First place was on the line at Hotchkiss Field on Sunday afternoon. Both teams knew it. Everyone in the stadium knew it. It just didn’t look like it.
From the opening pull, the DC Breeze unleashed a dominating onslaught against the tired Toronto Rush. The first three points of the contest quickly went to the Breeze. A hold by the offense and back-to-back breaks pushed them out to the three goal lead. Never looking back, or relenting the lead, DC would relatively cruise the rest of the game for a 25-17 win.
This result leaves both teams tied atop the AUDL East standings, but gives the DC Breeze (7-3) a 2-1 series advantage over Toronto. This is especially important given that head-to-head results are the first tiebreaker should the teams finish tied at the end of the regular season.
This win was once again a total team effort. All but one player on the active 20-man roster either scored or threw an assist. The lone man missing from the scoresheet was David Shields, whose presence was felt on 11 D-line and two O-line points with perfect passing and catching marks. The offense cruised to an 84 percent conversion rate, while the defensive unit melted a tired Rush squad in the DC heat on the second day of their back-to-back weekend.
The O-line seemed unbeatable in the second half, and they were. D.C. was not broken during the final 36 minutes of the game. The only time the offensive unit failed to score in that span was when the third quarter clock ran out on them. In all, the offensive unit registered a perfect 13/13 holds during the final three quarters.
Joe Freund had the first breakout game of his AUDL career. Playing exclusively with the top offensive unit, the newly signed 6’4″ cutter reeled in a team-high four goals and also had a block. This was Freund’s first contest against the Rush, and it appeared Toronto did not know how to cover him.
“It was actually kind of weird,” Freund said. “Early on, they were playing pretty even and forcing me out. After a time, I got two outs and they started backing us all, so that really helped a lot with the unders. I think it’s strange they didn’t do anything to shut it down and that hurt them a lot today.”
Half of the Virginia Tech player’s goals were thrown by Tyler Monroe (one goal, four assists). The two most recent contests against Toronto have left Monroe out of the end zone, but he still remains a constant threat for the Breeze with his impact felt everywhere.
Coming off of a grueling game against the Philadelphia Phoenix less than 18 hours beforehand, the Toronto Rush looked overwhelmed. Being the hottest game time temperature (95 degrees) the visitors had played in all season, it was an uphill climb even before the coin toss.
Making matters worse, the O-line barely got rest. Toronto’s defense only generated one break and it was to end the first quarter. The two top handlers for Toronto had trouble getting any momentum. A junk zone defense resembling a larger, but poaching, three man cup forced Thomson McKnight and Connor Armstrong into 86 combined throws. Downfield cutters rarely touched the disc.
“The D-line this year has a mentality of heads up,” head coach Darryl Stanley said. “The point is to kind-of look around and see what the next threat is and be able to be in a position to help.”
It was rare to see the Rush players cutting with full purpose Sunday, as D.C.’s defender’s ate them up. Isaiah Masek-Kelly did manage to work himself into the fray with two goals and five assists. Cameron Harris (two goals, four assists) and Jeffrey Woo (four goals) also came through multiple times, but no one else was very active getting the disc. Countless injury timeouts were called for Toronto due to cramps and tweaks.
DC’s defense put the nail in the coffin during the third quarter. The Breeze outscored Toronto 8-3 in the period with five breaks and a clean sheet for the O-line. Helping significantly along the way was defensive handler David Bloodgood, who had a team-high four blocks. Terrific play from the defense allowed the entire roster to be utilized. Alan Kolick (one goal, five assists, one block) led the team in assists and also found himself on a few defensive points, as did several other O-line regulars.
“They were missing [Andrew] Carroll, one their top two cutters, and Mark Lloyd,” said Kolick. “Once we made those first handler looks difficult for them, then they started forcing it downfield. Guys like Rowan [McDonnell] get all of those Ds.”
The offensive unit finally, fully came together for the first time all season. The addition of newcomer Freund and rookie Nathan Prior to the first team offense were huge additions as they joined veterans Kolick, Jeff Wodatch and Jonathan Neeley for an all-around stellar performance.
Now the Breeze sit at the top of the AUDL East Divison, tied with the Rush. Thanks to the tiebreaker advantage, DC controls their own fate. If they were to win out, the No. 1 seed in the East and home-field advantage for the Division Final would be theirs.
Next week the Breeze travel up to Canada for a doubleheader road trip north of the border. Two wins, at the Montreal Royal (6-4) and at the Ottawa Outlaws (2-5), would clinch a playoff berth for the Breeze.
“I don’t think anybody is [looking ahead to the playoffs],” Stanley said. “While some guys may be comfortable that we will be in the playoffs, I don’t think anyone is comfortable with our last four games.”