Eastern Regional Championships Recap

The forecast called for thunder and lightning, very very frightening.

There was rain, and mist, but there was no physical lightning.  But there was a change of the guard across all three contested divisions at the Eastern Regional Championships in suburban Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Hawks and Columbus Cats won their first ever men’s regional championships, while the Boston, Baltimore, and DC Eagles ladies combined to lift their first ever trophy on the women’s side.

Photography Credit: Tim Koen Photography


MEN’S DIVISION 1 – HAWKS SOAR OVER TIGERS, EAGLES, WIN FIRST REGIONAL CROWN

In their previous meeting, North Carolina held Philly at arms’ length through a truncated win.  On this day, similarly misty and moisty, it was the Hawks who were on the front foot from the beginning.  On offense, Ryan Henry was busier than a bee in a beehive, helping to rack up possessions and get the forward liners involved early and often.  Jonathan Ginsburg and rookie Brian Simkus were the key targets, and they peppered the Tiger goal often.  Despite the efforts of attacker-turned-defender Austin Doerr and midfield playmaker Michael Hoffman, the Philly’s pressure was just too good, and they took home the opener, 46-3.

Next up for the Tigers was the New York Magpies, who had brought a full complement down from the Big Apple, trying to regain their regional championship for the first time since 2016.  ‘Pies Coach Shane Lowry led by example, diving in after the footy just about anywhere he was required.  “Jersey” Mike Frietta, a one time member of Philadelphia, and longtime superstar Marcus Jankie, both pressured and kept the football, helping to suffocate any sort of attack by the Tigers.  New York’s defensive play was limited, and they showed their class over the game Carolina bunch in a 59-0 victory.

That left the Hawks and Magpies, two old rivals, for the Division 1 title.  Three weeks before, the Hawks beat New York by 27 points in Raleigh, though the Magpies’ hadn’t travelled as well then as they had on this day.  The team was much stronger, and on paper, at least, New York would be the favorite.

It’s a good thing they don’t play these games on paper.  (And when I say that, you know what is going to happen next.)

Jankie, Mike Murphy, and Nick Bowman tested the Hawks backliners early, but the defense, led by Revo Ryan McGettigan and coach Jon Loring, held firm.  The difference maker for the Hawks was 20-year USAFL veteran Dustin Jones, who began his footy career with the old Lehigh Valley Crocodiles.   Jones showed that he has lost none of his ability over the years, helping to spur the midfield against the dangerous Magpie centers.  Though Philly would only get two more scoring shots in the game than New York, they would make the most of theirs, and when the final siren had gone the Hawks were winners by seventeen points.

To put this, and the previous win in Raleigh into context, prior to this month, Philadelphia had only defeated the Magpies once in their twenty year USAFL history – at home in 2011.  In three weeks, they’ve managed to do it twice.  Not bad for a team that had been unsteady since its D3 Final appearance in 2014.  Jones and Henry tied for the divisional best and fairest award, and both deservedly received medals on awards night.

MEN’S DIVISION 1 FINAL STANDINGS:
Philadelphia Hawks 2-0
New York Magpies 1-1
North Carolina Tigers 0-2

Philadelphia 6.10.46 def North Carolina 0.3.3
New York 9.5.59 def North Carolina 0.0.0
Philadelphia 5.5.35 def New York 2.6.18


WOMEN’S DIVISION – “LADY D-GLES” HOLD BACK MAGPIES TO LIFT FIRST CUP

The equilibration of the Eastern regional women’s programs had been apparent over the past two seasons, with the Baltimore-Washington Lady Eagles, Columbus Cats, Boston Lady Demons, and Philadelphia Hawks all bolstering their numbers.  All four came to Philly to take aim at the New York Magpies, three-time defending regional champs.  Columbus and Philly combined as the “Kitty-Hawks”, while Boston and BWE combined as the “Lady D-gles”

While the Kitty-Hawks would lose both of their games on the day, first by 14 to the Lady D-gles and then by 32 to New York, they played both teams innumerably tough.  Columbus defender Christine Nguyen stopped a bunch of scoring opportunities coming through from the back, and rookie Melissa Suslowitz got a number of clean possessions through the middle as well.  The Philly contingent saw two breakout performances; Jackie Kershaw handled herself amazingly well in the ruck contest against more seasoned opponents, and Lindsey Turse, playing her first games of competitive footy, roved with cutlass-like efficiency. 

Coached by recently retired Boston Lady Demon stalwart Cailin Deal, the BOS/BWE combo looked impressive in their opener, relying not only on the experience of Alex Mims-Pike and Karen Stablein, but also the gumption of several newcomers.  New York, meanwhile, was their typical New Yorkian selves in their midday opener.  Rookie Jani Boal was the offensive prime mover for the ‘Pies, with Natalie Wolff acting as the attacking lightning rod.  Wolff’s goals, balanced by Grace Koplow playing forcefully across halfback, gave the ‘Pies a convincing first game win, and momentum going into the de-facto Grand Final against the Lady D-gles.

