Friday, March 17, 2017
Centex - Colorado State
Colorado State came into Centex ranked 12th in the USAU rankings. We were excited to play against some other top teams on what we knew would be sublime fields.
We packed up, anticipating heavy rain, and drove the 15 hours to Texas. We stayed just north of Austin in Georgetown, avoiding some of the South by Southwest prices and traffic.
The initial schedule had us slated to start the day with two games against the defending national champs (Minnesota) and the national runner-up (Harvard). We were ready to play the best.
Game 1 vs Harvard
Harvard had supposedly lost a large portion of their nationals core from the previous season, but they still had superstar, John Stubbs. We felt confident in our ability to match-up against Stubbs with our own lock-down defender, Cody Spicer. We hoped that our depth behind Spicer would be able to secure the win. Teams with a specific standout, high usage player tend to be our bread and butter since we have someone who can take any match-up.
It was drizzling by game time, but since we played the weekend out on brand new turf, the field surface was never an issue. The rain intensity increased throughout the day.
We started the game out with a young line: athletic freshmen who I knew were chomping at the bit to prove they could play with the big programs. They didn't disappoint as freshman Dylan "Slendy" Custer secured a nice layout block that we punched in for a quick break to go up 1-0.
Harvard held and on the next point we dropped a pull to give them the break back. We broke again to make it 4-3; they were struggling against our force-middle. They decided on a new tactic: they isolated three handlers shallow and sat their stack 40 yards deep of those three. They threw ~20 passes without gaining much before finally getting around the mark for a big huck and score.
They broke twice more, as our offense struggled to find a rhythm and we found ourselves down 5-7. We steadied the ship and were able to get one of the breaks back before they took half 7-8.
The second half we clamped down defensively. We only allowed one more score: Stubbs making an amazing trailing edge catch after Slendy tipped the deep shot to him - finishing the game on a 4-1 run and securing the 11-9 win.
The Spicer/Stubbs matchup was the story of the game. Stubbs certainly lived up to the hype, but Spicer contested him on every cut, specifically making him work on his backfield resets, shutting down several that lead to turns for us. The pundits said it best:
Game 2 vs Minnesota
We had a bye before the Minnesota game and we took the opportunity to cheer on our B-team as they took on Texas A&M B.
We were excited to play Minnesota. We played them twice in the 2016 season, knew what they liked to do, and were confident our defense could contest some of their better looks. Nobody shuts down Ben Jagt, but we also knew Spicer would do fine with the match-up.
We started on O, punching in the first score, then had a marathon D point, where we forced 3+ turns as they struggled to find space against our force middle. Despite the defensive effectiveness, we couldn't complete the breaks. They finally scored the point after a time out and traded subsequent points to make it 3-3.
They secured the first break of the game to make it 3-4, then a couple points later broke again to make it 5-7. We punched in our O and Spicer D'd Jagt on the next D point, but they got a layout block to get it back and took half 6-8.
Out of half they held to 6-9 then broke us again to make it 6-10; the game felt like it was slipping away. We could force turns on their O but were struggling to complete the breaks. We held to 7-11, then finally found some D-line offense as we rattled off three straight points to make it 10-11. Unfortunately, it was too little too late as cap sounded and we went through the ignominious routine of scoring the final point, but losing the game.
Despite the loss, the guys were happy that we had finished strong. Defensively, we held our own and offensively we knew what we needed to improve - cleaning up our decision making.
Game 3 vs Illinois
The rain really began coming down at this point with the wind kicking up just a bit to make the conditions slightly more challenging than in our previous two games.
Both us and Illinois played a surprisingly clean first half. We broke once, but they returned the favor to finish half on serve 8-7. This was the first team we'd played that ran a horizontal offense and we struggled to generate appropriate pressure with our downfield positioning. They also seemed the most comfortable against our FM look, which again was surprising as I originally developed it to challenge horizontal based offenses like split and spread back in 2007. They even played FM against us one point (a mistake, we practice against it all the time). I'll have to check in with one of our alum who coached at Illinois and see what the deal is with their preparedness... KIDDING!
