Ironside Dispatches Bravo With Stifling Defense

Ironside takes one more step towards a title.

Ironside's Tyler Chan celebrates. Photo: Paul Rutherford -- UltiPhotos.com
Ironside’s Tyler Chan celebrates. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

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The recipe for success may not be that complicated after all. When you combine talent and experience, good things happen, and Boston Ironside used both to eliminate Denver Johnny Bravo 15-11 and move on to the precipice of the team’s first ever national title.

The top seed at the tournament, Ironside has proved their bona fides all weekend long and yesterday continued to demonstrate all of the things that make their team so dangerous. After their offense dominated Sockeye in the quarterfinals, it was their defense that stole the show on Saturday night.

Ironside’s defensive heroics proved to be essential, as a hot start from Johnny Bravo put Boston in an early hole. Entering the game as the underdog, Johnny Bravo certainly didn’t act like one. They opened the game with a confident vertical attack, scoring with a chain of decisive throws that ended with Mark Rauls securing the game’s first score.

Bravo would also get the second one, as Tyler Chan couldn’t corral a pass that was thrown slightly behind him and with only a few yards to go, Bravo notched the game’s first break with a spectacular tumbling catch from Stanley Peterson. Bravo broke again a few points later after an overthrow from Tom Annen bounced off of Kurt Gibson’s hand, and Tom Tulett found Henry Konker in the endzone for his second assist, which gave Bravo a surprising 4-1 lead.

Tulett, an Australian import, had a big impact for Denver all tournament and his fiery play was key to Bravo’s early lead. “Ironside are very solid all around,” he said. “But our attitude was just, go out there, be loose, take your shots. Everything is on the line so if you go into a shell, it’s not going to end well for us.”

After rolling through much of pool play and the quarterfinals, Ironside suddenly found themselves facing their first serious deficit of the tournament. Their offense had been unshakeable all weekend long, but with a hyped up Bravo team firing on all cylinders early, another semifinal collapse for Boston was looming.

While Ironside had been so clinical against Seattle in the quarterfinals, their disciple broke down at points on Saturday night. When Bravo’s defensive looks started to frustrate their handlers, Ironside often elected to attack downfield into the teeth of a fierce Denver defense lead by Henry Konker and Stanley Peterson.

Knowing that Ironside’s vert stack was their bread and butter, Johnny Bravo’s main focus was on forcing them to take shots downfield. “You try to make teams do what they don’t want to do,” said Bravo coach Jim Schoettler. “We got six or seven turns off of Ironside, so I think we did that. We did our job.”

Bravo was more successful in forcing Ironside out of their comfort zone than virtually any other team this weekend. Fronting Ironside’s cutters, Bravo presented tempting deep space for Boston to attack while simultaneously sagging into the handler space which made those hucks trickier to execute (while also gumming up Boston’s incisive handler movement). Giving open deep shots to a team may not seem like a great choice, but compared to letting Boston’s handlers dink and dunk them to death, it might have been the only option Denver had.

The strategy seemed to be working, as Ironside’s offense started to cough up the disc. While Boston did hit on a fair amount of their hucks, they missed on enough to give Denver’s D-line opportunities.

Converting those chances was where Denver faltered however, as their D-line offense couldn’t get the job done once they got the disc, converting only 40% of their break chances on the night. Part of that can be attributed to Ironside’s intense defense off of the turn, but also to the inexperience of the Denver team. “It was basic errors from us,” said Tulett. “A couple drops, a couple miscommunications really let them off the hook.”

“The greatest teams can, in the big moments when you’re nervous, take a breathe and just execute their system. Good teams can’t always do that,” said Schoettler after that game. “We’re a good team right now.” 

After spotting Denver a 4-1 lead, Ironside took a breath, got their feet under them, and fought back.

“Mistakes happen. You don’t want them to, but they do,” said Ironside coach Josh McCarthy. “But the defense was chomping at the bit to get in and make a difference.”

