June 12, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
Perfection in 2018 is off the table for the Toronto Rush, as the Breeze beat them 25-24 in overtime in D.C. The Rush lost a strange game, which saw three key offensive players no longer playing with the offence by the time the day was done. Andrew Carroll didn’t make the trip, Ben Oort injured his thumb, and Cam Harris switched to the D-Line during the second quarter.
Despite the negatives, the Toronto Rush were encouraged by the play of Isaiah Masek-Kelly. The giant defender, who traded places with Harris to join the offence halfway through the game, recorded huge numbers. He caught four goals and intercepted three passes the other way, using his athleticism to torment D.C throughout the game. Playing as a defender for most of 2018 and 2017, Masek-Kelly enjoyed returning to his natural position of initiation cutter on the offence.
“That's my bread and butter,” he said, describing his ease in returning to the role.
The Toronto Rush started as they usually have on the season: with a break. The D.C Breeze started their offence with incredible pace, looking to dish quick passes and swing the disc rapidly so that Toronto’s double-teams and athletic defenders wouldn’t have a chance to hone in on the disc. However, a misthrow gave Toronto the disc, and a Jaret Meron high-stall huck found the athletic Isaiah Masek-Kelly in the endzone.
A Jacky Hau hand-block gave the Rush the disc again near the Breeze endzone, and Hugh Knapp caught his first ever Rush goal, in his first ever point played in the AUDL.
The Rush iced Hugh Knapp, pretending he didn’t exist after his goal, just like they have done to so many rookies so far on the season. It was evidence that Knapp is already a beloved member of the team, and the Rush quickly mobbed him to celebrate after a few moments of the silent treatment.
A Vancouver native, Knapp represents an important pickup for the Rush. He has played on national teams with several of the younger Rush players. He’s a talented thrower, who like Nate Hirst will likely alternate between offensive and defensive points on the season. He’s also quite comfortable as a cutter, and the team is excited for the AUDL rookie to finally join the team.
“He knows Sachin. He knows our system. It's a pretty easy fit, and he's a sick player, so he's a pretty good pickup to have,” said Masek-Kelly.
The Breeze finally scored to stop the bleeding, and the Rush offence received its first pull. Though Andrew Carroll was not with the team, ever-in-motion cutter Jay Boychuk returned from an LCL tear to take Carroll’s spot with the offence. Despite the boost, the Rush made a litany of errors on their first point, allowing the Breeze to score a break goal and tie the game at 2 apiece.
Taking the field to play offence, a Rush defensive unit worked the disc all the way up the field. Knapp, alongside the two speedster throwers Nate Hirst and Jason Huynh, displayed some advanced handler-handler chemistry. A turnover pushed them back down the field, but a Masek-Kelly flick huck to J.J Edwards ended in spectacular fashion to put the Rush back on top, 3-2.
Moments later, Ben Oort converted a highlight goal for Toronto’s offence. A Ben Burelle huck seemed to fly too far over his head, and instead of accelerating, Oort slowed down to block his defender out of position. With his defender on his right hip, and the disc floating to the left, Oort then took off, leaping to catch up and score. Unfortunately, Oort dislocated his right thumb on the play, and Knapp had to fill in on the offence for the remainder of the game. Oort’s availability is a question mark in coming weeks, but the team is hopeful that it will be a quick fix.
While the second quarter began with offensive holds from both sides, D.C demonstrated that they were up to the task of handling Toronto’s defensive pressure. On one point, the Rush used several opportunistic double-teams, switched brilliantly downfield, and generally gave nothing easy to the Breeze offence. D.C still scored, as Rowan McDonnell – despite being hampered by hamstring issues – threw a variety of creative, short-space passes to move the disc down the field, methodically scoring the goal.
“They threw to open guys, and when we thought we had them in a tight spot, they threw their way out of it. Nothing crazy, not like hammers over the top, but a swing to a spot where only their guy could catch it,” explained Toronto coach Sachin Raina. “Things like that. A throw that, it's the one option that they had, and they hit it. Credit to them. They played well.”
The Rush still led 8-6, but a pair of throwaways from Cam Harris gave the Breeze some offensive chances. Though a Breeze timeout allowed the Rush to put the defence on the field, coach Sachin Raina spent the entire point chatting with Harris. The defence didn’t need the coach’s attention, as Iain MacKenzie recorded a highlight block in the endzone to regain possession. Another timeout put the Rush offence back on the field, though with Masek-Kelly in the place of Cam Harris. The Rush scored an easy goal only a moment later.
Harris started the next defensive point, and he remained on the D-Line, with Masek-Kelly on the O-Line, for the remainder of the game.
