A deeper look at Northeast Regionals, where Ironside and GOAT are headed, and what to make of the rest of the competitors.
September 21, 2015 by Patrick Stegemoeller in News, Recap with 1 comments
Arguably the deepest region in the Men’s division, the Northeast has a mix of traditional powerhouses, programs on the rise, national title contenders, and new kids on the block every year that always makes the weekend in Devens a spectacle. This season, with only two bids to go around, more teams than usual had to head home empty-handed. Even for teams like GOAT and Ironside that often comfortably summit Mt. Devens, losing the third bid removed the margin for error, and forced every team there to play at the top of their game.
Ironside and GOAT were able to lock up the two tickets to Frisco, but the story from last weekend doesn’t end there. Here are some of the things we learned at regionals.
Ironside Stay Ironside
Boston’s personnel turnover was all the buzz this offseason, but it has been smooth sailing thus far in 2015 for Ironside, as they once again claim the Northeast crown. All weekend, Boston’s offense looked borderline unstoppable, as teams just didn’t have an answer for the industrious cutting of Tyler Chan, Jake Taylor, and Will Neff. Josh Markette and Tom Annen have developed a real rapport in the backfield over the course of the season, and with those two veteran handlers in the engine room, the Ironside offense hums along just well as it has over the course of the team’s incredible run of success.
2015 Ironside might not have the same level of pure firepower as its more star-studded predecessor, but there is definitely a lot of polish on this team. Danny Clark was hobbled this weekend and not a factor in the game against GOAT, which definitely affected Boston’s ability to stretch the field, but Ironside still played an almost perfect second half on offense to close out the game and clinch the regional title.
The defense for Boston was a bit of a different story. The personnel departures from last season are having a bigger impact on this side of the disc, at least stylistically if not in terms of effectiveness. Ironside simply doesn’t have the same game changing athletes on its D-line this year without the likes of George Stubbs and Jeff Babbitt. Without those assets, the defense is not generating turnovers at the same levels it did in previous years, but removing those big names may have — perhaps surprisingly — helped the offensive efficiency after turnovers.
In previous years, Ironside’s D-line had some trouble punching in breaks, often relying on one or two players on the line to make a big play after the turnover. This season, Boston’s D-line offense has put forth a more balanced approach, varying their personnel and even departing from some of the hard line vert stack tactics that the team is famous for employing. The potency of this new approach was highlighted when the Boston D-line confidently moved the disc as they broke twice in a row to win the game and the region over GOAT.
It’s hard to imagine we might be asking this question now, after all of the rumors of Ironside’s demise: Is this the year Ironside finally wins a national title? It’s too early to tell, but they showed this weekend that you won’t be able to count them out.
Old GOAT, New Tricks?
Despite coming in to the weekend without a strength bid for the first time in years, GOAT qualified for Nationals with relative ease. Other than a loss to Ironside in the finals, no team came within five points of Toronto on the weekend, as the veteran heavy squad looks to be rounding (back) into form just in time for Nationals.
While last year’s GOAT team was identified by an aggressive offense that exploited their leading man Mark Lloyd’s otherworldly talents, Toronto’s team this season appears to be a touch more well-rounded. Unable to rely on Lloyd to create instant offense, the GOAT O-line found a good balance in Devens of spreading the wealth out among a number of dangerous cutters. Johnathan Martin’s return from injury certainly helped, but in general Toronto is deploying a much more balanced attack than last season.
Derek Alexander and Thomson McKnight are still relied upon to kick start the offense with their handler movement and wide range of break throws, and both did an excellent job of opening up the playbook at Regionals. GOAT was comfortable attacking all corners of the pitch, and the flurry of impressive offense seen in the beginning of the second half of their showdown with Ironside demonstrated their potential to hurt you anywhere on the field.
In addition to a re-tooled offense, the D-line for GOAT seems to have taken a step forward this year. While last season’s defense had no trouble converting break chances, they weren’t forcing turnovers at an elite rate. If their performance this weekend is any indication, that could change this time around in Frisco.
GOAT’s handler defense was absolutely smothering all weekend long. In both of their games against PoNY, the handler covers ramped up the pressure as the contests wore on and eventually squeezed the life out of New York’s resets. Against Ironside, Toronto did about as good a job as anyone all year at containing the Markette/Annen backfield, and made it very difficult for the front of the Boston vert stack to get open on either side of the mark.
This handler pressure lead to a number of “coverage sacks” on the weekend, forcing Toronto’s opponents to put contested deep balls into space, most of which Remy Ojo and the rest of GOAT’s cutter defenders gleefully gobbled up. Conversion remained a strong suit for the team after the turnover, and the defense kept GOAT in the Ironside game even as the offensive line struggled with miscues and a lack of consistency.