In the second half we traded to 10-9, but it felt like our defense was generating more pressure than the first half. We finally secured another break to make it 11-9, but immediately gave it back to tie the game up at 11-11. We scored the final point as cap sounded, finishing with a 12-11 win.
I have to give them props, whether or not it was just the nature of how they teach their horizontal offense or that they studied up for the game, they were one of only two teams all weekend that didn't need an adjustment period (A&M being the other) to account for our atypical base defense.
Game 4 vs Texas A&M
Despite being a fellow South Central team, we hadn't played A&M since a 13-15 loss at 2013 regionals. I was excited for the game as A&M tends to play a fearless, athletic game, which usually plays in our favor given the limited deep spacing we allow with our base defense.
However, A&M came ready to play and we did not. We had another bye after Illinois and this game started at 4:45pm. We had been at the fields, in the rain, for 10 hours when the game began. On the very first pull, we signaled readiness, then the disc slipped out of our puller's hands, giving them the disc on the goal line. This pretty much summed up how the game went. The rain was pouring, we had multiple turnovers from hard fakes that slipped out of our throwers' hands, and we just didn't put a reasonable amount of energy onto the field. A&M, to their credit, was super energized and pounced on our miscues aggressively. We fell behind 0-4 before we knew what had happened and despite a time out to regroup; we just couldn't recover.
The conditions were no excuse; they were the same for both teams. A&M was ready to finish their day strong and we were not. There isn't much more to say than that. They cruised to an uncontested 15-6 win. I won't say that we're the better team by any stretch, but we're certainly better than that score.
We huddled up and discussed, as a team, what we can do in the future to better prepare for late afternoon games and challenging conditions. I got some good feedback from the guys on why they felt flat and we tweaked our Sunday warm-ups to account for some of those factors.
Props to A&M for a very solid weekend. They may have lost in pre-quarters but they put together very strong games against good teams and their point differential should be enough to secure, at the very least, a second nationals bid for the SC; perhaps even a third.
Game 5 (pre-quarters) vs Arkansas
Between daylight savings and the 12 hour Saturday we were a little sluggish getting to the fields, but still managed to be the first team warming up. The big story from Saturday night was our main man, Spicer, getting food poisoning. He spent the whole night sick and likely wasn't going to be able to play Sunday.
There wasn't any rain but rather a pretty distinct wind that was cutting across the fields, making the games significantly upwind/downwind. We knew Arkansas had a standout player, Kaplan Maurer, and the game plan had been for Spicer to take the match-up. With Spicer sidelined, we rotated a combination of different defenders onto him that would contest his play in different ways: length, quickness and speed - but the task largely fell to second year player and Austin native, Hudson Martin.
Due to the nature of the wind we also changed our O/D structure. Our D line played downwind offense and our O and secondary D played the upwind points.
They got the first upwind break of the game after a drop on a swing pass but we broke back quickly to make it 3-3. Our youngest line, the "BGs", promptly broke again upwind to make it 4-3. We traded upwinders to 5-4 then the young guys broke again to make it 6-4. We traded out to 8-6, the final point on a beautiful, pinpoint huck from freshman Mo Scott to freshman Will Mcdonald. Both Will and Mo are huge, core players for us: #allfreshmenlocks
Kaplan did everything he could including some big over the top throws against our zone, but in the end our depth proved too much for Arkansas. Even without our top player we were able to break twice more in the second half and secure the 13-9 win and quarterfinal match-up against UMass.
Game 6 (quarters) vs UMass
We were stoked for another fun game against elite competition. I don't know UMass well, but I like their approach to the game. I come from the school of scheme, disruption and smart play and it seems as though they do the same. I expected several different zone looks from them defensively, including their infamous 1-3-3.
We punched in our first O against their zone. It wasn't the expected 1-3-3 but rather what looked to be a 3-3-1 with additional defenders having the freedom to stay shallow and even enter the cup at times. We're a pretty solid team vs zone as we practice against non-person defense quite a bit ourselves and this look didn't give us that much trouble.
