Magpies Outfly Crows to Clinch CRT, End Streak

When the Dallas Magpies defeated the Austin Crows in September, 2015, there may not have been many people that would foresee a long winning streak being spawned in reply.  Two National Championships, a repeat CRT premiership, and 25 matches later, the Crows came to North Little Rock, Arkansas, looking to continue that trend.

Eight other clubs came to NLR with opposite ideas.  And it was fitting that it would be the Magpies who would put a halt to the streak, which officially came to an end at 27.

The Dallas Magpies clinched their first Central Regional Tournament title, having swept Tulsa/Oklahoma City/Little Rock, and Baton Rouge/Des Moines in pool play before taking down Austin in the decider.

Aside from the 'Pies, the other winners this weekend were the folks of Little Rock who came out in relative droves to with wide-eyed curiosity.  Indeed, one can't seem to remember a tournament where locals not associated with any of the teams turned out in such numbers to see a USAFL event, and that gives a good deal of optimism to the growth of footy in the Natural State.

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POOL A

GAME 1: HOUSTON 6.8.44 DEF NASHVILLE 2.1.13

Houston and Nashville opened the tournament with a back and forth struggle, one that saw both teams trade goals in the opening minutes before Houston took control late in the first half and ran away with it. 

James Mitchell put forth a best-on-ground performance in defeat for Nashville, kicking a pretty goal early on feeding the ball nicely to his teammates in the forward half.  John Freeman, the IC17 Revo, also played well in transition against a stingy Houston midfield, challenging the likes of Jesse Carcamo and Matt Stevens all game long.

But Houston, after leading 26-7 at the break, and with Simon Craig securing a couple of goals into their back pocket, held sway in terms of the tempo of the game.  Sam Donnelly found space to lead into in the half forward flank to add to the lead, and Carcamo looked like a stallion galloping freely in the middle of an Arkansas meadow.  The Lonestars ended 31-point winners, but the game was much closer than the result on the scoreboard.

GAME 2: AUSTIN 10.9.69 DEF NASHVILLE 1.1.7

After their hard-fought loss in Game 1, the ‘Roos had less than an hour to rest and prepare for the top team in the country.  Though the Crows were without several of their key players, they would be a difficult foe.  In the opening stages, Nashville went toe-to-toe with the champs, as Freeman goaled early in the first half to send a statement.

But the Crows would seize the game towards halftime, Nolan Cox kicking two goals in succession and activating the Sherrin magnets embedded in his hands to take control of the pill.  With Nashville effectively marooned in their own arc, the Crows threw on the thrusters and led 31-6 at the half.

The beginning of the second half saw the ‘Roos defense, led by Revo alumnus Darin Vstecka and the venerable David “Frosty” Harris, start to close the gaps that were there in the first half.  But over time, Nick Anderson, Joss Schloten, and Nicholas Lewis would find holes to make leads inside the forward line for Christian “Money” Merritt and the midfielders which they’d use to pepper the goals.  Austin would stomp home for win number 26 by 62 points, but the Kangas couldn’t be upset at their effort.

GAME 3: AUSTIN 7.3.45 DEF HOUSTON 2.5.17

And so, that left the Crows and Lonestars to decide the winner of Pool A and the first Grand Finalist.  With the sting of a five-point loss ringing in Houston’s ears from three weeks prior, they set about trying to get over the hump and being the ones to end the long Crow reign.

They’d have to contend with Anderson, Cox, Schloten, and the Crows offense, and though they would parry away some early attempts, they would give up two goals before finally even getting their first chance forward.  Houston’s defenders become more adept at clearing the ball, but couldn’t get it past the wall of midfielders that the Crows had set up.  Jesse Aguirre would kick the first candidate for goal of the day with a curling 45 meter bomb from the forward pocket, followed by a spin-a-rama connector from Cox to draw away.  Richard Verude would get the Lonestars first goal before halftime, but Austin were up 37-8 at recess.

