2022 Top Ten USAFL Games

The League’s 25th anniversary season saw fifty clubs take part in more than 200 games.  From the opening matches in March until the last siren blew in Ontario, California in October, there were hard fought contests and great footy on display.

From the rocky shores of New England to the beaches of California, and from the dusty ovals of Texas on north of the border where the rapids run fierce (and so does the beer), the heartbeat of Aussie Rules continued to thump.

A selection of matches were captured by our cameras and by our friends at GoLive SportsCast and the CBC.  After a two year absence due to COVID and the suspension of the Regional Championships Series, we’re reigniting our Top 10 Games list for 2022.

The criteria for the list is simple – it had to be a game that was recorded by either us or our broadcast partners, and where it landed was dependent on the situation of the game, the closeness of the contest, and the excitement level.

We’ll kick off our list on Tuesday evening, December 13th, and keep counting until we get to #1.  Think of it as our version of the advent calendar but with, you know, football matches.

So let’s head back into the vault and see which games were the creme de la creme across the USA this season:  

NUMBER TEN: Seattle Grizzlies 3.3 (21) def Denver Bulldogs 1.4 (10)
Western Regional Championships, Women’s Division - Westminster, Colorado, July 16

Both the Grizzlies and Bulldogs women’s teams had contrasting seasons in 2021.  Denver was able to build up their numbers during the break and make a Nationals Grand Final run, while Seattle struggled with numbers and only brought a handful to Austin.

But as both teams took to the ground in Colorado for Westerns in July, it was a renewed and invigorated pack of Grizzlies who took to the oval.  Having already given the San Francisco Iron Maidens everything they could handle in their opening game, and looked to bounce back at the home side.

The story for Denver was former Grizzlie Marissa Poorboy, who emerged as one of the new stars of the Bulldogs.  But in what was an arm-wrestle of a game, Amelia Kahr and the defense stood up for the gals in Green and re-announce themselves as contenders in the Women’s Division.

And it would set the scene for a rematch at Nationals…

Replay: Match Replay (Denver v Seattle)

NUMBER NINE: USA Revolution 7.7 (49) def Canada Northwind 6.3 (39)
49th Parallel Cup Men’s Senior Championship - Toronto, Ontario, August 13

It had been four years since the Revos last played.  Five since the last USA-Canada match, and seven since the 49PC was last contested.

To say that both teams were revved up for this would be an understatement.  Both sides had veterans who were hungry for continental supremacy after COVID had robbed them of a chance to play in the International Cup.  They also had newer players who were trying to make their mark.

The overall ledger between the two men’s sides – with the USA having taken sixteen of the previous seventeen all-time contests – belies a series of hard-fought, tightly contested encounters.  And the 2022 renewal of the 49PC was right in line with them.

All square at halftime, the second half saw both teams trade goals, with the Americans being paced up front by wunderkind C.J. Adams.  Breaking open things in the fourth, the Revos held on to an eight point triumph and their 10th 49th Parallel Cup championship.

Replay: USA vs Canada (CBC Sports)

NUMBER EIGHT: Sacramento Suns 3.1 (19) def Orange County Giants 2.3 (15)
Western Regional Championships, Men’s Division 2 - Westminster, Colorado, July 16

We head back to the West Coast for the second time in three entries, and it’s no surprise.  The leftmost part of the nation has produced powerful contenders across all divisions at Nationals, and regionals, as they always do, provides a glimpse into who will make noise in the fall.

It had been a couple of years in the wilderness at the WRCs for both the Suns and Giants, and their clash was a contrast in styles.  The mostly American-style athletic structure of Sacramento versus Orange County’s more Australian-inspired fundamental game.

Head Coach Faku Lay, who would go on to be named All-Regionals Coach, had his team primed and, led by national teamers Colby Campbell and Kendall Hutchings alongside individual honorees Nico Caprignano and Matt Hauptmann, would outlast their downstate foes by four points in the middle game of the day.  They’d finish with their third Western Men’s D2 crown and serve notice they’d be amongst the teams to beat in D2 in Ontario.

