Toronto proved they're still the dominant team in this cross-provincial rivalry.
September 8, 2021 by Theo Wan in Recap with 0 comments
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The Toronto Rush had to bounce back from early season adversity just to get to this point, but this past Saturday they left no doubt and took out the Ottawa Outlaws 24-22. The loss was crushing for Ottawa as they had two opportunities to book their ticket to the Canada Cup final and were unable to produce when it counted.
The game was the first Outlaws home game played at TD Place and essentially functioned as the Canada Cup semifinal. Fans from both sides were present in this cross-provincial battle and it made for a cool atmosphere for all involved. Playing under the lights and in a downtown venue provided a big-game feel to this September matchup.
Coming into this matchup, the Rush were without experienced vets like Thomson McKnight, JJ Edwards, Jaret Meron, and Isaiah Masek-Kelly. The Outlaws, on the other hand, got back all of the main components that were missing in their August 28th matchup, including Nick Boucher, who had only played three games up to that point but already had 2,000 total yards of offense.
The key for both teams was starting out strong: the team who came out hot in each of their previous matchups was the one who came out victorious. Ottawa had a large bench with most of their non-rostered players providing a big sideline for the team, while Toronto, in contrast, had very few non-rostered players in attendance.
Ottawa struggled on offense in their last meeting with Toronto, and those issues continued in this semifinal game. With an overthrow from Alec Arsenault, Toronto was able to capitalize early and generate a quick break off a batted disc. The Outlaws’ throws sailed on them while Toronto was able to be efficient on their defensive line offence. Toronto did not have a single turnover in the first quarter until a last-second buzzer-beater was knocked down. Near the end of the first quarter, Alec Arsenault came down with an injury chasing down a Mike MacKenzie huck, which was a huge loss for the Outlaws and seemed to take the wind out of their sails.
Throughout the season, Ottawa has relied on its offensive line to play multiple points in a row if they get broken. This continued on Saturday as they did not shift to a more defensive line taking the field on offence. Toronto expanded its lead to 8-4 at the start of the second quarter when Ottawa failed to take advantage of two Rush turnovers. The body language from the Ottawa offensive players showed frustration as they marched back to the line down 11-6. A couple of Ottawa breaks fired up the crowd and pushed the deficit to within two points.
The final point of the second quarter was the huge turning point in this game. Ottawa started on offense down 12-9 and they gave up a turnover on a swing when Jacky Hau ran through to get the block. Toronto proceeded to call a timeout to get their offense on the field, but got stalled immediately, leaving Ottawa a short field to operate with. The Outlaws’ Dan Benvenuti tried to extend the swing pass and he landed out of bounds, gifting the Rush offense the final few seconds left in the quarter. Nate Hirst caught a tipped pass and proceeded to spin and throw a backhand huck into a pile of Toronto and Ottawa players. Phil Turner came down with it and Toronto went into the break 13-9, which was absolutely backbreaking for Ottawa who could have been down 12-10 at half if they had scored on the short field.
“We really let ourselves down in the first half, playing too loose and wasting opportunities that we’re there. It’s incredibly difficult to climb back out of a five-goal hole,” said Boucher, an Ottawa captain. “I’m proud of the comeback fight we put in the second half, but our early game errors ended up being too much to overcome.”
The third quarter came and went with breaks coming from each side. Toronto took advantage of the big game ability of Cam Harris whenever they needed a key score. Harris threw his seventh assist of the contest to an unmarked Iain MacKenzie to really deflate the Ottawa defensive line. Their inability to stop Cam’s throws was part of their undoing. His flick huck was working magic all contest and Ottawa simply had no answer.
The story of the game continued to be the ability for Toronto to string breaks together. Ottawa tried to apply pressure by getting a break here or there, but the Toronto side consistently found ways to stop Ottawa’s momentum. The trailing team got another late break to make it 24-22, but it was too little too late. The Rush walked away with the victory and a berth in the Canada Cup final.
For Ottawa, this loss has to be bitter. They had two straight opportunities to dethrone the Rush and make their way to the championship game. “It was great to be able to get to play one game in front of our fans. The turnout was awesome and we can’t thank them enough for their support,” said Boucher. “It’s a shame that we couldn’t bring home the W for them, but hopefully, we laid some building blocks for future success.”
Boucher did the best he could coming off an injury, powering Ottawa with six assists and over 600 yards of offense while Geoff Bevan finished with seven assists and three goals and 41/41 throwing. Jeremy Hill led all Ottawa scorers with four goals.
Toronto, on the other hand, celebrated their success and the magnificent game from Cam Harris. His eight-assist, two-goal, 1,049-yard performance led all scorers and he was the key to Toronto’s attack. Harris was quick to give praise to the rest of his teammates after the match: “Our cutters on offense are exceptional, and I wanted to put them in positions to make plays. Mike [Mackenzie] and Wilkie [Lewis] made some big catches, [Andrew] Carroll once again showed that he is as close to a cheat code for getting open that I’ve ever seen, and Iain [Mackenzie] filled in seamlessly onto the O-line and had some big plays. Luc [Comire] and Nate [Hirst] were able to get us all in a good spot to receive and continue with momentum downfield.”
The Rush also pulled off this spectacular run with a first-year head coach. Adrian Yearwood came into this season coaching the Rush after having played for the squad since 2013. In the victory, he reflected on the journey the Rush took to get there. “We quickly learned in pretty brutal fashion that we weren’t going to be able to rely on, as we have in previous years, on a superior system, or superior skills and fitness to carry us through no matter what. After starting on such a low note (0-3 for the first time in Rush history), it would have really easy to just pack it in and look towards next year,” said Yearwood. “But, we went to work every practice, made the necessary adjustments, and gave ourselves this chance to end the season with a bang.”
Toronto’s defense was led by Jacky Hau and Jason Lam, who had two blocks apiece. It was a full team effort from the scrappy Toronto squad as 13 of the 19 players that played in this contest got an assist or a goal.
The Canada Cup final will take place on Thursday, September 9 at 7 PM Eastern live from Montreal.