The clean offensive play continued as Ben Burelle keyed a Rush drive to the endzone. Harris redeemed himself on the ensuing defensive point, bidding around an unaware Jeff Wodatch to athletically intercept an in cut. Coach Raina put the offensive line on the field, and a blading OI backhand from Masek-Kelly found Knapp in the endzone – leaping above the pile of defenders – to stretch the lead to 13-9.
Both teams opened the second half with relatively easy offensive holds. Boychuk threw a short, backhand pop-pass to Masek-Kelly for a goal, and Armstrong threw another blading flick huck on the ensuing offensive point. After D.C scored easily as well, the Breeze converted another break goal after an Adrian Yearwood drop. All of a sudden, what had once been a comfortable Rush lead was now a close game.
With a score of 15-13, the Breeze forced another turnover, but the Rush got it right back to hold. While the Rush offence had trouble cleanly converting chances, the Breeze offence was scoring easily. Toronto’s defence was having trouble pressuring the Breeze sets.
“They were very good at hitting a dump and swinging the disc very effectively side-to-side on the field,” explained Masek-Kelly. “Which can relieve quite a lot of pressure on the offence if you're able to hit 40-yard swings to a guy coming under. We did a poor defensive matchup on stopping the flow after they got those nice swings out.”
Hoping to add more dynamism to the Rush offence, coach Raina placed speedster Nate Hirst onto the O-Line in place of the veteran Yearwood. His quickness allowed the Rush to move the disc far more easily and convert. Easy Breeze holds, however, continued putting the Rush offence on the field with little rest. Moments later, an unforced Rush error, this time whil centering a pull that rolled out of bounds, allowed D.C to bring the game within one, 17-16 for Toronto.
A traditionally defensive line stabilized the Rush. Hirst, Harris, and Huynh played a three-man weave all the way down the field for an explosive goal, putting the Rush back in the lead 18-17. A Lloyd Blake mistake gave the Rush defence another opportunity, and Cam Harris threw a creative throw over the stack in the endzone to find Huynh for another goal.
Later, more unforced Rush errors struck, as a pair of drops gave D.C multiple chances to tie the game. They converted on their second opportunity, as McDonnell delivered a perfect huck to Wodatch.
Though the Rush offence committed a turnover, as Masek-Kelly turfed the disc, a double-team forced D.C into a stall count. As Toronto methodically dumped and swung the disc downfield, an unforced drop in the endzone from Nate Hirst allowed D.C to convert on yet another break, taking their first lead of the night, 21-20, with only 2:52 remaining in the game.
A pair of holds later, and with one-minute remaining, the Rush would have to score to tie the game and force overtime. They took their time moving the disc up the field, taking a timeout with twelve seconds remaining, as coach Raina drew up a play.
Knowing that D.C would focus on defending the endzone, Toronto chose to play small-ball down the field, taking a series of short throws. With only three seconds remaining, a laser beam to Hirst standing on the goal line seemed short, but Hirst jumped to make the catch, throwing his legs backwards underneath him to land for a goal. The Breeze couldn’t score in the last three seconds, and Toronto had fought their way to overtime.
The extra frame began poorly, as a dump pass was intercepted by D.C for a break goal. A blind centering pass on the next pull allowed the Breeze to intercept the disc just outside of Toronto’s endzone, and the Breeze converted to stretch their lead to 24-22. Not panicking, Thomson McKnight threw a flick blade over the stack to Masek-Kelly, landing between two D.C defenders for the Toronto goal.
A Breeze drop on a swing pass allowed Cam Harris to step into a backhand huck to a deep-striking Marijo Zlatic for the game-tying goal. The Breeze offence responded, scoring in under a minute, leaving Toronto’s offence thirty-seven seconds to score a game-tying goal.
Relying on calm could only take the Rush so far. They worked the disc up the field, but Isaiah Masek-Kelly held the disc 20 yards from the endzone with only a handful of seconds remaining in the game. As time expired, he was forced to put a backhand into space ahead of Boychuk, whose defender was already ahead of the play. A block sealed the game and Toronto’s first loss of the season.
Despite the loss, Toronto’s spirits remained high.
“It's ok to lose a game every once in a while if you bounce back accordingly,” mused Masek-Kelly. “It was a good learning lesson for us, and if anything, it got us more pumped up for the rest of the season.”
Coach Raina admitted after the game that a team is going to struggle during a season, and it’s better for the Rush to face their struggles now. At 8-1, they have a cushion in their lead atop the East. Toronto will get another chance to face D.C in two weeks, this time in Toronto. The team will bring in reinforcements, including Mark Lloyd; the third and final regular season matchup between the two teams should be the most explosive yet.