Rush Top Phoenix in Surprising Nail-Biter

April 17, 2018
By Louis Zatzman

A windy, rainy, afternoon contest between Toronto and Philadelphia would provide more fun than the few blanketed fans might have expected. The game could only be decided by upwind break points. Though both teams found relatively easy offensive holds in the first few minutes, it wouldn’t be long before the Toronto defence would stitch its name into the game like a reliable sewing machine. Bomber Powell offered a ridiculous layout grab to steal the disc for Toronto, but the Rush couldn’t immediately convert, as Philadelphia tied the game 2-2. It was clear, however, that Toronto’s athleticism would give them defensive chances as the game wore on.

The Toronto offence early fell into the trap of thinking that the downwind huck was their friend. Isaiah Masek-Kelly threw a huck out of bounds on the right side, and another shot a moment later flew past Jay Boychuck’s outstretched hand. The Phoenix defensive line had trouble moving the disc against the wind, and Masek-Kelly found himself with an easy D and promptly floated the disc out to Cam Harris in the endzone. Toronto was holding, but they amassed countless turnovers during their offensive points. Coach Sachin Raina was furious, but when is he not during gameplay?

The next point saw Scotty Xu rise up, surrounded by Rush defenders, to catch a Sean Mott huck. He easily found a teammate with a high-release backhand to tie the game at 3 apiece. Neither defence had yet been able to possess the disc for more than a moment or two. 

Toronto decided to mix things up with a zone while up 4-3, but Philadelphia patience easily broke them and forced a switch to man. Mark Lloyd found a poach D during the chaos, and the Toronto defence again had another chance. Mark Lloyd threw a deep, upwind huck to Marijo Zlatic (the throw flew further than Lloyd’s pull on the same point), and Zlatic found Iain MacKenzie in the endzone for the game’s first upwind break. The floodgates seemed to have opened, as an upwind break meant an easy downwind defensive point immediately after for the Rush.

With the Phoenix offence receiving the disc upwind, it was clear that the game’s momentum had shifted. They turned the disc over in their own endzone on a swing, and D-Line lefty handler Jaret Meron easily found Bomber Powell for another break. Toronto had stretched its lead to 6-3, but the upwind pull boomeranged back to the 10-yard line, offering Philadelphia embarrassingly promising field position. A Scotty Xu scoober put the Phoenix back on the scoreboard. 

Jeff Lindquist found himself at the center of the action for the Toronto offence, finding open cuts downfield and easy breaks for goals. He scored two points in the first quarter, both on funky break throws for assists. Though the Toronto offence was guilty of multiple offensive mistakes, the Philadelphia defence couldn’t capitalize. In response, they would move several offensive foundations onto the D-Line in order to allow them better chances at scores following Toronto turns. This would later impact the game greatly, though the first quarter ended with a bloated score of 8-6 in favour of the Rush. 

The first point of the second quarter saw the Toronto defence with another pair of chances. Lloyd threw another monster upwind huck – this time of the flick variety – but rookie Drew Wilson couldn’t haul it in. Lloyd then offered a layout D to reclaim possession for the Toronto defence at the same position Drew would have been. After a timeout, Raina threw the O-Line onto the field, along with Drew Wilson, and Isaiah Masek-Kelly bailed out a high stall-count prayer from Thomson McKnight for another upwind break.

“It was a bad endzone play by us. It’s definitely not what we’re looking for in the endzone set. They did a good job of forcing both our handlers up the line, and there weren’t easy passes. Thomson didn’t have a reset, and he knows I’m sitting back there, looking to help him out… It wasn’t a great play, to be honest, just getting the job done,” explained Masek-Kelly after the game.

Again, the upwind break meant that the Toronto defence had an easy downwind defensive stand on the possession following. Jeremy Norden caught a wayward throw after the Phoenix turn, and he found Jonathan Edwards open in the corner for another score. The next defensive possession saw a series of highlight plays, most impressive coming courtesy of Marijo Zlatic on a layout. He bookended the point after an assist from Jaret Meron, pushing the Rush lead to 11-6. The Rush had built the lead they expected, and after the game they lamented that they stopped playing as ferociously at this point.

