Top Ten Games of the 2019 USAFL Season

The echoes of the 2019 USAFL season are still ringing in our ears, and this year brought us some memorable matchups across the calendar, not to mention the country.

From the travelling summer road show that is the Regional Championships Series onto the National Championships in Sarasota, Florida, this season had some exciting matchups, huge wins, and nail-biting finishes.

I should know, I saw most of them.

From the 200 or so games played during the season, this writer has narrowed the list down to the ten best as captured by our volunteer broadcast crew, and our partners at Go Live Sports Cast.  Considerations from the rankings include the magnitude of the match, the closeness of the match, and some good ol’ fashioned rivalries, as well.

Each weekday from now until December 13th, we’ll reveal one game and link it to the replay on our YouTube channel and this very website.

To tide you over until Monday, December 2nd when the countdown kicks off (and I get to put on my Casey Kasem hat), here are our honorable mentions that just came up short (or would have made the list had we’d been able to film them.)

Now on with the Countdown!


HONORABLE MENTION: Ohio Valley River Rats/Arizona Hawks 5.2.32 def. Des Moines Roosters 4.4.28
USAFL Nationals Men’s Division 4 Grand Final – October 13, Sarasota, Florida

A year after the River Rats came up short in the D3 Grand Final, they teamed up with the Arizona Hawks to win their fifth flag in D4, and their first as an official USAFL entity.  For the Hawks, around since 1999, this was their first men’s National title.


HONORABLE MENTION: New York Magpies 3.1.19 def DC Eagles 1.2.8
Eastern Regionals Women’s Division – June 15, Raleigh, North Carolina
Watch: Magpies v Eagles (USAFL.com)

A year after falling to the ‘Pies on a rainy afternoon in Philadelphia, Kim Hemenway and her New York cohorts got revenge in Raleigh to clinch their fourth regional crown.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: San Francisco 0.2.2 def Seattle 0.0.0 and New York 2.4.16 def Minnesota 2.3.15
USAFL Nationals Women’s Division 1 Semifinals – October 12, Sarasota, Florida

Each team had already punched their tickets for the semifinals, but that didn’t stop all four from going toe-to-toe for their second win on Saturday afternoon.  The Grizzlies kept the Maidens from the major score tally, and the Magpies staved off the Freeze by a point.  Both matches set up a red-hot Sunday to determine the Division 1 champion.


NUMBER TEN: Denver Bulldogs Reserves 3.1.19 def Nashville Kangaroos 2.2.14
Central Regionals Men’s Division 2 Grand Final – July 27, Westminster, Colorado

If it’s one thing that the Denver Bulldogs are known for – besides all the winning – it’s the depth of their club.  They had a busy season from start to finish, including a strong run at Nationals out of Division 3.  But their crowning achievement was at home, when they skipped through pool play and met the Nashville Kangaroos in the Division 2 Final.  The ‘Roos, who were enjoying one of their best seasons in recent memory, were bolstered by Arizona Hawk loanee Jason Wilhelm.  And the decider was a bruising encounter that saw every ball needing an armed guard around it in order to be won.

The Doggies, led by veterans such as game MVP Brent Dowling, held off Nashville by five points to become the first home team to win a Central Regional Championship in the tournament’s five year history.

WATCH: Denver B vs Nashville (USAFL.com)


NUMBER NINE: Texas Heat 3.7.25 def Denver Lady Bulldogs 3.4.22
Central Regionals Women’s Division – July 27, Westminster, Colorado

The growth of women’s football in the Central Region of the USAFL continued this season.  Minnesota would take home the chocolates on the day, but the best game of the hot. Steamy Colorado afternoon pitted two teams with emerging talent.  Hailey Rebar and the Texas Heat had a number of players from the Nashville Kangaroos with them, including eventual Freedom call-ups Natalie Smith and Alexa Roncancio.  This Denver team was one of two wearing the tricolors on the weekend, and this one saw players from North Star, Des Moines, Ohio Valley and a handful of newcomers and veterans from the home squad.

A physical game with the ball constantly in dispute saw the Heat keep the Doggies at arm’s length.  Des Moines rookie Hannah Bailey kicked a goal early in the fourth to cut the gap to one point, but Heather Serpico and the Texas defense kept them off the scoreboard the rest of the way.

WATCH: Heat v Lady Bulldogs (USAFL.com)


NUMBER EIGHT: San Francisco Iron Maidens 2.2.14 def Seattle Grizzlies 0.3.3
USAFL Nationals Women’s Division 1 Grand Final – October 13, Lakewood Ranch, Florida

A year after they met in the Grand Final for the first time, and less than 24 hours after a bruising encounter that ended with a 2-0 scoreline, the Maidens and Grizzlies duked it out for the women’s title.  The Grizzlies had a full complement of players, unlike in 2018 when their bench was razor thin.  Valerie Barber-Axthelm and Seattle would go toe to toe with the Iron Maidens, trying to win their fourth straight premiership.  San Francisco’s lineup had remained mostly intact from their last three flag winning teams with two key exceptions – Carly Smolak was now calling the shots from the sidelines, and the omnipotent Katie Klatt was patrolling the back half.

