Tigers Falter at Crawfish Cup Tourney (part 1)

This past weekend, a combined squad of Houston and Baton Rouge met to take on the Dallas Magpies and the Austin Crows in the annual Crawfish Cup in Dallas. This year, the winner of the Cup would be determined by a Nationals-style round-robin tourney.

Tactics heading into the tourney: focus, firstly, on tackling. Tackle hard. Tackle constantly. Work the ball up the flanks. Always find a loose man. Talk constantly.

The Tigers and Dallas lined up for the 10 am match before the Crows straggled in from their drive up from Dallas. Despite thunderstorms the night before, some morning sun blotted up the remaining water on the well-drained pitch and conditions promised to be fast at ground level. Unfortunately, a strong, unrelenting wind blew across the length of the field all day and if we are honest about thing, Mother Nature would clearly get best on ground. Only one goal was kicked against the smothering breeze all day.

With Tiger captain and fullback Rob Montanaro winning the toss, the Tigers elected to battle the conditions in the first half. This proved to be a questionable decision as the Tigers, a combination of veterans rusty from a 4-week gap between matches and debutants, wilted under the onslaught of a well-oiled Dallas squad and the unceasing wind. Dallas put up 9 goals in the first half from a variety of sources.

But despite being put under the pump early by the reigning premiers, the Tigers battled on. Minnesota James Kavanagh played admirably in his first match as centreman, applying defensive pressure and using his mobility to jumpstart some short-lived charges into the wind. Houston’s Justin Vaugh was a ball magnet and constantly prowled the packs.

Unlike previous encounters with Dallas, the Tigers never conceded the fight and played scrappy, if sloppy football once the initial shock of the wind and their opposition wore off.

In the second half, the Tigers immediately put the Magpies against the wall and the wind pinned them there. After spending the first half trying to turn the Magpie tide, the boys from Baton Rouge finally got a taste of some winning footy. Although the midfield and ruck struggled against the class of Dallas a bit, the Tigers held the Pies to a single behind for the half while working the ball upfield with some beautiful passages of play.

Across the board, the Tigers played much better in the second half, but few players stood out as match winners. Winger Flea Braud got plenty of the ball in his first match of the season. Houston’s Dan Holwerda and Matt Stevens chipped in some key ball movement and tackles. Rugby Ray Chastain showed why he’s a promising recruit at half forward with his ability to play space, find the ball, and turn-and-shoot.

But ultimately, although the Tigers played spirited, relatively clean football, they could only manage a single goal with the wind and were once again reminded of the hard work ahead to compete with clubs of Dallas’s stature.

Final Score: Dallas 9.4.58 to Baton Rouge 1.5.11

Best: Minnesota James Kavanaugh, Justin Vaughn, Dan Holwerda, Matt Stevens, Taylor Braud

Tigers Hijack Houston, Head Home Victorious

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.

Tigers Stats:

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