June 26, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
Despite already owning first-place in the East before Saturday’s win, the Toronto Rush pulverized the D.C Breeze 28-21 in Toronto to avenge their loss two weeks ago in D.C. As has been true in an absurd six of Toronto’s twelve games, the Rush opened the game with two consecutive defensive breaks.
“We talk about it all the time now. Before the game, we talked about it. Alright, we're starting on D, so we'll go and get two breaks, and then the O-Line is going to go and screw it up for us,” joked coach Sachin Raina.
The first point of the day was one of the game’s longest, totalling well over two minutes. The Rush forced the Breeze into countless short passes, denying deep throwing lanes, before a Breeze throwaway due to Toronto pressure gave the home side a chance of their own. The Rush mimicked D.C’s calm pace, throwing short dishes down the field, before Jacky Hau found Ben Pries for the first goal. A Jeff Lindquist block on the next point, resulting in a Jonathan Martin dish to Marijo Zlatic in the endzone, pushed Toronto ahead 2-0.
This game, however, was different from previous 2-0 starts. They may have talked about opening with two breaks, but “then we went out and opened it with three,” pointed out Marijo Zlatic.
The third break came on another long point, which saw blocks from Nick Dacquisto and Mark Lloyd en route to Lloyd throwing an assist to Iain MacKenzie. Lloyd finished with four blocks, two coming from well-timed poaches, and two coming when Breeze throwers decided to test him. This was only Lloyd’s fourth game of the season, but he already has amassed nine blocks in his few games. During the first few years of the Toronto Rush’s existence, Lloyd was the face of the team. He’s stepped back in past seasons, despite still being at his athletic and talent peak. Now Lloyd is just another member of the team.
“At no point did we rely on him. None of the guys diverted to him, or defaulted to him, or thought, he's going to get the D for us. He's just another piece,” said Raina. “Our D-Line offence didn't run through him. He's just another piece of the puzzle, and that's fantastic, that's what we want.”
More than his talent, Lloyd brings much-needed flexibility to the Toronto Rush systems. Like Isaiah Masek-Kelly, Lloyd is a freakishly athletic defender who can also beat anyone deep or distribute the disc all over the field with his throws. With Lloyd on defence, Masek-Kelly was free to switch to the offence, where he could help boost a line that’s recently been decimated by health issues. Masek-Kelly quickly made his presence known with the offence, scoring a goal thrown by Hugh Knapp on the O-Line’s first possession, putting Toronto ahead 4-1. Several clean holds from both teams notched the score at 5-3 heading into the second quarter.
The Rush scored almost immediately to start the second quarter, as Hugh Knapp and Andrew Carroll played give-and-go for the goal. Knapp quietly snuck up to 6 goals in the game, as he displayed an impressive nose for the endzone.
“It was so quiet,” said Zlatic of Knapp recording so many scores. “You didn't even notice it. Wow, he had a great game.”
After a Breeze hold, Ben Burelle uncharacteristically threw a turnover, as a Breeze defender closed on the disc. Burelle quickly made up for his mistake, recording a block of his own only seconds later, before bursting to the endzone to catch a goal thrown from Thomson McKnight. Burelle threw an assist of his own on the next offensive point to Knapp, following a pair of Rush throwaways on the point, to put Toronto ahead 8-5.
In general, offensive turnovers were a problem for the Rush. The Rush offence compiled 10 throwaways, but their defence after the turns was always stellar. “The O-Line turned the disc a lot, which isn't great, but they got it back every time but once,” said Raina.
While the offence bent but did not break, the Rush defence was quickly putting the hurt on the Breeze. They put together another pair of breaks as Jeremy Norden threw Jacky Hau into the endzone, and then Iain MacKenzie got in front of a disc to give the Rush possession on the next point. Only a few passes later, and Zlatic caught a goal to put the Rush ahead 11-6.
The final point of the half lasted nearly half a quarter, as junky Breeze defence traps forced Toronto to play slowly and carefuly. Though the Rush turned the disc over once, they quickly retrieved it and scored as McKnight found Mark Lloyd in the endzone, taking a 13-8 lead into half.
As usual, the Rush again opened play with a break goal. A mirror image of the first point of the game, Pries repaid the favour to Jacky Hau. While Hau threw an assist to Pries to open the game, this time the rookie passed to the vet to score the goal. Later, Jason Huynh recorded a timely block before striking deep and flipping the disc to Lloyd to push Toronto ahead 16-9.
Four sloppy offensive holds later, and Connor Armstrong made an imprint on the game. The sure-handed offensive handler was Toronto’s highest-usage player, with Thomson McKnight limited by a heel injury. Armstrong was more than up to the task, finishing the game with four assists, four goals, and a block.
One of Armstrong’s brightest moments came after a Ben Burelle throwaway. The Breeze swung the disc and were looking upline, but Armstrong flew in from behind the play to record a layout block. He picked up the disc and passed to Knapp before striking to the endzone, catching a goal thrown from Masek-Kelly.
“That was, in my eyes, the play of the game,” said Zlatic.
With the Breeze defence using lots of junks and zones, the Rush had an extra handler spot in the backfield. Though he’s thus far been a cutter on the year for the Rush, Hugh Knapp has been a handler for his entire life, and he comfortably filled the role for the Rush. Interestingly, Knapp caught more goals, with six, as a handler than he has yet for the Rush as a cutter. Armstrong and Knapp together dominated the game.
“Around the endzone, those two guys are just good at reading a play,” said Raina. “They recognize their opportunities to get open on the break-side, or complete a pass to space. They're good throwers, so if the throwing conditions are good, they can put it wherever they want.”
With the rout already on, the Rush split the rest of the game with the Breeze. They entered the final quarter up 21-14, and both teams scored an equal 7 points to finish 28-21. In fact, the final frame was the cleanest played of the entire game, with only three of the fourteen points featuring any change of possession at all. With the Rush locked into first place in the East and already leading the Breeze by so many points, D.C casually began to eye their Sunday matchup in Ottawa.
Toronto will now enjoy a well-earned weekend without an AUDL game. Their team has been devastated by injuries, with Ben Oort, Mike MacKenzie, Remi Ojo, Bomber Powell, Brett Tan, and Adrian Yearwood all active patients of the team doctor. The Rush will rest and recuperate before their final home game on July 7th against the Montreal Royal.