On Saturday, May 8th, the Tigers took on the Austin Crows in a match that would continue to reveal the strength and the flaws in this season’s Baton Rouge side.
The sun burned off some early cloud cover and some soccer tots were booted off their fields for the 1pm start time. With a light breeze, temps in the low 80s, and a fast, firm ground, the scene was set for a good afternoon of football.
With early season standout Minnesota James Kavanaugh sidelined with a torn calf muscle and rookie ruckman Daz Duhnke carrying a niggling shoulder injury into the match, the Tigers opted to employ a conservative ruck strategy to compliment their defense-minded structure. Playing 16s instead of the full 18s, the Tigers keep a complete fullback and halfback line at the expense of their forwards.
To further mix up their forward structure, the Tigers used first-gamer Lindy Dentinger in a hybrid half-forward/midfield role to accentuate his greatest skills: tackling and crumbing.
The lineup was built to pressure the Crows’ offensive thrusts while allowing the Tigers’ streaming defenders to use their run and carry to bring the ball to the forward 50. While lacking a power forward this season, the Tigers have some key scrappy small forwards in Peepers Phillips, Rugby Ray Chastain, and Jeff Horn.
Once referee (and occasional Tiger) Nathan Lane tossed the ball up to start the match, the Tigers’ pre-game strategy seemed to pay off. Dentinger cleaned up some messy ground-level play and kicked Baton Rouge’s first goal, putting a charge in the home side.
Veteran Bo Hilty rucked valiantly against a taller, stronger Austin big man, and early in the match the Tigers’ defensive-minded on-ball play of Duhnke, Mickey Kleinhenz, and Tyler Smith managed to win the majority of the contested ball.
Ageless wonder Neil Stebbing directed the defense from the fullback position and the running power of streaming defenders Irish James Morris and Aaron LaRose had an immediate impact as they cut through the Crows lines.
But while the aggressiveness of the Tigers defense provided an immediate counter-attack, it also allowed the Crows to play the ball over the top and score some easy goals.
Once the game settled into a rhythm, the Crows’ superior off-the-ball movement also gave the Tigers trouble. With the Tigers’ midfield and half-backs often neglecting positioning to apply forward pressure, Austin was allowed to control the middle of the ground and quickly re-distribute the ball into their forward line on the rebound.
Despite making halftime corrections, the Tigers inexperience revealed itself again as Austin continued to use savvy passing to repeatedly surge into the Baton Rouge half. Despite the hard-running brilliance of Kleinhenz, who repeatedly hauled in contested marks and tackled ferociously, and the dogged determination of huge on-baller Duhnke, Austin’s midfield experience won the day. As the Crows adapted their ruck strategy, they began winning the majority of the clearances and got clean delivery to their frontlines.
But that’s not to say the Tigers didn’t have their moments of excitement.
Jeff Horn, one of the Tigers’ most improved players, bagged two goals. Despite seeing less of the ball in the second half, Dentinger tackled hard like the good old country boy he is. Mason Suri Adams kicked a beautiful running goal from 35 meters out at an angle. Taylor Flea Braud battled through 2 cracked ribs to play his most physical and consistent game of footy yet. Although he lost at least one mark to his diamond-hard pectorals, Peepers Phillips led hard and played smart footy.
At the end of the day, Austin prevailed 14.11 (95) to 6.4 (40).
As the Tigers are in the midst of rebuilding with a largely inexperienced side, they used this game as a measuring stick to determine their progress toward the ultimate goal of competing strongly at nationals. Progress is definitely being made as new players are picking up skills and learning how to fit into the side. Veteran players are returning to the team and morale is high.
And although the Tigers conceded defeat to the Crows, who were simply better on the day, they conducted themselves with class on and off the field. Despite facing a lopsided scoreboard in the second half, the boys from Baton Rouge played hard and ran their guts out to the final whistle.
The Tigers will take on newcomers Houston in three consecutive matches starting this Saturday, May 22 at 1pm at Clark Park in Baton Rouge.
Final Score: Austin 14.11 (95) to Baton Rouge 6.4 (40)
Best: Mickey Kleinhenz, Lindy Dentinger, James Morris, Daz Duhnke, Jeff Horn.
Goals: Horn (2), Kleinhenz, Dentinger, Taylor Braud, Mason Adams
Injuries: Neil Stebbing (foot)