A three throw hold stopped the bleeding and got the Boston defense onto the field. Eager to get those breaks back, Boston’s defense made an immediate impact. David Ferraro forced a turnover on a huck from Jimmy Mickle, then completed the bookends to bring Ironside back within one. Boston broke again the next point to tie, after a huge pull from Christian Foster forced Denver to start from the back of their own endzone, leading to a throwaway and a quick Ironside score.

Boston’s defense was on the attack all game, and getting contributions across their roster. The energy from the unit was palpable, particularly from new players like Ferraro and Jay Clark who were getting their first taste of the semifinals.

“The veterans have incredible confidence in us,” said Ferraro after the game. “When incredible players think that you can do well, it gives you supreme belief in yourself that you can go out there and get the job done.”

Clark would have perhaps the biggest point of the game. After Ironside’s defense claimed a 6-5 lead for Boston, Clark broke the game open. Showcasing incredible athleticism and instincts, he leapt to hand block a Jimmy Mickle scoober and then later in the point viciously skied both Stanley Peterson and Henry Konker as Ironside broke to increase their lead to 7-5. Bravo were playing their offense the way they wanted to — taking aggressive shots to their athletes in space — but Ironside’s defense was just making better plays and winning the battle in the air and on the ground.

Throughout the second half, Bravo were able to stay within touching distance of Ironside largely thanks to the heroics of Jimmy Mickle and Ben Lohre. The assist and goal leaders, respectively, of the teams that advanced from pool play, Mickle and Lohre were at the core of most of Bravo’s success all tournament. Lohre was the chief downfield target for Bravo all game, totaling four goals in the semifinals, each more spectacular than the last.

But while Mickle and Lohre’s offense kept Bravo in the game with their combined five goals and five assists, the Denver defense couldn’t put enough pressure on Ironside’s offense to put the end result in serious doubt. Josh Markette and Kurt Gibson continued to act as the engine room operators for Boston, matching Mickle and Lohre’s assist total with five of their own. It wasn’t the same bravura performance that Ironside showcased in the quarterfinals, but it was good enough on a night when Boston’s defense was playing so well.

Boston held out of half to take a 9-6 lead and the two teams traded holds to 13-10 until Ironside was finally able to put some serious distance between them and their opponents. After Mark Rauls bobbled a disc in the endzone while trying to keep his feet inbounds, Christian Foster walked the disc to the front cone and launched a full field flick huck to a wide open Jay Clark who Bravo lost track of in transition.

Needing to score five straight goals to keep their season alive, Bravo put forth a valient effort on their last O-point, punctuated by an incredible trust throw from Mickle to Lohre that sliced through the Ironside defense and hung perfectly in the back of the endzone for Mickle’s favorite target to run down.

While that impressive connection was a good note for Bravo to go out on, Gibson demonstrated why Ironside’s season was not ending on Saturday night as he busted deep from the handler set and skied a pile of Denver defenders on a flick from John Stubbs to seal the win for Boston. What was pitched as a clash between perhaps the two best players in the world was ended definitely by one of them, as Gibson now has a chance to add to his legacy with another championship tomorrow against Revolver.

As convenient as the narrative may be, painting this result as merely “Gibson beats Mickle” would ignore the team defensive effort that propelled Ironside to a victory, as well as the grit and intelligence of the Boston offense that didn’t allow a single break in the second half. It wasn’t a perfect game from Ironside, but everyone on the roster did enough to get the job done.

While Johnny Bravo are left to assess the positives and negatives of their season as they turn their eye towards 2017, Ironside now have only one last thing to focus on: the Revolver team that stands in the way of their first ever national title. We’ll see tomorrow afternoon if this Boston team has what it takes to get the job done, one last time.

  1. Patrick Stegemoeller
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    Patrick Stegemoeller is a Senior Staff Writer for Ultiworld, co-host of the Sin The Fields podcast, and also a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn.

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