Despite contracting a serious case of the yips on the 5-hour trek into Texas, the Baton Rouge Tigers earned a 4.4 (26) to 0.6 (6) win over newly minted USAFL club, the Houston Lonestars, this past Saturday.
With temperatures in the 70s and some light cloud cover, Mother Nature almost provided perfect conditions except for a strong wind that swept diagonally across the oval. The Lonestars scrounged up a very playable field that was marred only by a few bog-like mud pits in the midfield. A small, quietly observant crowd and the popping of small caliber artillery from the surrounding gun ranges provided the atmosphere as the match got underway.
Both teams blooded some rookies in place of their more established veterans. The Tigers played without subs, something that would’ve surely affected their performance had the match not been in a Nationals-style format of two 20-minute halves.
But as it was, Baton Rouge took an early lead thanks to a goal from rookie ruckman Daz Duhnke. Playing in his first match, the big fella proved he’ll be an outstanding weapon throughout the season as he won the majority of the hit-outs and brought a high-energy, end-to-end running style that eased the workload of rovers Tyler Smith and Mickey Kleinhenz.
Despite setting the tone with another goal from streaking halfback (and captain) Minnesota Kavanaugh, the Tigers found themselves facing a game Lonestar squad that took advantage of a lull in the match to pepper the posts with shots. Unfortunately for Houston, they too had developed a case of the yips in front of goal and managed only to rack up a number of behinds.
At halftime, the unconfirmed score was 2.1 (13) to 0.4 (4) in favor of the Tigers. After suffering short spray from their coach imploring them to push harder in the second term, the Tigers took the field for the decisive second half.
Kicking into the wind and a few outlying mudpits, the Tigers manage to overcome both these physical obstacles and the dangerous presence of Lonestar player-coach Dan Holwerda to kick clear.
Shanks and missed opportunities abounded in the second half as half forward Joe Flash Roy and rover Smith combined for a few out-on-the-fulls. Luckily, Baton Rouge spearhead Peepers Philips steadied the squad with a goal and omnipresent midfielder Kleinhenz also bagged a major to put an emphatic stamp on the Tigers’ now-dominant play.
Two of Baton Rouge’s big boys, backman Nick Dozer and forward pocket John Z, showed moments of brilliance with crunching tackles. After building the confidence with a lead on the scoreboard, the Tigers became more physical across the board. In between making runs, winger Roo-Ben Nambo upended an opponent. Stalwarts Robbie Montanaro and Roy maintained pressure across the fullback and half-forward lines respectively. Kavanaugh and Kleinhenz used their fitness and cleverness to continually rebound the ball back into Houston’s half. But the team as a whole was paced by the new ruck Duhnke as he brought an outstanding willingness to win the ball and play the length of the field.
When the final whistle brought the match to a close, the Tigers celebrated the victory by serenading the crowd with the team song before dividing up for the afternoon’s mixed squad match.
Final Score – 4.4 (26) to 0.6 (6)
Captain – Minnesota James Kavanaugh
Goal Kickers – Duhnke, Kavanaugh, Philips, Kleinhenz
Best on Ground:
(3) Daz Duhnke
(2) Mickey Kleinhenz
(1) Kavanaugh, Tyler Smith