Johnny Bravo Wins Their First National Championship

Johnny Bravo put the pieces together.

Johnny Bravo celebrates winning the 2014 National Championship
Photo by Christina Schmidt — UltiPhotos.com
FRISCO — In a Nationals packed with stunning upsets and double game point thrillers, only one team remained unbeaten when finals rolled around. And even when Boston Ironside took a two break lead in the first half, there was no way to disrupt the calm, composed approach of Denver Johnny Bravo, who claimed their first ever title, 13-11.

If you subscribe to the old sports adage “you’re only as good as your last game,” then unbeaten Johnny Bravo was very, very good. Denver ground out a tight semifinal against a GOAT team that broke late. They needed a hold to win on the final offensive possession, so the offense simply sauntered down the field and scored.

Dust off the hands and on to the finals.

If Ironside was only as good as their last game, they were still good enough to win a semifinals game at Nationals — which is great. But if they were only as good as their last half of Ultimate — they were in trouble.

Boston’s offense looked anything but confident in the second half of their game against Ring of Fire. Ironside let a five point lead end up as a 12-12 coin flip before finally winning on a multi-turn double game point, 13-12.

These teams were coming off of some very different wins.

The first point really put into perspective the sheer amount of talent in this game. After some hard man defense from Ironside, Bart Watson sent a backhand deep for Jimmy Mickle who went up and over George Stubbs for the goal. That’s the 2014 Callahan winner (Mickle) being guarded by the 2011 Callahan winner (Stubbs). Three other recipients of the College Division’s most prestigious award wer in cleats for finals: Josh “Richter” Ackley, Will Neff, and Nick Lance — all of whom found their way on to the stat sheet.

Only three points in and Ironside would earn the first break as John Stubbs found a streaking Jeff Babbitt with a flick huck. A little later, Ironside would break again to go up 5-3 on a Russell Wallack backhand to Alex Simmons after Sean Keegan failed to connect with Kurt Gibson deep.

Nothing too terribly sneaky by the Boston D line. Just hard man coverage.

This season’s opportunistic defense is something that’s been lacking from past Ironside teams.

“I think our defensive presence this year is different than it has been the last couple years,” said Ironside captain Danny Clark before the game. “George [Stubbs] moving over to the D line… guys like Jeff Babbitt, John Stubbs, Mark Sherwood – all huge pickups on both sides of the disc. That has definitely helped. It makes matchups easier all the way down the line.”

Those defenders had an impact in finals. Sherwood’s handler defense was stingy. The Jeff Babbitt/Brodie Smith matchup alone was worth the price of admission. The brothers Stubbs forced Bravo’s O line defense to respect deep cuts.

Was everything falling into place for Ironside? Up two breaks early in finals would be a good place to start for a Boston team looking to claim its first title since Death or Glory’s six championship run came to an end in 1999.

Under the lights and less than 24 hours earlier, Bravo had been in a similar situation. GOAT put them to the test and they passed. Now you had to wonder if they had been tested enough.

“Those points showed our grit and that we can win ugly,” Bravo coach Bob Krier told Ultiworld during his team’s warmup. “We don’t have to have everything go our way. When things don’t go our way, when we stumble, we get right back up and the next point looks like we’ve forgotten it. A ‘shooter’s gotta shoot’ mentality that you get right back out and you’ve got to forget the past.”

“Shooter’s gotta shoot” was something you could hear being shouted on Bravo’s sideline as big throws sailed to their intended targets, making it not just a goofy catchphrase to yell at a frisbee game but an actual part of the team attitude.

And shoot Bravo did.

Big around space passes to the break side. Scoobers. Multiple blades for goals. Krier’s O line was playing loose and confident with the disc. If guys were open, they got the disc. If they weren’t, Bravo patiently kicked it around. The stage, the setting, the stakes… zero effect on the approach of Denver’s offense.

Though the offense wouldn’t be turnover free, Bravo would not be broken again.