Verude’s goal lifted his side as they came out firing in the second half, as Carcamo, Donnelly, and Anastas pressed into Austin defense.  At the same time, Matt Holub, Mickey Kleinhenz, and Stuart Job tightened up to deny the Crows from putting the game too far out of reach.  Cox would add the final score of the game for Austin with a goal, ten minutes remaining.  Houston would assume control as they picked up and the Crows played back a bit to conserve the win, and their energy for the final, but the Lonestars finished strong despite going down by 28 points to become Austin’s 27th victim.


POOL B

GAME 1: TULSA/OKC/LITTLE ROCK 3.10.28 DEF BATON ROUGE/DES MOINES 0.0.0

Having fallen to the Tigers in the Houston-hosted Ruggles Cup back in April, Tulsa and their players from Oklahoma City and host Little Rock set sail on a mission for revenge.  Both teams known for muscling opponents off the ball, the Okies combo moved the ball quickly and effectively, through the Rasbold twins, Stephen and Andrew, or through speedy Andrew Rose. 

But as they got close to goal, one of two things would happen – either the ball would be intercepted by Baton Rouge’s Lachlan “Lightning” McQueen, or the ball would head goalwards with a 22.2% chance of finding its way between the big sticks.  The Buffs kept the Tiges from penetrating too far into their defensive half, and when they did, Jakob O'Meara-Gill would pick off the ball and start it back forward again.  Despite dominating most of the territorial and possession advantage, the lack of a kicking compass meant Tulsa and co. were only up 19-0 at the break.

Little Rock’s Jeremy Ingram began to assert himself for the Buffaloes, and the hitting picked up a little more as Baton Rouge’s Josh Cartmill started throwing his weight around and disrupting forward momentum.  The Moran brothers, Brady and Ryan, as well as Rooster loanee “Chico” Chicone tried to probe forward, but fullback Michael Crawford and the defense ended any hope of the Tigers denting the scoreboard.  Despite the 28-0 whitewash, the Buffaloes knew they’d need to kick straighter if they wanted to have any chance of beating Dallas later in the day.

GAME 2: DALLAS 15.7.97 DEF BATON ROUGE/DES MOINES 0.1.1

After having the latest start of all the teams, the Dallas Magpies looked pretty refreshed and they gleefully pounced on the Tigers.  Chris Willis and Terry Clark were neigh unstoppable in winning hitouts, and they were able to feed the forward liners, led by Patrick Pryor and Jay Duncan, and before anyone could blink, the Maggies were practically queueing up inside the Tigers defensive half.  Dallas reeled off 9 goals in the opening 20 minutes, and were up 57-zip at the break.

Dallas started the second half looking to maintain possession rather than press their lead further, and when they did go forward, McQueen’s daredevilish defending kept the game from getting truly out of hand to start.  But the ‘Pies kept finding holes and converting, as Grant Jortner became a factor in turning any potential defensive allowance into a gain and scoring became a family affair – 11 players in all found their way onto the scoresheet, led by Pryor and Duncan’s 2 each.  Though the score will show a lopsided victory, Baton Rouge made the ‘Pies earn every single opportunity, and matched the toughness displayed by their Texan opponent.

 GAME 3: DALLAS 11.4.70 DEF TULSA/OKC/LITTLE ROCK 2.4.16

Not letting the short break deter them, Dallas went out against Tulsa and kicked the first four goals of the match, with Duncan and Martin Mondia continuing to push the Buff defense back.  Unlike their first game, however, the Magpies defenders would be tested a bit more as Ingram, Shane Hood, and Michael James found space inside 40.  At the break, Dallas led 38-14, but the Buffaloes were inspired.

The Buffs had lost to Dallas at home already this season, and the familiarity was helpful as Dustin Brasel, USAFL veteran Alex Mirakian and the midfield raised their intensity to match that of the ‘Pies. 

Those times are testing ones for any team, and the Dallas boys rose to the challenge.  David Grzesiak, the Revo call up who once took part in American Ninja Warrior, came to the fore to help turn defense into offense, and supported by Ben Collins and Mike Mayne, shut down the Tulsa advances.  Chris Willis kicked the opening goal of the second half and that seemed to take the air out of the Buffs.  Duncan would end up with four goals on the match, Willis with three, and Ben Moffatt provided the dagger with the best goal of the tournament, breaking the ankles of two Buffaloes and then kicking home a goal from point blank range.  54-point winners Dallas, and a date in the final with arch rival Austin.