We traded to 2s, forcing a few turns but being unable to complete the breaks against their very athletic O-line. We dropped a wide-open deep on the our next O point and they worked down the field for the break and the 2-3 lead.
They would get layout blocks on both of our ensuing O points to secure two more breaks, jumping ahead 2-5. We punched in the next O then broke to make it 4-5. From there we traded out to half 6-8. They threw one point of 1-3-3 but beyond that seemed pretty committed to person defense and their 3-3-1.
In the second half we traded to 9-11 before fifth year, Jordan Trepp, got a catch block and we worked up to the upwind end zone and took a timeout. They set a cup on the disc and after three lateral passes got a hand-block and quickly punched in the down-winder. It was a pretty big disappointment as this was the golden opportunity to bring it back to within one and potentially double up the break with Umass having to score offensively, upwind.
Both teams would secure one more break before the game's end but we wouldn't get within striking distance again and finished the game with a 12-15 loss.
Just based on the buzz around what we'd heard about the team, we were keying our top defenders on Tannor Johnson, but by far the MVP of the game for them was their shorter, lefty handler, Ben Sadok, I believe. He broke the mark at will. They weren't short, easy to contain breaks. They were huge, field chunking breaks. He single-handedly destroyed our FM. I had planned on Spicer matching up on Johnson, but had he been available we would have quickly shifted him over to Sadok. I was extremely impressed with his skill-set.
Game 7 (semis of 5th) vs JBU
John Brown may be a DIII school but I was mightily impressed with their performance. Their top 2-3 guys were excellent players, and while we certainly had depth significantly in our favor we didn't match-up well against #14 (Ethan Penner?) and #15; both extremely talented.
The first half stayed on serve as we found space against their zone and they beat our FM with nice high-release passes. We rotated heavily through our younger core and I felt confident that our fresh legs would start to win out in the second half.
This indeed was the case as we broke several times in the second half, culminating in a 14-10 lead. We put our 'future' line (7 first year players) out to try and win it for us on D. JBU put up a trailing huck to the endzone with big man Mason Kiefer in good position to get a block. The JBU receiver, with Mason tight on his back, jumped from in-bounds and flipped the disc back for a pretty impressive greatest score. They fed off that energy and broke us twice more before we finally put the game away 15-13.
I think this squad was our favorite opponent of the weekend: a very spirited, hard working crew. Between Air Force, Colorado College and JBU, the south central looks like a DIII powerhouse.
Game 8 (for 5th) vs Harvard
We finished our weekend the way we started: with a game against Harvard. I was concerned initially, knowing we didn't have the match-up for Stubbs with Spicer out, but that proved to be a non-factor. Harvard played admirably but didn't have enough left in the tank to run with our young crew.
We had rotated pretty liberally through our 26 person roster on the weekend and this game was affirmation of our depth. We largely ran our youngest guys through this game and they didn't disappoint. After a tight early game and a 3-4 deficit, we broke through and would finish the game on a 12-3 run and 15-7 final.
Stubbs still did some Stubbs things (a couple of crazy 40+ yard hammers), but his supporting cast couldn't keep up and around 10-5 he took his cleats off. Huge props to our young guys finishing the weekend strong and a shout out to old man Jordan Trepp (Dr. Flick) for one of the cleanest layout Ds I've seen in five years of coaching him.
With the exception of the A&M game, we were very happy with our weekend and very happy with our Sunday performance. The team showed a great deal of maturity adjusting to Sunday games without a guy who is so integral to our O and D in Spicer. Younger guys like Hudson Martin and Mo Scott really got to showcase what they're going to bring to the team for years to come.
Great job, Hib!
All Tournament Team (from just the teams we played)
Cody Spicer (CSU)
John Stubbs (Harvard)
Kaplan Maurer (Arkansas)
Ben Jagt (Minnesota)
Ben Sadok (UMass)
Tannor Johnson (UMass)
Ethan Penner (JBU)