Ironside And Ring Set For East Coast Battle Royale

Two East Coast powerhouse programs face off in a high-stakes semifinal.

Ring of FIre's Josh Mullen v. Ironside at the 2013 US Open.
Photo by Brandon Wu —
Season Series: N/A
Lifetime Record: Ironside 12-2 v. Ring of FIre
Betting Line: Ironside -4.5

The story for Boston is simple: they have been to seven straight semifinals.

The territory is nothing new for them, and while they haven’t been talked about much this tournament, it has because they have done what is expected and they have had, for the most part, smooth sailing.

Their sole loss on the tournament came against Johnny Bravo in a close, windy pool play matchup. Bravo is the only team to score more than nine points against Boston this tournament.

Ironside has largely taken care of business. On Friday, on a day where the headlines read upsets all over the place, Boston looked absolutely dominant.

The Boat handled Doublewide in pre-quarters 14-9, pulling away in the second half after an 8-6 lead. And they had by far the most impressive quarterfinal win, although arguably the weakest opponent, crushing Rhino 15-9 and getting done with their cool down early enough to watch GOAT win universe over Revolver.

Ironside’s defense has been what has impressed most. George Stubbs moving to the D-line this season has been a huge boon for the Boston Crew and across the board they have been winning matchups with ease.

Every game they have had a defensive game plan and every game they have executed. Against Doublewide, they contained Will Driscoll and made the boys from Texas work for every single throw, forcing a lot of turnovers with a high-intensity pressure defense. The team from Austin didn’t make many mistakes; Ironside earned those blocks, several coming from big layouts or skys.

Rhino saw a very similar strategy employed against them. Stubbs matched up against Freechild, Callahan winner against Callahan winner, Stubs making the Oregon star work extremely hard. Freechild was nearly shut-down by the Harvard stud, forcing Rhino into long points and had Boston out-running them when it matters.

The Bravo game is the one to look back at, both because it shows Boston’s only loss and because Bravo is a pick to make the finals on the other side of the bracket.

This game was sloppy for Boston for three key reasons.

1. The Wind.

It impacted the entire tournament, especially in the later rounds, and Boston was clearly limited by it. Their no-dump stack was flustered by the gusts, and the offense had to be carried in large part by Josh “Cricket” Markette and his tireless distribution.

2. Early Deficit.

The group got down early; the D-line was left to climb out of a massive hole. The game got very physical and very chippy late, lots of picks and travels were called, and Boston didn’t respond well to the broken pace.

3. An inability to reset.

The six-man vertical stack is pretty when it works, but can be vulnerable when the pressure mounts. Bravo clamped down and the spaces grew tighter and tighter; as the stall counts rose, three or four Boston offenders would be circling within ten yards of the disc, but unable to help.

In the end, however, the pool play matchup didn’t matter. Boston took the two seed, and they had the tougher pre-quarter matchup (on paper), but they easily prevailed and are on to semifinals.

The real question will be what it has always been for Boston. Can they go all the way? As impressive as this team has been, as dominant as their deep roster performs, they have yet to win a championship.

If Boston’s been un-talked about, Ring has been flat-out ignored until their upset against Chicago Machine on Friday morning.

Not considered a contender coming into the tournament, Ring failed to do much of anything on Thursday. But, as Coach Mike DeNardis was very aware of, in this format, pool play was in many ways meaningless.

All teams advanced and although the matchups might have been top seeds, at Nationals, anything could happen. Rhino, 0-3 in pool play, knocked off regional rival Sockeye. And Ring got what was, historically speaking, a fantastic matchup, a team that they have not lost to in recorded ultimate history: Chicago Machine.

Ring of Fire played a sloppy game with Chicago, with lots of hucks, turnovers, and very physical play. It was a game style that benefited Raleigh, where adversity fired their passion, where the multiple turnovers and long points buoyed their spirits and caused frustration for their opponents.

Chain Lightning, a team that had an unparalleled record of success against Ring of Fire in the past (nearly spotless, losing only once to Raleigh in the past six years) also found this out the hard way.

Ring of Fire played fantastic defense, and although they gave away many chances, both teams had tons of turnovers in the wind. The game, just like the first of the day, went to cap and Ring won 12-10.