Ironside’s first turn came at 5-4 when Nick Lance and Danny Clark traded Ds but a mile-long Brandon Malecek flick gave Boston the hold.

Bravo’s defense would get another sniff at 6-5 when they created two turns; this time they punched in their first break as Jack McShane found Stanley Peterson, improbably playing after a major ankle sprain sustained in the semifinals, on a hammer.

Tied at 7s, Bravo called a timeout and loaded the D line with Jimmy Mickle and Kurt Gibson. Jack McShane ate up an over throw. After a ton of throws and cross field movement, Lance found Gibson with a blade. Just like that Bravo is back on top, 8-7.

In the second half, a few dramatic Johnny Bravo O line holds will likely linger in the minds of Boston players for a while.

At 8-8 Bravo’s offense turned it over twice and used a timeout but Ironside gave it back both times. There were another two shots for Ironside at 9-9 who gives the disc back on two less than premium deep looks. Finally, at 11-10 and down a break Boston called a timeout to ramp up a strong D chance. A huge pull catches an edge and is muffed by Bravo. It’s checked in at the back line of the south end zone where stands full of fans and fellow Ultimate players are going bonkers.

This is Callahan country.

Denver’s handler set throws a couple around flicks, one of which is dug up an inch or so off the ground, until Kurt Gibson blasts a backhand from his own goal to Sean Keegan about 15 yards out. Keegan waits for trailing teammates and Bravo is in their end zone set. Babbitt receives a TMF for a foul on Brodie (Boston’s third). This centers the disc at the reverse brick and Johnny Bravo scores at the cone. 12-10.

A 90 yard pull. A possession-saving layout grab in their own endzone. Another dramatic hold by Bravo.

The wind in Frisco didn’t stop after that point but it was no longer in Ironside’s sails.

On the final point, Bravo worked down the field on in cuts, getting huge cushions from Boston defenders to stop the big play, until Gibson found Mickle for his fifth point of the game. Mickle threw the game winner for Colorado in the final of college Nationals, now he ads a championship winning goal to his resumé.

Bravo on top. 13-11.

Ironside continues on as a perennial bridesmaid. If Ironside couldn’t do it this year, without Revolver in the later stages of the bracket, when will they break through and capture that title? Since the team’s inception in 2008, they’ve never finished lower than third and they’ve never won. Boston has now lost in finals four times.

*

Right after Bob Krier got an ice bath from his players, he explained Bravo’s mindset being down two breaks in the first eight points.

“We believed in our team,” a soaked Krier said. “We tightened a little bit and pulled some guys from O, some of our top defenders, over to the D when we needed to get a crucial break and we ramped up the intensity on D.”

Krier and Bravo made a few important in-game adjustments on defense that paid dividends. They switched from backhand to flick when they started getting turns. They also ran some transition to get Ironside out of their pull plays.

This was a complete team effort for first time champion Denver. The defense got the breaks back after the offense’s early missteps and, just like in semis, the offense never dwelled. They finished.

“I think the offense really showed how much trust we have in one another,” Bart Watson reflected among the post game madness. “Part of offense is building that chemistry where one person makes a minor error and you’ve got six other guys out there picking him up… We’ve been doing that all year.”

Bart Watson has won college nationals, a few World titles, and has now won his fourth club championship with his third team. That’s just about everything you can do in the sport.

Yet, there the 34 year old handler was, jogging over to the tent pumping up Bravo defenders after their first break, high-fiving and clapping, “That’s how you set the tone!”

Where does this win rank in Watson’s career?

“They’re all like your children,” he said. “They’re all special and precious. With a new team it’s great to see so many guys who haven’t won before get to win. Get to see so many of the young guys who are going to be stars in this game for years build…and I think it’s probably my last open game. That makes it pretty special too.”

Being part of a Bravo team that pushed through and won its first title. Tough to think of a better way to end a hall of fame open career.

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