Though the Magpies were the favorites, the opening set of chances belonged to Deal’s charges, and it was up to Koplow, Casillas, and the Magpies to parry them away.  Christina Licata’s team would be tested early when Wolff went down with an injury, and oddly enough that seemed to wake up the New York Attack.  But first gamer Kristin Lough was not going to be deterred at fullback, taking a dozen defensive marks, some of them contested, and help hold New York to a single, solitary point at halftime.  But trailing 1-0, the D-gles knew they would have to get points from somewhere.

What followed was probably the most intense twenty minutes of women’s footy in recent memory, a half that rivalled the 2016 Nationals Grand Final.  Both teams went back and forth, and back and forth.  BOS/BWE tied the game at one, and then with Koplow off the field following an injury, they saw their chance.  Katie Anderson found a cutting Meriam Mehter, who handballed to Mims-Pike for the game’s opening goal.  It turned out to be the winning score.  New York pushed forward, at times with most of their players in the offensive half, but Lough and back pocket Belinda Edwards kept saying no, and Mims-Pike, who would win the MVP award, would apply the coup-de-grace seconds before the siren.

WOMEN’S FINAL STANDINGS:
Boston/Baltimore-Washington 2-0
New York Magpies 1-1
Columbus/Phildelphia 0-2

Boston/BWE 2.4.16 def Columbus/Philly 0.2.2
New York 5.5.35 def Columbus/Philly 0.3.3
Boston/BWE 2.1.13 def New York 0.1.1


MEN’S DIVISION 2 – CBUS EEKS OUT CUP OVER DEMONS IN WILD CHASE

Four teams did battle for the Division 2 crown, and all six of the matches were affected by the wet conditions.  The early games pitted the DC Eagles against the Boston Demons, while the Columbus Cats squared up against the Baltimore Dockers.   A back and forth battle between the Cats and Dockers became clearer when Rob Adams and Columbus began to kick away, and the Ohioans came home by 18 points.  Meanwhile, the Eagles’ attack, led by Ryan Raybold and the omnipotent Harrison Griffiths, put the screws to the Dees defense early, and though Boston’s defense put up a tough fight, the Eagles were just too good, winning by eight straight kicks.  No one knew it at that point in the day, but the Demons’ heavy loss would come back to haunt them.

The Demons would right the ship against Baltimore, as the rain picked up for a bit during the day.  Geoff Hamshar had his hands full with Ben Crenca in the middle, but the supporting cast was able to pick up the slack as Boston won, 43-25.   On the other side of the trees, Columbus pocketed win number two, as the Cats were able to account for the speed and skill that had doomed Boston in DC’s earlier win.  Aussie youngster Declan Stimpson led the Buckeye charge as the Cats, in a game where both teams could only manage six scoring shots, made the better use of their chances.

That left the 2-0 Cats to play the 1-1 Demons, while the 1-1 Eagles faced the 0-2 Dockers in the final set of games of the day.  DC was still in it; their big win over Boston meant that if they beat their beltway rivals, and Boston just got up over Cbus, that their percentage would be enough to claim the title.  The Dees needed to win big to overcome their mathematical hole, while the Cats just simply had to win.

DC-Baltimore is shaping up to be a big rivalry; with all of the history between the two cities and the split into two clubs, that’s no surprise.  The Eagles had taken both games earlier in the season but on this day the Dockers were keen to not only break their duck for the series, but also on the day.  Travis Flight, who goes by “Rocket”, was exactly that, as he flew around the Eagles defense en route to the division MVP award.  It was a physical encounter, but one that the Dockers welcomed, and they held DC off the major scoresheet with a 30-3 triumph.

As the Dock show was lighting up DC, Boston was furiously trying to win and overcome the percentage gap between them and Columbus.  Jordan Madigan and defender-turned-attacker PJ Devine were up to the task, and put the Demons in front for most of the game.  But it was the work of Adams, Matt Begghley and Cats defense that kept the deficit within reason, and though Boston skipped home 50-27 winners, it was Columbus that skipped off with the regional championship.

MEN’S DIVISION 2 FINAL STANDINGS:
Columbus Cats 2-1 (115%)
Boston Demons 2-1 (93%)
DC Eagles 1-2 (106%)
Baltimore Dockers 1-2 (88%)

Columbus 4.8.32 def Baltimore 2.2.14
DC Eagles 8.4.52 def Boston 0.4.4
Columbus 5.1.31 def DC Eagles 2.3.15
Boston 6.7.43 def Baltimore 3.7.25
Baltimore 4.7.30 def DC Eagles 0.3.3
Boston 7.8.50 def Columbus 4.3.27

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