April 24, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
If you thought the 2018 rematch of the 2017 finals would also be a closely contested affair, you were sorely mistaken. “Any time that you're trying to bounce back from a championship finals defeat,” explained Jerry Meron, “I don't think there's really anything that could get us more fired up than that.” The focused and committed Toronto Rush towered above their Californian opponents, winning 28-18 on a night that removed any possible questions about their sloppy execution on their road trip the week before.
The Toronto Rush could not have started the game any smoother. Starting in a split stack, Cam Harris received a quick under, and he immediately launched deep to Andrew Carroll. Carroll hit Isaiah-Masek Kelly with a quick flip pass into the endzone, and Toronto hit the scoreboard in only 15 seconds.
Not to be outdone, the Toronto defence regained the disc only moments after their defensive possession began when Antoine Davis decided to throw a deep huck in Mark Lloyd’s vicinity. He swallowed the huck whole, but a Rush turf gifted possession back to San Francisco, who scored only a moment later on a deep throw to Marcelo Sanchez.
The next offensive possession for Toronto began the same way, but Carroll faked the deep cut and instead came under, where he was wide open in power position. Toronto easily scored a few moments later on a Ben Burelle throw to Carroll, and it was clear that Carroll’s speed would once again be instrumental in torching a FlameThrowers defence.
Though San Francisco equalized on the next point, they again turned over the disc after a Jackie Hau footblock. The score was 2-2, but more importantly for Toronto, they had forced two turnovers, but Toronto’s offence hadn’t yet lost the disc once.
San Francisco offered their first huck to Antoine Davis to tie the game at 3. The play ended in San Francisco’s favour – an easy score – with Jonathan Martin unable to interrupt the throw. Antoine Davis, like Carroll for Toronto’s offence, would be the key cog on which the machine would turn. Though Davis won this battle, Martin would have the last laugh.
Looking at the big picture, the first quarter began with nine straight holds. The game was as well-played as last year’s finals. However, Toronto would strike first from the defensive side. The next 50/50 huck to Antoine Davis would be defended successfully by Jonathan Martin, and the Rush would quickly score on an Iain MacKenzie huck to Jay Boychuck streaking deep. With Burelle back in the fold after missing the team’s first road trip, Toronto could shift Boychuck back to the defensive line. His cutting is so important for any team with the disc, and he is an important piece for Toronto converting break chances.
The Toronto offence found immediate success whenever Andrew Carroll or Ben Burelle struck deep. Burelle was even able to pull in this disc, which perhaps was an error to have been thrown into double coverage. No matter.
Boychuck would offer another score for Toronto’s defence a moment later. He flew deep for a 90-yard catch, before dumping the disc and busting Byron Liu’s ankles in the endzone for another break. A Bomber Powell D on Antoine Davis on another 50/50 huck would give the Toronto defence the disc yet again on the following point. One more break at the end of the quarter would give Toronto the 9-5 lead, after perhaps the best-played quarter in Rush franchise history. The Toronto offence notched only two turnovers, and they easily held every chance they had. The Toronto defence had several break chances, and they were able to convert three en route to early domination.
The second quarter began on a similar note, with Marijo Zlatic snatching the disc after a handblock, and Iain MacKenzie practically handing the disc to Bomber Powell for yet another break.
The Rush offence found great success playing more conservatively in the second quarter. With so many Rush players having found open pastures in their deep cuts earlier in the game, it seemed that FlameThrowers defenders were giving up easy unders to Toronto cutters. Toronto took advantage. As a counterpoint to Toronto’s practical perfection, San Francisco began to make a litany of unforced errors midway through the quarter. Dropped discs and overthrown hucks allowed the Toronto defence to pile on the score.
The only bounce that didn’t go Toronto’s way in the first half was a buzzer-beating hammer that Andrew Carroll couldn’t grab in the pile. The Rush couldn’t complain, however, taking a 15-8 lead to half.
Any notions that the Rush would ease up, or perhaps forget how to throw, focusing their many talents instead on croquet, or interior decorating, were quickly dispelled as the new half began. A familiar pull play saw Cam Harris hucking Andrew Carroll – wide open due to his blazing speed - into the endzone for a score that lasted fewer than 10 seconds.