The emerald-and-black through everything they had at the champs for forty minutes; they didn’t back down when Savannah Green opened the major scoring in the first half, and they didn’t give up when Nikole Makenzie salted the game away with a late goal of her own.  Though the Maidens wrapped up that fourth title – now trailing mighty Denver by two on the all-time list – Seattle and the rest of the field showed through the weekend that no victory, or title, will come easily at this level.

WATCH: Video through GoLive SportsCast/ESPN Coming Soon


NUMBER SEVEN: Nashville Kangaroos 4.1.25 def Houston Lonestars 3.3.21
Central Regional Championships Men’s Division 2 – July 13, Wesminster, Colorado

On the road to the D2 Regional Grand Final, the ‘Roos tangled with the Houston Lonestars in what was the best game of the day in Colorado.  The Lonestars have always boasted talent and drive, and on this occasion found themselves going back and forth with Logan Monday and Nashville.  Jesse Carcamo played one of his best games of the season for Houston, helping to splinter the defense and set up two of their goals.  

But for Nashville, who had solid performances from up and down their lineup over the course of that Saturday, it was left to two Revolution players – John Freeman, and Arizona Hawk loanee Jason Wilhelm.  "Freo", as he was known, has been a revelation since his rookie season in 2017, and has become a key forward on a team that jumped up two divisions at Nationals.  Wilhelm, who is regarded as one of the best American ruckmen in the league, came in handy in the dying seconds of the game, booting home the game winning score.

WATCH: Lonestars v Kangaroos (USAFL.com)


NUMBER SIX: San Diego Lions 6.2.38 def Philadelphia Hawks 5.0.30
USAFL Nationals Men’s Division 2 Pool A – October 12, Lakewood Ranch, Florida

It seems that accurate kicking in the AFL has become a bit of a lost art form.  Well, those guys can take a lesson from the Lions and Hawks playing on Saturday afternoon on a Windy Cooper’s field.  The LionsSan Diego came to Florida as the favorites to take out Division 2.  The D2 favorite Lions and the defending D3 champion Hawks each kicked five straight goals in the game’s opening 35 minutes as the gulf breezes played tricks with the ball.  The Lions kicked four straight goals to one in the opening term behind Justin Valley’s marking and kicking.  Then it was Philly’s turn to play the role of the Wright Brothers, turning turnovers into chances and harnessing the wind from every conceivable angle and reeling off four major scores in a row of their own, including two from John Hinchen, to pull ahead by six points.

Philly’s momentum looked insurmountable.  But that fifth Hawks goal seemed to wake the Lions up, because they immediately worked the ball down to Valley who kicked the game’s tenth goal to even the scores.  San Diego eventually won the battle of wills by eight points en route to their Division 2 premiership.

Watch: Lions vs Hawks (GoLive SportsCast)


NUMBER FIVE: Seattle Grizzlies 4.7.31 def San Diego Lions 4.3.27
Western Regionals Men’s Division 1 – July 27, Salem, Oregon

The Lions show up again and so does Jason Wilhelm, as his Arizona Hawks combined with the pride while in the Oregon capital.  Their battles against the Grizzlies have started to mold into a bit of a rivalry, and both team’s decades have had the same trajectory.  Both San Diego and Seattle were struggling for numbers half a decade ago, and both have had dramatic resurgences as the 201X’s come to an end.  This regional matchup was a war, not unlike the 2017 D3 National Grand Final that Seattle stole by seven points.  Both sides clawed at each other, and San Diego found itself up by just a couple with three minutes left in the match.  A win would’ve put them into a winner-take-all show down with mighty Golden Gate for the title.

But the Grizzlies had other plans.  As they worked the ball inside 50, forward Tom Mulvey got off a centering kick that was partially deflected, and Akiva Gebler managed to catch despite wearing two Lion defenders like a coat.  His quick kick sailed between the posts, and gave the green-and-black boys full points.

Watch: Grizzlies v Lions (USAFL.com)


NUMBER FOUR: Denver Bulldogs 4.3.27 def Golden Gate Roos 2.5.17
USAFL Nationals Men’s Division 1 Pool B – October 13, Lakewood Ranch, Florida

There was a time when the Denver Bulldogs making it to, and winning, the Men’s D1 Grand Final was done with geyser-like regularity.  Eight championships in 11 seasons will earn that sort of notoriety.  But it had been eight seasons since the Doggies had even played in a D1 Grand Final.  And despite the presence of all-world defender Ryan Garthright and Chicago transfer Tom Crameri, the Denver were Under-bulldogs against the Roos, who were seeking their fourth straight title game.  Kyle Johnson, Justin Mann and company, they were still smarting from their unlucky defeat a year before at the hands of Austin, and came in brimming with confidence that they could get back.

