Austin Serves Up Home Cookin' for 6th Title

Austin is the home of some of the best food in the country, if not the universe.

And so, it’s pretty fitting that their footy club, the Crows, would make the most of their home cookin’, literal and metaphorical, during their home Nationals.

Indeed, the USAFL’s three-hooped wonders extended their various home win streaks in Nationals D1 competition by taking out the Men’s D1 title.   It was their third in a row overall, their third at the Onion Creek Soccer Complex after 2013 and 2015, and match wins nine-through-twelve, culminating in a 68-14 rout of the New York Magpies in the Grand Final.

Having seen their 37-game win streak snapped in September at the hands of the Denver Bulldogs, the Crows were looking to whitewash that defeat as any sort of crack in their armor as the best team in the league.  The other five clubs sensed blood in the water, however, especially the Doggies, because it meant that Stefan Barr’s side was human and that taking the John Harrell Cup back with them to somewhere other than Texas was quite possible.

Little did anyone know when the Crows and Magpies squared off in the first game of the weekend on Saturday that the two teams would be bookending the carnival some 30-odd hours later.  The Magpies were the sixth and last seed in the division and even getting into the semifinals would’ve been an accomplishment.  That seemed to loom larger after Austin took the first game 45-17 in windy Saturday conditions.

But the Gothamites would use that loss to fuel them towards a rematch, knocking over Los Angeles 53-33 and neutralizing the Dragons potent attack.  Austin's 23-point win over LA meant that the Magpies would be joining the Crows in the semifinals.

The pre-tournament tip went along with the seedings, which had Denver topping the group ahead of Golden Gate, which would eventually set up a Crows-Dogs decider.  But the Golden Gate Roos had other ideas, pipping Denver by five points in Saturday’s final game after both sides had seen off San Diego earlier in the day.  That meant that the prospective Grand Final was now a semifinal, with the winner taking on either New York or Golden Gate on Sunday afternoon.

It turns out that revenge is a dish served at around 74 degrees, because it was that warm when the Crows held off the confident Doggies by eight points in the first semifinal, winning 34-26.  Nolan Cox’s ruck work and ball moving skills, setting up Kenrick Tyrell and the forwards, was enough to keep Denver at bay before the Coloradan side mounted a late, if not futile charge.

Golden Gate, meanwhile, was eyeing a rematch of the 2016 and 2018 Grand Finals, but they had to get by the upstart Magpies first.  And at halftime, they held a tenuous five point lead.  An arm wrestle ensured, but soon it was Maltan-born Jamie Spataro and the New York forwards who got the upper hand, taking an 18-13 lead into the final ten minutes and holding on to squeak home 19-15.  It was their first Grand Final appearance since they last won it all back in 2014.

It was a frenetic first quarter as the ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny commenced, with both teams trading goals off the boots of Tyrell and Matthew Herbstreit.  Austin played uncharacteristically sloppy at times early on at the end of a 7-7 first stanza, but would settle down once the second term commenced.  Cox began to assert himself a bit more, bashing everything from hitouts to the behind post in the process.

The Onion Creek side of Cooper’s Field, away from the bustle of the beer tent, had been the scoring end for most of the weekend, and when Keith Wrzuszczak and Anthony Butt kicked back to back goals, the staunch Magpies defense seemed a bit rattled.  Cox slotted home a goal from sixty meters out to signal, perhaps, the proximity of their sixth title, and at halftime the Crows lead was 28-7.

New York came out onto the ground, their defense led by Eastern regional B&F Karl Schoenmakers and stalwart Connor Delves, came out with resolve to keep their team in it and stop the bleeding.  But when Tyrell and national team player Mike Linahan kicked two goals in the first two minutes of the second half, the writing was on the wall.  The scoreboard kept ticking along, and though Adam Franklin did his best when asked to go against Cox in the ruck, the big Texan would kick his second to go with Tyrell’s three.  At three-quarter time, the Crows lead had ballooned to 52-8.

Even though the game was well out of reach for the black and white crew, they were going to go down batting.  Tyrell and company would move into second all time for most points in a D1 Grand Final, but Franklin and Nathan Freebody kept racking up the touches, and Delves kept dishing out tackles.  Spataro was still working in the weightroom against the Crows backliners, and was able to mine himself a late consolation goal.  In the end, the scoreboard read 68-14 in favor of the Austin Crows, but the effort was constant and stout.

But for Barr and Company, it was a successful weekend all around, with title number six in the trunk, and solid efforts from the reserves and women’s to bookend another title.

“Overall we were incredibly pleased with the result of the weekend,” Barr told  “To be able to host Nationals in our home city with players involved in three teams was something we're very appreciative of. We were so pleased to see the USAFL return to such high-standards post the pandemic and it felt good to have footy back this year. 

“I'm proud of our players. Their hunger and desire to win for each other is something I continue to admire every year, despite who that happens to be on the last game on Sunday. We had ten players who weren't part of our 2019 flag, eight of which played in their first D1 flag with the club. Guys like Alex DiValerio and Mychal Donaldson, who have been part of the club for three or four years and played crucial roles for us, were just a couple of standouts but there were really special stories throughout the team. They're a special group and we couldn't have wished for a better weekend.”

One important note to this story was the umpiring, which was superb across all divisions.  Veteran umpire Laurie Rupe, who began umpiring in 2015 in the goals and made the switch to field umpiring not long after, became the first woman field umpire in a Men's D1 Grand Final.  Please allow this writer to congratulate Laurie on this honor, and may she be the first of many who come through the umpiring ranks here in the USAFL.


Photo credit: Jerry Long/myfootypics

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