Though Toronto found several chances, the Phoenix were able to hold on their upwind offensive point, giving the Toronto offence their first upwind point of the game. This was a test; could an offence that turned the disc several times without defensive pressure retain the disc upfield? They easily aced the quiz, taking only easy throws en route to the hold. Jay Boychuck’s presence on the field, as usual on this young season, meant so much for Toronto. His persistent and top-speed cutting gave oodles of oxygen to the Toronto offence, opening space for every cutter on the field. 

“I feel like our whole O line is just superstars. Every single one of them is just a superstar, and I’m kind of just the guy who does the dirty work. I like to make space for those guys, and try to get guys moving, try and pull their guys away from them so they can go and get the disc. I feel like it’s working so far,” said Boychuck. 

It seemed as though Toronto would pull away, but Philadelphia fought its way back into the game. A pair of breaks for Phoenix – now with more effective offensive players playing defence against Toronto – allowed them to pull within 2 of Toronto, down 12-10, heading into the half. 

Toronto’s consistency issues continued in the second half, with four turnovers on the first downwind offensive point. The inevitable Phoenix break brought them within one point for the first time since the early first quarter, and Phoenix’s downwind break on the next point tied the game at 12 all around. On a positive note, Drew Wilson recorded the second Rush rookie goal of the season on the next offensive point, scurrying out of the stack on the break side for an easy catch to push the Rush back into the lead.

The following defensive possession for the Rush saw a monstrous bid from Gord Harrison to claim the disc and a furious upwind backhand huck from Jaret Meron to Zlatic. Though the Rush couldn’t capitalize only a few yards from the endzone, it was encouraging to again see the defensive line manufacturing chances. Bretton Tan bid for another D only a moment later, and a Lloyd huck to Andrew Carroll downfield (heard that tune before?) allowed Toronto to later punch the disc into the endzone for a break of their own. 

As the third quarter ended 15-13 in favour of Toronto, it was clear that the environment was taking its toll on both teams. Their early fiery offensive abilities had burnt close to the teams’ respective wicks by the final quarter.

The elements affected both teams on the first point of the 4th quarter. The marathon point involved several Ds from both teams, drops, misthrows, and everything in between over the 3 minutes it took for Philadelphia to punch in a score. Toronto was playing on the second leg of a distant road trip, and it showed as their lead was cut to one.

Toronto’s first offensive point of the quarter ended quickly, with an unstoppably fast cut by Andrew Carroll from the back of the stack to the near corner for the goal. A Sean Mott deep-strike on the ensuing possession pulled the Phoenix back within one, and Toronto responded with a Carroll to Boychuck connection. The fast sequence of scores offered some oxygen to the notion that the teams might still have more left in the tank.

Andrew Carroll continued his offensive dominance a few moments later. While Philadelphia refused to allow him his traditional deep strikes for easy goals, Carroll cut under from the stack to the open side, where he turned and distributed assists like a shorter-haired Steve Nash. How was he so open? “Maybe it’s, other teams starting to acknowledge [me threatening] deep, and taking the extra step or two off and conceding the under,” mused Carroll after the game.

Philadelphia pulled within a point, but they didn’t leave themselves with enough time to pull even. Toronto won, but they sputtered to the finish line against a Phoenix team that finished 2-12 last season and, moreover, lost much of that roster’s talent. Regardless, Toronto finished a tough road trip with two wins, and the team is content looking at the big picture:

“From a gameplay perspective, obviously there’s a lot to improve on, but it’s also early in the season,” explained Carroll. “We go through this process every season, where the first weekend of the year, even if you felt strong going in, there’s always kinks to work out. I think we know some of those kinks right now, so we’ll have something to work on, a bit more targeted. So [I have a] positive outlook, with the knowledge that we have a lot to do.”