Up 16-7 at the main break, Golden Gate were confident.  But the Florida wind was blowing at a four-goal clip in the second term, and that’s exactly what Denver got.  Holding the Roos to just a single behind, Denver outscored the Gaters 20-1 in the game’s final twenty minutes to bluster their way into the final.  Despite their own eventual defeat to Austin, the win announced the tricolors’ return to the USAFL elite on the men’s side.

WATCH: Bulldogs v Roos (USAFL.com)


NUMBER THREE: Seattle Grizzlies 2.4.16 def New York Magpies 1.6.12
USAFL Nationals Women’s Division 1 Semifinal – October 13, Lakewood Ranch, Florida

Forty minutes separated the Grizzlies from their second straight Grand Final.  Those same forty minutes stood in the way between the Magpies and their first decider in eight seasons.  Saturday’s matches had told us that nothing was sacred and certain in the women’s game, with the top four teams within a hare’s breath of each other.  The Grizzlies took the opening half wind that affected so many games and set a target of 16 points in the first stanza.  New York, with veteran forward Kim Hemenway directing traffic, peppered the Seattle goals and surely but slowly chipped into the Grizzly lead in the second.

Two things stopped the ‘Pies: their 17% scoring shot efficiency loomed large, but moreso it was Seattle’s defense that willed the gals from the Pacific Northwest over the line.  With Amelia Kahr and Lateah Holmes parrying away chance after probing New York chance, Seattle survived a titanic contest and went through to the Final.

WATCH: Grizzlies v Magpies (GoLive SportsCast)


NUMBER TWO: Seattle Grizzlies 4.2.26 def Quebec Saints 3.5.23
USAFL Nationals Men’s Division 1 Pool A – October 13, Lakewood Ranch, Florida

Confession time.  When I initially started putting this list together, this game wasn’t even on my radar.  The reason being is that, for all intents and purposes, this was a dead rubber.  0-2 Seattle took on 1-1 Quebec at 8am on Sunday morning at Nationals, and unless the Saints clobbered the Grizz, it would’ve taken an act of two or three deities to get them into the final over the much favored Austin Crows.  But someone brought this game up and it certainly needs to be recognized for what it was.  The Canadian side led by nine points with three minutes left in the game, and it looked like they would finish the weekend with 2 wins from 3 games, their best ever showing at our tournament.

But the Grizzlies had other ideas.  Karl McCough scored to bring the game back to within a half a goal.  With the final seconds of the 2019 season ticking away, Seattle transported the ball 150 meters down the oval, Tex Edmonds grubbed a kick into the goal square that got lost into a tangle of legs and trundled over the line.  Whose foot did it come off of?  The umpires conferred.  The siren sounded.  The goal umpire ran back to his line.  Goal.  Game, Grizzlies.

WATCH: Grizzlies v Saints (GoLive SportsCast)


NUMBER ONE: Philadelphia/Arizona Hawks 2.1.13 def DC Eagles 1.2.8
USAFL Nationals Women’s D2 Grand Final – October 13, Lakewood Ranch, Florida

Responding to the growth of women’s football in the USAFL, a second division was created in 2015 to accommodate burgeoning programs, both new and old.  In the previous four National carnivals, Women’s D2 had been a straight round robin, and the team with the best record taking home the proverbial bikkies.  In 2019, there were a record six entries, with sixteen different clubs represented, necessitating the need for pool play and a Grand Final for the first time.  And boy, was it one for the ages.

Philadelphia and DC had forged a rivalry on the men’s side over the course of nearly two decades.  Both hit high marks with their women’s programs this year; DC had brought over a nearly full team, topped up with players from Des Moines and the Arizona Outlaws.  Philly, meanwhile, had played their first ever full home game, a win over New York.  Their octet would be paired up with the Arizona Lady Hawks, a USAFL women’s original, and would be rounded out with players from the Baltimore Dockers and Boston Lady Demons.  The four players from the last two clubs were hungry for a win over their old rivals from DC, as well.  Every single athlete had something to prove in the ensuing forty minutes.

The focus may have been on AFLW signee Dani Marshall, but it was the supporting cast that won the game and the championship.  It didn’t happen right away.  The Hawks may have not held the lead for the first 38 ½ minutes of the 2019 Grand Final, but thanks to a Cassie Cox free kick conversion from somewhere down the gulf, they were in front at the end, and that’s all that matters.

WATCH: Hawks v Eagles (USAFL.com)

Posted in 

/