Rush Continue Winning Streak over Empire

April 17, 2018
By Louis Zatzman

Though the Toronto Rush managed to triumph 18-14 over their American rivals, the New York Empire, the players seemed happier after the game to hear that the Toronto Raptors had broken their Game 1 curse in the playoffs. Beating the Empire felt good, and beating Beau felt better; however, for the Rush, their first game of the season merely felt as a reaffirmation of status quo. 

Initially, it seemed as though New York was going to fulfill their early-season predictions and overcome the Toronto Rush for the first time in franchise history. New York scored easily on their first few offensive points, with no chances at Ds from the Toronto side. Toronto was playing too loose on Empire players, giving easy unders, and allowing the Empire to move the field crisply up the field and into the endzone. Toronto’s offence, for their part, had trouble maintaining possession. Toronto turned over the disc three times on their first two drives. 

Before the game was even a few minutes old, Toronto found itself in a 1-4 hole. The offence wasn’t clicking, and the defence had no energy. It was easy to see that something was wrong when the always-steady Jeff Lindquist found a break throw to his liking (what break throw isn’t to his liking?), but he simply missed his target on an IO flick. 

On the positive side, Isaiah Masek-Kelly was able to retrieve the disc for the offence on multiple occasions. Raina moved him to the defence midway through the 2017 to devastating effect, but Raina considered returning Masek-Kelly to the offence for the 2018 season. One of the weaknesses of the offensive side in 2017 was an inability to reclaim the disc after turning it over. Masek-Kelly helped Toronto in that regard against New York, and Raina was pleased with Toronto’s offensive defence in general:

“I know we turned the disc a lot, and we didn't get broken proportionally to how many times we turned it. Credit to the guys who turned it. Cam and Izzy, for example, they'll be the first to tell you they didn't have great games, but they came back and got the disc back a number of times. Izzy got the handblock after he got handblocked. Cam had some big Ds in the air. That's a credit to them.”

After allowing the disc to simply slide out of his hands for a throwing turnover, Masek-Kelly earned the disc back with a monstrous hand-block on Ben Jagt. He backed off, pretending to allow the swing, before shooting forward and intercepting the throw with his wrist. The second quarter ended with an impressively low score of 4-2 in favour of New York.

The second quarter began in a similar defence-oriented fashion, with Jeff Babbitt recording a highlight hand block on Andrew Carroll. Though New York took a 5-2 lead, Toronto would soon storm back behind the tenacity of their own defence. Jacky Hau scored an impressive run-through block in the New York endzone, preventing an easy goal. Bomber Powell offered a suspiciously easy D on a huck to Beau Kittredge. 

A minute later, Dutch rookie Ben Oort recorded his first career AUDL goal, and the first Rush rookie goal of the season. He kept his defender on his back and read the disc through its entire wind-influenced flight, catching the goal in highlight fashion to tie the game 6-6. “I figured that I could better box him out than wait for the disc and jump. I thought to get in his way and get the disc after,” explained Oort after the game.

An even more stellar highlight came at the end of the first half, when Jeff Lindquist out-jumped Jagt, Babbitt, and Beau Kittredge for a hold with no time on the clock. “I took a casual look back at the clock, saw that there was 3 seconds left,” laughed Adrian Yearwood, who threw the assist, after the game. “I casually looked back at the field, saw everyone running to one side and thought, ‘well, I’ll put it over to that side.’”

“I went into the endzone. I was trying to get a tip, and then I noticed that everyone read it a bit wrong, so I knew I could get up and get it, so I went up and got it,” Lindquist said simply.

Though New York pushed their lead to 10-7, it was all Rush from there. The offence smartened up and stopped throwing discs out of bounds, but mostly the athleticism on the D-Line imposed itself on an increasingly tired Empire offence. The MacKenzie brothers, along with Remi Ojo, branded the game with highlight after highlight. 

In the span of a few possessions, Iain MacKenzie successfully defended Beau Kittredge deep and then caught a sprawling goal after leading his defender, Jeff Babbitt, in the wrong direction.

The Rush hold track workouts in the off-season to prepare for games, and the elder MacKenzie has been attending double the requirement in order to prepare for the weekend’s double-header. His stamina was evident as the Empire game leaked into crunch time. Remi Ojo’s athleticism was evident as he recorded one of his trademark Ds in which he made up an unimaginable number of steps with the disc in the air.

Mike MacKenzie – Iain’s younger brother – stretched his game, showing some impressive vision on a cross-field hammer near the endzone, tying the game at 10 apiece. Over the next few minutes of the third quarter, MacKenzie flung his body towards the disc countless times, all to no avail. Though he claimed to be “inches” from every D, he came up short time and time again. It wouldn’t be long before MacKenzie would finally make contract on a bid. 

Beginning the final frame with a 12-11 lead, the Toronto Rush started to run away with the game. Remi Ojo recorded a point with 3 Ds, including a ridiculous Callahan. “That [Callahan] was coming in the point with two Ds already, so that was a little bit crazy,” explained Ojo. “I kind of let my guy drift backfield a little bit, cuz it was right on the cone. I saw he was gonna put the swing up, but it came out a little bit late, and there was a little bit of separation, but given the wind, I was like, ‘ok, this might hang a little bit.’” 

On the next offensive point, Cam Harris recorded multiple Ds over Jeff Babbitt, hammering home the message that when sloppy, the Toronto O-Line could be trusted to win the disc back. Jay Boychuck changed the entire texture of the offence whenever his feet hit the turf. His sprinting through every cut opened up the entire field for the traditional Rush offensive players, and the team looked much better with Boychuck on the field. 

A point only a few minutes later proved to be a perfect example of how the Toronto O-line wants to work. Andrew Carroll ran past his man like George Costanza at a birthday party, and he caught a deep disc near the endzone. He patiently waited and dumped to a handler after finding no easy openings. A few tosses later, Lindquist cheekily snuck a scoober into a tight window for the score. With the score standing at 17-13 with only a few minutes remaining, Toronto had put the wraps on yet another victory over the Empire. Not even a snake in the grass trick play – an onside pull, hoping your opponents don’t notice – could save New York. 

The game was poorly played by both sides, with a number of unforced turnovers and questionable decisions. New York can blame the newness of their system, as well as the fact that several of their key players had never before played together. Toronto can point to the fact that their second half was much cleaner. Regardless, both teams expect to play far better in their June re-match in Toronto. Hopefully the Raptors will still be winning in June as well.