FINALS:

5TH PLACE GAME: NASVHILLE 7.4.46 DEF BATON ROUGE/DES MOINES 3.4.22

In spite of both teams now having to play their third game of the day in the Arkansan heat while still in search of their first win, the prospect of a closely matched game raised the tempo a bit.  Cole Hilgenkamp and the Tigers sprung to life out of the ground against the athletic Kangaroos, and with Cartmill still throwing his body into the fray like a bumper car, Nashville had to scrap for their chances, which they got.  McQueen moving into the middle from the back into the midfield helped drive the Tigers forwards and kept it close.

Nashville took a solid halftime lead into the second, and it was Rhys Cunningham and Mo Howell who took the game over.  Tim Dunn and Joel Thorton each kicked two goals to contribute to Nashville’s seven-goal tally to finish the day four-goal winners, but the effort on both sides made for an entertaining game of footy.

3RD PLACE GAME: HOUSTON 10.8.68 DEF TULSA 1.1.7

Tulsa came into the game looking for revenge at falling to the Lonestars in the Ruggles Cup.  Houston had other ideas from the start.  The Buffs moved the ball with solid efficiency and had made good leads, with the Rasbolds and Rose taking a fair bit of the possessions, and Chris Cox creating things up front.

But Anastas and Holwerda found room in the Tulsa defensive half early, and both kept the scoreboard ticking.  Carcamo, Craig, and Brian Chisolm won a fair bit of the ball, with Carcamo getting a fair bit of space and putting in a few one-percenters to boot.

Though the second half, however, the feet of the Lonestars found the accelerator, and it was Houston that would finish off the Buffs by 61 points.  It was a great finish for a team that should contend in D2 at Nationals.  But the result belied a heart-filled effort from the Oklahoman side, who can go into the summer and fall with a bit of confidence.

GRAND FINAL: DALLAS 5.6.36 DEF AUSTIN 2.3.15

And so, it was an all-Texas matchup for the CRT title, as Austin put their 27-game streak on the line against a Magpies outfit that knew it had the goods to win the day.

With no games left after this one, both teams left everything on the field, but it was Dallas that had a little something extra from the start.  Ben Collins’ opening goal set the early tone, and the ‘Pies had two goals before the Crows knew what hit them.  Schloten, Blair Mortimer, and Dan Brown kept the pressure on to ensure the game would stay close, and Mortimer eventually got the first of the game to pull Austin within five points.  But the finishing kick of the half belonged to Willis, and it was Dallas up 19-7 at the break with 20 minutes between them and a famous win.

Last year, the Crows found themselves down to Denver by five goals at halftime and came back to win.  Surely, they could find a way back here; problem was that last year in Indy they had a hot wind for them to ride on.  There was no such help from Mother Nature, and so the champs would have to do it on their own.  But Jack O’Dell, Clay Roy, and the Dallas backlines had other ideas.  Craig Storer was the mercurial transition man for Dallas, keying Dylan Murray through the corridor and springing Will Bowman and Jay Duncan as target forwards.

Bowman kicked a pretty goal with about five minutes left to give Dallas some breathing room, and Duncan’s aerial handball to himself to kick the goal brought the crowd to its feet and brought the streak to an end.  The Crows got a consolation goal, but the Magpies were regional champs.

The Crows played exceptionally well considering they were missing some of their key players, including club stalwart Grant Campbell.  But no one, including themselves, will use that as an excuse.  They played championship caliber football on the day, but fell to a club possessed.

“We just had to capitalize on a good mix of young blokes with fresh legs mixed up with some older blokes with experience, and we knew they were a beatable team and we certainly thought they were beatable when we came up against them,” Storer said after the game.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to do that [beat Austin], but it just goes to show you that anything’s possible, and I think it’s a testament to our leadership group and we’re certainly shaping up for a big second half of the year.

 “They’re a great team, no doubt about it, but if you chip away at their weaknesses, you can bring them undone.”

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