Replay: Match Replay (Sacramento v Orange County)

NUMBER SEVEN: Seattle Grizzlies 1.2 (8) def Denver Bulldogs 0.3 (3)
USAFL National Championships, Women’s Division 1 - Ontario, California, October 16

Exactly three months after their matchup at the WRCs in Denver, the Grizzlies and Bulldogs women met again but this time with much greater stakes.

Based on their runs over the past two seasons, Seattle was seeded second, Denver third.  Had everything gone to plan, this opening game on Sunday morning was to be a virtual qualifying final.  The winner would get a direct route into the Grand Final, and the loser would get a second chance through the semifinal match.  Problem is, no one told the Minnesota Freeze.

After Minnesota swept their games on Saturday to book themselves into the decider, the Grizz-Dogs match was now do-or-die, with the winner staying alive and the loser banished to the purgatory of the consolation bracket.

In cold conditions, both teams parried away attacks for the better part of three quarters before the Grizzlies found the game’s only major score, and a path to the semis.  While their reward would be to be blanked by the Iron Maidens several hours later, Seattle’s sights on 2023 are already set higher, thanks in part to this match.

Partial Match Replay: (Denver v Seattle)

NUMBER SIX: Nashville/Chicago 5.0 (30) def Austin Crows Reserves 4.4 (28)
USAFL National Championships, Men’s Division 3 - Ontario, California, October 15

Owing to the fact that they usually pit the top and bottom seeds of a pool, Saturday morning at Nationals is usually strewn with lopsided games.  There is the occasional tight contest, and still rare is an absolute classic.

Austin’s seconds were trying to replicate the perennial success of their Div 1 team.  Nashville came to Ontario trying to hoist another cup after taking out D4 a season ago.  Teaming up with Chicago, they were installed as the top seed in Division 3 and set about their task in Saturday’s cold, blustery conditions.

Also, both teams were wearing white.  Spare a thought for your commentary team.

The Crows led 15-12 at the main break before the KangaSwans hit back for three straight majors in a row, riding the wind in the process.  The Crows got on their horse quickly, kicking two goals in a matter of minutes to draw within two with less than three minutes to go.

Facing a stiff challenge from the veteran Austin core, the Tennessean/Illinoisan combine was able to hang on for dear life.  Even though they would draw Arizona to end the weekend on the wrong side of the percent sign, they had played top class football and given us one to remember.

Replay: Match Replay (Nashville/Chicago v Austin-R)

NUMBER FIVE: D.C. Eagles 2.1 (13) def Philadelphia/Minnesota/Columbus 1.4 (10)
Eastern Regional Championships, Women’s Division – Oaks, Pennsylvania, June 4

Though it contained just three teams, the women’s division at Easterns was full of intrigue.  Facing off were the perennial powerhouses from New York, up and coming D.C., and a combination side of accomplished veterans from Minnesota, Columbus, and Philadelphia.

Combo sides rarely do well against the established ones, but after Philly and friends upended the Magpies in the opening game by 23-points, they then had to deal with an Eagles side facing their first major test of the season.  Each team traded goals in the game’s opening five minutes before testing each other’s defenses in the June heat for the next thirty five.

Connor Lewis, Cathy Hoha, and the Minnesota contingent would put on a sparkling performance that would be a harbinger of their Nationals Grand Final run later in the season.  Philly and Columbus’s players provided stout defense.  And in the end, that would be the difference.  Not in this game, but in the big picture.

For lo, though the Eagles would win this contest by three points, and the Magpies would notch their own win over DC by two goals to end the day’s play, the morning rout provided by the combo team would give them the trophy on percentage.

Replay: Match Replay (Philadelphia v DC Eagles)

NUMBER FOUR: Golden Gate-Reserves 4.5 (29) def Des Moines 3.1 (19)
USAFL National Championships, Men’s Division 4 - Ontario, California, October 15

Your humble author has been calling footy matches for the best part of a decade.  This was the first occasion I did so with a calculator in my hand.

Division 4, made up of six combination and reserves teams, is usually a great challenge to put together.  The numbers have to be even across the board, plus the teams have to be as even as possible.  From that standpoint, it couldn’t have gone any better, as all six teams finished 1-1, and percentage decided the four semifinalists.