After both teams traded some holds, a Burelle huck to Cam Harris deep flew long, and San Francisco finally broke the titanic Toronto offence, bringing the score to 18-12 in favour of the Rush. With Toronto rolling out a D-Line on offence on the next possession, San Francisco punched in another break to cut the lead to 5.
Far from dismayed, Toronto’s offence scored in only 17 seconds on their possession. Masek-Kelly threw a step-out backhand to Ben Burelle, flying deep, who turned and popped the disc to Hirst for a goal. The defence similarly felt like Toronto needed to push on their opponents’ throats, with Jay Boychuck recording a D by jumping a passing lane with a run-through. Though Raina put the offence on the field after a timeout, Toronto couldn’t score in the remaining 16 seconds, the defence was able to prevent a FlameThrowers goal to end the quarter, giving the Rush a 6-point cushion entering the final frame.
Toronto’s offence continued its frolicking success, with Ben Burelle and Andrew Carroll recording some hijinks in their first point. Carroll stole the disc from Burelle, as both cut into the same space on unders. Carroll broke his mark to get Burelle the disc, seemingly as an apology, and Burelle turned and hit Carroll flying into the endzone for an easy hold.
On the next defensive point, Jerry Meron threw a gliding OI goal Remi Ojo in the endzone for the break. Meron was electrifying all night, throwing monstrous hucks on the defensive line all night. His range allows Toronto’s athleticism on the defensive line to assert itself after a turn. Having handlers like Meron is so important for any Ultimate D-Line, and Toronto consistently relies on him to snipe targets from 80 yards.
“For me, obviously, my role has always been having the big arm back there, and quarterbacking the D-Line. I would say it definitely was really nice conditions, compared to obviously the New York and Philly road trip. Nice warm weather, and not a whole lot of wind. From a thrower's perspective, it was really pretty much the best day you could ask for. But honestly, on the D-Line, once the guys sort of get rolling and get running, guys are so open that it's pretty easy on me,” explained Meron.
Two more breaks came in short order, as Toronto’s consistency was simply too much for San Francisco. Midway through the quarter, the score had already ballooned to 23-14. Though Toronto would allow their offence to be broken one more time, the decision had been undoubtable for perhaps a full quarter. Toronto pushed the lead to double-digits to end the game up 28-18.
This game elucidates a few things. It says a great amount about the San Francisco FlameThrowers. With so many questions about the team due to roster turnover, it was clear that new players would have to step up. In San Francisco’s 1-1 split against San Jose, it appeared at time that additions like Elliott Chartock could ably replace departed stars without any slippage. Marcelo Sanchez greatly improved his game, and Antoine Davis has become one of the league’s most devastating offensive weapons. They aren’t enough. Toronto proved just how far San Francisco is beneath the league’s truly elite teams.
“We all went in wanting to make a huge statement, and to really leave no doubt, which is sort of one of the mantras that I think we're gonna be rolling with the rest of the season. Leave no doubt,” said Meron, happily.
Toronto is the same juggernaut of a team that beat the Dallas Roughnecks with Jimmy Mickle, Dylan Freechild, and Kurt Gibson in the 2017 playoffs. They are likely better, and maybe much better, with so many of their young players taking steps forward. A healthy Remi Ojo, along with 2016 standouts Justin Foord and Nathan Hirst returning to the team, lifts Toronto’s ceiling higher than the CN Tower. The sloppy Rush offence of their first road trip was more mirage – due to inclement weather – than an honest depiction of Toronto’s execution.
Toronto was only broken twice all game. They totalled 11 throwaways, which already bested their 2017 season-best mark of 12 in a game (recorded twice, against the Phoenix and Breeze). On the offence, after initial completed throws, continuation cuts and passes were smooth and immediate. Ben Burelle and Andrew Carroll – both downfield cutters – tied for the team lead in assists, with four. That Iain MacKenzie also reached four assists from the D-Line shows just how dominant was the defence, as well. When Jaret Meron played defence, Toronto was consistent in its break chances, outscoring San Francisco during Meron’s minutes by 6, despite him playing 13 of his 16 points on the D-Line. Only three games into the 2018 season, the AUDL has a convincing favourite in the form of the Toronto Rush.