May 29, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
The Toronto Rush are officially the last unbeaten team of the 2018 AUDL season after a 28-23 win over the Philadelphia Phoenix. The Rush were without several important pieces, including Isaiah Masek-Kelly and Ben Burelle, but they didn’t miss a beat. Rookie Drew Wilson filled in admirably on the starting O-Line with 3 goals and 3 assists.
It was Cam Harris who shone on the first point. He threw a picture-perfect huck to Andrew Carroll, who dropped the disc in the endzone. Unfazed, Harris collected a block, then received a pass from Adrian Yearwood before firing an assist to Thomson McKnight for the Rush’s first goal.
While the defence had an opportunity with the game tied at 1-1, a drop and an unforced misthrow from the Rush allowed Philadelphia to hold for the score. The Rush tied the game at 2 behind a toss from Yearwood to Wilson, his first goal of the game.
“It felt really good,” said Wilson after the game. “I didn't expect to have that opportunity coming into the season. I took it with the most respect possible. I tried to be the best I could be for [my teammates]. I just didn't want to come in and look like a fool. I needed to step up my game and fill the role I had to fill.”
Wilson filled Ben Burelle’s deep cutting role magically, spacing the field throughout the game.
The Rush pulled into the lead as Iain MacKenzie tallied a block, and the ensuing defensive offence was basically a three-way game of tag between Marijo Zlatic, Jason Huynh, and Jaret Meron. Huynh eventually found Meron for the goal.
The Phoenix took the lead 5-4 only a few minutes later following a misthrow from Wilson. Coach Sachin Raina was impressed at how he responded to the mistake, which was a telling test for the rookie.
“A good test came early when he had a bit of a bone-headed throwaway, and you tend to find out pretty quickly what a guy's made of after something like that, if they're going to change the way they play, or if they're just going to keep playing and forget about that one mistake that they made. I was really happy to see that, after that one mistake, he just kept playing his game,” said Raina.
Success in such moments builds important trust between coaches and young players.
The Rush offence met with some early stumbles, with turnovers on their last few points of the quarter; however, solid defence from the offensive-minded stars allowed the Rush to hold both times. A monster D from Gord Harrison above a pile ended the first quarter with both teams stuck at 6 points apiece.
The offence immediately came together in the second quarter, scoring on two consecutive two-pass plays. The first saw Connor Armstrong catching the pull and tossing to Yearwood, who aired the disc to the striking McKnight. After a clean Philadelphia hold, Armstrong again found Carroll striking deep, who flipped an easy assist to Ben Oort. Despite Carroll’s early mistake, he played an incredible game, throwing 5 assists and 23 completions – large numbers from the cutting position. Raina was impressed not just with his passing, but equally with his cutting on a game in which he only scored 2 goals.
“Teams are really gonna back him quite a bit,” said Raina. “I think he's just always being given that under, so he just took it. Credit to him, he took it for a lot of yards. It wasn't like he would slam on the breaks and take a five-yard gainer. He'd still go and push and stretch the defence, and when he'd come back under, we've gained 10, 15, 20 yards.”
Though the Phoenix tied the game at 8 with a clean offensive hold, Armstrong found Oort for another goal on the next Rush point. Oort was terrific, leading the Rush with 7 goals. The 18-year-old rookie now improbably leads the Rush with 20 goals on the season. His ability to time his cuts off of his teammates is beyond his years, and Rush veterans are quickly taking notice of Oort’s abilities.
After Cam Harris found Carroll for a fast goal, with the score at 10-9 for the Rush, the flood gates finally broke. The defence converted as Huynh found Zlatic for a goal, and the second Rush D-Line converted on the ensuing point, again with Zlatic in the endzone. This proved to be one of the Rush’s only two consecutive break goals of the entire game, which Raina credited to Philadelphia’s offensive consistency in the game.
“Sometimes when you keep getting scored on, you think, it must be because of the way we're playing,” he said. “Sometimes you forget that the other team is allowed to play well as well.”
“They swung the disc really well,” Raina continued. “When they swung it, our corrals weren't as good as they needed to be, or our marks weren't as good as they needed to be to prevent those swings in the first place. That's a credit to them. Anytime we got them into a high stall situation, they got the disc off, or maybe a tight throw which their guy would complete, or they would make a bad throw and somebody would just make a nice grab to keep the play alive.”
The difference in the game proved to be that the Rush capitalized on Philadelphia’s few mistakes that did occur. The teams traded eight consecutive clean offensive holds, which ended with an always-exciting rookie-rookie connection as Oort and Wilson played give-go down all the way down the field for a score to push the Rush lead to 16-13.
The Rush found another defensive boost to start the third quarter, as a long point ended with another Rush break. Another break only a minute later, as Meron collected a block and Huynh found Zlatic in the endzone, stretched the lead to 20-15. In general, the Phoenix offence played terrific defence after turns, often offering junk looks to surprise their Toronto opponents. Every Rush break goal was hard-won, with few easy fastbreak possessions.
The Rush offence, on the other hand, had a relatively easy time holding. Most plays ended after five throws or fewer, as Toronto’s patented pull plays were prospering. Even after Toronto did throw the disc away, Yearwood and Harris in particular were terrific at playing defence and getting the plastic back. The Rush offence finished with an impressive 80% offensive conversation rate.
However, the Rush weren’t without a few scares. An Armstrong throwaway allowed an easy break goal for the Phoenix to climb within three, down 22-19. As Raina threw the second D-Line onto the field to play offence, a Jonathan Edwards throwaway allowed another Phoenix break. The two-point differential would be the closest that Philadelphia would come.
Andrew Carroll ended a marathon, nearly five-minute point with a pass to Oort for a goal to push the lead to 23-20. A moment later, rookie Ben Pries notched a D, which resulted in another break goal. The following point saw the Rush defence again claim the disc multiple times in a sloppy point, and Raina disliked the offence’s spacing. After a pair of Zlatic-Bretton Tan passes, Raina called a timeout to put the offence on the field. Though it was hard sledding, Carroll eventually found Harris for a goal, giving the Rush the 26-21 lead. They would win the game by the same margin, 28-23, as Toronto improved to 7-0 on the season.
Running three full lines against the paper-thin roster of the Philadelphia Phoenix proved to pay off late, as Toronto’s fitness and extra legs stretched the lead in the final quarter. Toronto’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to talented players has now manifested in a dominant game from yet another player, this time Drew Wilson.
Raina credits the successes of his rotating cast of offensive cutters, including the diminutive Jay Boychuk, Ben Burelle, and now Drew Wilson, for their decision-making and ability to seamlessly blend into the team’s overarching principles.
“They read the play well. When they get the disc, 90-95% of the time, they make the right decision. When you do those things, you're gonna have success. We are pretty fortunate, but at the same time, it's more so just on them doing what's asked and what's expected, and not like we've found a goldmine of guys under 5'8" who are all amazing at Frisbee.”
Wilson, for his part, is hopeful that his big game might lead to more chances in the future.
“Hopefully I can get into that starting lineup in general, either as a secondary O player, or D. I think I've gotten to that point.” He paused, correcting himself. “Not there yet, but definitely gonna push myself to be a part of that squad towards the end of the season.”
An overabundance of talent is certainly a good problem to have for the undefeated Rush. Their next game will be in Quebec City this upcoming weekend against the Montreal Royal, which will certainly be another test of Toronto’s depth. If this Phoenix game was any indication, Toronto ought to be up to the test.