hospital, they didn’t lose composure and stoop down to getting revenge. They turned in, turned up and did their best to claw their way back into the match. Unfortunately, they were unable to get the win and lost 57-36. Fortunately, it is still early in the season and there is a lot more rugby to be played.
The BlueSaders started off the 2015 season against last year’s divisional champions, the Canton Maddogs. The BlueSaders are a new team in the division but believed they would be victorious; and after engaging in a firefight that had a number of lead changes, the BlueSaders came out on top 29-24.
Steve Wolnik started the scoring off by using his speed to put in a try on the outside, racing past his opposite number to touch down for his team’s first five points. The BlueSaders ‘ newest acquisition from Notre Dame College, Ryan Sands, followed up the scoring effort with a successful conversion. This put the BlueSaders out to a quick seven-point advantage, but there was still lots of rugby to be played. The champions weren’t going to roll over for the BlueSaders and fired back right away, following up with a try and a conversion of their own to tie the score at seven. The BlueSaders continued their scoring efforts in the pack when Tony Sessen barged his way over the whitewash for another five-pointer. Unfortunately for the BlueSaders, the conversion failed. The Maddogs put in a try late in the first half. The successful conversion gave the home team a 14-12 lead going into the halftime break.
When the match resumes, the BlueSaders responded in the best way possible: by scoring. Anthony Leeper put in a try at the corner to bring his team ahead again. With the conversion going astray again, the BlueSaders ‘ cushion was a mere three points. The Maddogs bit back with a score of their own. The kicker for Canton sent his conversion attempt off the mark and was unable to add the extra two points. Ryan Sands responded with a try of his own and added the extras to bolster his contribution to the team’s tally.
With about two minutes left to play, Canton scored another try but failed to convert, tying the score at 24-24. After a period of good phases of rugby, the BlueSaders marched down the field. Pressure from the Cleveland side caused Canton to commit penalties on defense. One of the BlueSaders ‘ veteran players, Moses Pahulu, took advantage of this ill discipline and scored the final try of the match. Though the conversion failed again, the BlueSaders had done enough to get the win and ended five-point victors, 29-24.
By Justin Rutledge | 09.11.15
The big weekend is here. This is the weekend that the Cleveland Crusaders players have been looking forward to since the team’s inception in the summer. This weekend the Crusaders take the field against last year’s champions from Division II and Division IV, the Detroit Tradesmen and Canton Maddogs.
For years, the Tradesmen have been considered the team to beat in the eastern region of the Midwest. Last year, the Tradesmen had an unblemished record and put up at least 50 points in each match. From there the Tradesmen went to playoffs. The Tradesmen are a strong team, without a doubt, that has bigtime players throughout their entire game roster; and last year it was that fact that kept them ahead of the field. Unfortunately for them, that is no longer the case.
The Crusaders travel to Eliza Howell Park, Michigan this weekend with mean intentions in their heads and ballers from the top of the roster all the way to the bottom. Anchoring the Crusaders’ pack is an experienced and talented front row comprised of Evan Johnson, Pat Rayhill and Tom Nemeth. These three men know their way around their way around a scrum and should have little issue taking care of business when push comes to shove. Tony Brown and Joe Brown, no relation, were key players in a couple scoring efforts last week and find themselves starting this weekend as well. Expect these two to be punching holes in the defensive line of the Tradesmen with every run and either setting up or polishing off the Crusaders’ offensive movements.
The back line from the crusaders is equally stacked with talented and experienced player who will be running the show. The nine-ten connection remains unchanged and will have Derek Imes delivering to Nick Viviani. These two will be looking to orchestrate play and direct traffic to lead the Crusaders to the biggest victory of their short existence. If these two maestros don’t want to orchestrate the offense with just the forwards, there are plenty of weapons in the back line to use – and they have been firing effectively and often up to this point. Esteban Burke and Nick Viviani were the primary contributors in the dismantling of last week’s opponent and they will be looking to do more of the same this week. If the speed of these two men wasn’t enough to contend with, the three remaining back line players aren’t afraid of contact and are difficult to bring down.
Suffice to say, the starting XV for the Crusaders’ DII side is looking mean for Saturday. The reserves waiting in the wings are just as formidable. Trent Szente, Kritter Regan and Scott Liechty can fill in at just about any position in the pack and all three have the ability to be impact players on the field. Preston Lowden is will be looking to provide relief in the back line on Saturday and will provide an injection of pace and passion once he crosses the whitewash to take the field.
Like the Division II side, the Crusaders’ Division IV side takes the field Saturday against last year’s champion in their division in the Canton Maddogs. Last year, had an unblemished record of eight wins. Unlike the tradesmen, though, the Maddogs had a close match against Youngstown Steel Valley where they won by a mere ten points. In that match they also didn’t concede any points, so the Canton defense is certainly stout.
The Crusaders’ Division IV side certainly has a lineup with the ability to open up the Maddogs and provide them with an upset to start the season. Justin Isaacs, Miles Papa, Jason Geanuracos and Doug Rawlings are some of the more experienced pack players. All four will play integral roles in attacking all over the field and making life difficult for the opposition in the breakdown and set pieces.
The back line has a mixture of youth and experience flowing through its ranks. Mark Staron II will be transferring to the ball between the forwards and his flyhalf counterpart Scott Michaelis. Michaelis has an array of weapons to choose from in his back line as well – three Steves and two recent college graduates. Steve Wolnik and Steve Anthony will be set on opposite sides of the field and looking to eat up the turf when given space. Steve Fritsch and Ryan Sands, who recently joined the Crusaders from Notre Dame College, will be terrorizing the mid-field, while Anthony Leeper, a product of Kent State rugby, will be running the fullback position.
This weekend the Crusade travels to Michigan and Canton, Oh. Both teams have the ability needed to bring home a victory but it will be a matter of execution and composure. If the Crusaders’ players can keep every head and heart in the match, there is no reason why they shouldn’t knock down their opposition and make a statement throughout the divisions in the Midwest.
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|September 12, 2015||1:00 PM||Midwest Eastern League||2015|
|Detroit Tradesmen - Eliza Howell Park|
|Eliza Howell Nature Trail, Detroit, MI 48223, USA|
|8||Anthony Brown||Number Eight||0||0||0||0|
|1||Detroit Tradesmen D2 Player||Wing||0||0||0||0|