Without Lloyd, the ceiling may not be quite as high for GOAT as it was a year ago, but the overall steps forward taken by the team as whole should put the squad right back in the conversation for semifinals.
PoNY Still In Progress
It was a disheartening weekend for the New York squad, which was unable to build off of a terrific semifinals finish at Colorado Cup and will find themselves watching Nationals from home for the first time since 2011.
The problems for PoNY at Regionals primarily stemmed from an offense that could never quite get into sync. Part of PoNY’s goal this year was to have players that could perform just as well on an offensive or defensive line, but perhaps jostling personnel from one line to the other in the later stages of the season prevented some members of the team from finding a consistent flow.
In their games against GOAT, PoNY had significant problems connecting their handler movement to the action of their cutters downfield. The more fluid handling duo of Chris Kocher and Michael Brenner was able to move the disc laterally and keep resets alive against the fierce Toronto defense, but they had trouble getting the disc into the hands of cutters downfield, forcing the offense to work very hard for slow, grinding progress. This seemed to really tire out several of the PoNY starters and opened the offense up to some unforced errors.
The bigger throwing handlers at New York’s disposal, Chris Mazur and Ben Van Heuvelen, had some success bombing it downfield but often found themselves stifled by handler covers. On several occasions, lack of movement forced them into attempting increasingly improbable throws, which is not sustainable against a team like Toronto.
Even in their non-Toronto games against Phoenix and Big Wrench, PoNY’s stuttering offense opened themselves up to break chances, and it necessitated hard defense off of the turn to keep those games from slipping into upsets. Over the course of a weekend, those extra reps take their toll, and by the end of the GOAT game on Sunday, PoNY’s players were visibly worn down, much more so than their Canadian counterparts.
PoNY showed this year with victories over the likes of Doublewide, Ring of Fire, and High Five that they are more than capable of competing at an elite level, and it should be noted that their best player Jack Marsh was severely hampered by a hamstring injury this weekend, rendering him essentially a non-factor in the games against GOAT. But with only two bids out of the region, they needed to play their best to advance; they couldn’t muster it when it mattered most.
Good Showing for Phoenix, Disappointment For Dark Or Light & Garuda
It was banner weekend for the Canadian contingent at Northeast regionals, with GOAT swiping the second bid from PoNY and Ottawa Phoenix shooting up the leaderboard to take 4th place after coming in seeded 10th.
Perhaps benefitting from a season in which most of the team playing together with the Ottawa Outlaws of the AUDL, Phoenix looked the best they have in years. Kicking off the weekend with a resounding 15-7 win over Big Wrench was a statement, and they followed it up by securing a spot in the Select Flight with wins over Youngbloods and Dark or Light. The deep ball was on point for Phoenix, as their big physical cutters were able to punish their defenders in the air all weekend.
The Dark or Light game, in particular, showed the Ottawa team’s grit, as they were able to win a number of long, turnover-filled points, and appeared to just want to win more than their opponents.
After picking up Russell Wallack, Jeff Babbitt, Spencer Diamond, and several other key contributors, Amherst Dark or Light had some serious buzz heading into the 2015 season. The excitement fizzled out in Devens, as the Amherst team dropped seed to finish 6th, barely qualifying for the Select Flight. With only two bids to Nationals, advancing out of the region seemed like a long shot, but heading into the weekend, most onlookers would have likely pegged them to put forth a better performance.
Against Ironside on Saturday, their defense just couldn’t slow down the methodical Boston offense. Despite the usual buffet of jaw dropping plays from Babbitt (Yikes. YIKES!), DoL looked rough around the edges, and a composed Ironside ensured that Wallack and Babbitt would not pull off the big upset over their former teammates.
Dark or Light was able to notch a big win over Boston Garuda in the second round on Saturday, the start of what became a bit of a nightmare weekend for the Boston squad. After getting all the way to the game-to-go to nationals the past two seasons, Garuda sputtered to 7th place in 2015, landing them outside of the Select Flight for next season.
Physical and mental errors plagued them all weekend, and losses to Dark or Light and Big Wrench denied Garuda the chance to avenge their game-to-go defeats from the past two years. Part of Garuda’s struggles could be attributed to some trickle down from the Ironside roster moves, as several key players from last year’s Garuda team made the jump up this season to the city’ A-team.
2015 was a chaotic year in the Northeast, with roster changes and injuries threatening to destabilize what had been a fairly consistent region over the past few years. And yet, when the dust settled at the end of the day on Sunday in Devens, Ironside and GOAT were still on top of the region, leaving everyone else to play catchup in the wake of these two iconic programs.