On first glance, it simply looks like Raleigh plays like madmen, with turnovers galore, and then win in the chaos. Don’t let the group fool you, however: there is a definite method to the madness.

DeNardis is one of the most detail-oriented in the game and his scouting is excellent. He is aware of what Ring’s opponents want to do. If his team can execute, and most importantly score efficiently on the chances they get, they win.

Against Machine, it was frustrating their sets with junky zone and stopping cutter continuations.

Against Chain it was using flat marks to throw the disc laterally often. Atlanta likes to score in two passes, but they were forced into dozens of passes into tight man situations, especially late, and Ring’s athletes, like rising star Hunter Taylor, came up with big d’s.

Ring of Fire will get their shots to score, but can they reign in their own hucks? They had dozens of turnovers in both games and were able to gut out wins, but they won’t be able to get nearly as many chances come semis.

The Matchup

This will be a battle of defense and of fitness. To put it another way, this will be a battle to see which group can score most efficiently off of the turns they get.

Forcing long points generally works to Ring’s advantage, getting their opponents frustrated and giving their own athletes chances to make big plays in the endzone. But Ironside is extremely well-conditioned themselves, and their defensive offense has been flat-out great, with George Stubbs and Mark Sherwood making things hum.

Both teams have athletic stars and both teams will believe they are able to win and then exploit their defensive matchups. Which team will be right?

George Stubbs has been assigned the biggest matchups, so who will he guard? The Jon Nethercutt to Christian Johnson connection, honed at UNC, has been Ring’s best offensive weapon, so it’s likely Stubbs will take one of those two. And that matchup certainly seems to favor Boston, especially on the turn.

Justin Allen was covering Nicky Spiva against Chain; Spiva had four assists and two turnovers on the game, but also had to face a straight up mark and swing the disc often, distributing to other players and matchups that Ring felt more favorable about. Allen could matchup against Danny Clark, Boston’s best cutter, although Hunter Taylor has shined this entire tournament and could be due for a big mark.

Ironside will thrive if they can keep their heads, can be patient, and run their sets even on the long points. If they get into a huck and D game, or if they are forced out of their vert by Raleigh’s junk zone and try to run offense outside of their norm, they’ll likely make enough mistakes to give Ring of Fire hope and intensity and chances to break.

Ring of Fire will thrive if they can keep the game physical, and most importantly of all, if they can limit their own bad decisions. Ironside didn’t like the choppy pace presented by the multiple calls in the Bravo pool play matchup, and Ring loves to play in those kind of conditions. Every stoppage seems to bring up their fiery anger; every little disagreement gives their sideline fuel.

On paper, in many ways, Ring of Fire seems overmatched.

Raleigh is 2-12 over the past decade against Boston, although one of those victories came in 2013 (and Chain’s record against Ring was equally impressive).

Boston, although they’ve come up short of championships, has been really impressive over the last few seasons and this tournament.

They have Worlds experience, dominating wins, have been in National semifinals and finals multiple times, and athletically their defense has been suffocating all weekend. They are bigger, faster, and seemingly more sure of themselves.

Most telling, Ironside has been scoring efficiently . Their conversion rate has been close to 50% if not better on breaks, something they have struggled with earlier this season.

And yet.

Ring of Fire has won when it mattered. Ironside is good, but not perfect. The weather calls for windy conditions this afternoon and Boston didn’t like the gusts on Friday afternoon. They’ve lost once this weekend and can lose again if Ring keeps up the athletic play and is better with their own chances.

Much of the pressure, in reality, will be put on Raleigh’s offensive line. Ring didn’t like the wind much either on Thursday. If Ironside gets rolling, capitalizing quickly on Ring turnovers, watch out. Then Boston will surge and Ring will stumble back into a downward spiral and their pool play losing ways. Undoubtedly if Boston can get a few in a row, they’ll win.

One thing Ring did very well is they kept games close on Friday. Other teams have gotten breaks against them, and lots of chances, but never two in a row, and Ring has been able to hang around and get their own chances. Ironside will definitely test this pattern and try to break it.

Everyone expects Boston to win. But then again, that’s just the way Raleigh likes it.

  1. Alex Rummelhart

    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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