The last game in Pool A pitted the 0-1 Roos and 1-0 Roosters, with the 1-1 St Louis Blues/Las Vegas Gamblers watching boundary-side.  Not only did the Roos need to beat Des Moines, but they needed to do so by enough to clear either the Blues or Des Moines on percentage.  The magic number was a sixteen point victory, and as the game went on and the clock ticked down, the combinatorics and arithmetic changed with it.

Golden Gate hung on to a ten point victory, having furiously tried to extend their gap, but alas, that wasn’t enough to overcome either of the two teams in the group, and they found themselves on the outs.

Replay: Match Replay (Golden Gate v Des Moines)

NUMBER THREE: Philadelphia Hawks 4.1 (25) def D.C. Eagles 3.4 (22)
Eastern Regional Championships, Men’s Division – Oaks, Pennsylvania, June 4

It’s rare in the sport to see a game come down to a kick after the siren.  Rarer still in the USAFL, where one could count on one hand the amount of times we’ve seen that here in the states.

The Eagles and Hawks have had two such matches decided in such a fashion in as many years.  Last season, Philly squeaked by when DC missed a tight angle shot after the siren.  That game was the opener of the Philadelphia-hosted Summer Series.

In the words of Yogi Berra, it would be deja vu all over again.

Game one of the summer would be decided by the game’s final play, but not after both teams punched and counter punched for nearly forty minutes.  The Hawks would be paced by the Hinchen brothers, while D.C. teenager Jack Needham announced his arrival as the Eagles’ keystone in the forward line.

D.C. would fall agonizingly short, but the stage would be set for a D1 return for them come Nationals.

Replay: Match Replay (Philadelphia v DC Eagles)

NUMBER TWO: Boston Demons 5.3 (33) def Sacramento Suns 3.5 (23)
USAFL National Championships, Men’s Division 2 Grand Final - Ontario, California, October 16

Two years removed from winning the Men’s D3 National final, and one year after losing in the last game of Men’s D2, the Dees were trying to take out their second flag in three seasons.

Sacramento, meanwhile, was trying to complete a comeback that saw them also-rans in D3 several years ago.  They had emerged as the second overall seed in the competition, and were trying for their first premiership since the 2014 D3 crown.

Boston’s Australian core had looked to dominate the competition, while Sacramento’s largely local contingent played some of the best fundamental footy on display.  It kept them in the game through a largely tight contest that went back and forth for its duration.

The Suns led with five minutes left.  Boston’s Ken McCarthy pulled off his Stevie Johnson impression going around the bend to put his side on top to stay, despite the furious effort from the Sactown offense.  Boston will play in D1 next year, while Faku Lay’s red-and-yellows are already flag favorites in D2 in Sarasota.

Replay: Match Replay (Boston v Sacramento)

NUMBER ONE: Austin Crows 4.3 (27) def Golden Gate Roos 3.8 (26)
USAFL National Championships, Men’s Division 1 - Ontario, California, October 16

Nationals number twenty-five ended with Austin lifting the John Harrell Trophy for the seventh time in nine seasons.  But they very, very nearly didn’t.

Six hours prior to the celebrations by Kenrick Tyrell, Grant Campbell and company, the Crows were tied with the Golden Gate Roos in their final Pool A match.  The Crows’ 26 points came from seven scoring shots, while the Gaters’ points came from mostly that… points.  Austin had kicked four straight goals over the first 30 minutes of play to establish the lead while Kyle Johnson’s side were in need of a compass.

With six minutes left in the game and hopes fading, the Roos had just one goal from nine scoring shots.  Two quick sausage rolls changed that and knotted the scoreline with four minutes to play.  Campbell, who has been on the field for all seven National Championships by the boys from the Texan capital, had his pseudo-Barry Breen moment – a point to win the game at the death.

The win launched Austin into an eventual victorious final win over Denver.  Golden Gate, losers to the Crows in the 2016 and 2018 Grand Finals, would be kicking themselves (or trying to, anyway) over the chance to exact their little bit of revenge.

Replay: Match Replay (Austin v Golden Gate)

Photos: Jerry Long

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