Philadelphia Hawks Make an Impact in Sarasota
Coming off a banner year where they took home the Division III Championship, and coming off an Eastern Regional Tournament win, the Philadelphia Hawks took a big step up in Sarasota – and came up just short of a follow-up cup!
The weekend started off with a bang, as the Hawks were the opening match on Field 4 at the Premier Sports Campus against the Houston Lonestars. Bolstered by the additions of Tampa Bay midfielders Dustin Jones and Kyle Roun, as well as big man Adham Makki, the Hawks took off running. While big men Brian Simkus and Chris Gough faced a tough battle for the tap against the athletic Chance Mire, the midfield hit the contest hard, taking clearance after clearance from in front of the Lonestars.
John Hinchen made the most of his day, starting with a soccer-style goal assist to Roun, then landing a long goal later in the match that bounced through ahead of the Lonestars’ defenders. Making an impact in his first USAFL Nationals, Rohan Crawley spent plenty of time harassing Houston ball carriers, regularly pulling down guys twice his size and generally frustrating their ball movement. With his pressure forcing Lonestar defenders to rush kicks, the Hawks midfielders were able to snag plenty of intercepts.
This kept pressure off the back line, and allowed many of the defenders to play up into the center square, with the rare Lonestar push coming from wins in the ruck battle. On the wings, Jay Sacci and Damo Holland regularly cut off movement, slowing down the pressure and taking it back the other way. While the Hawks were a little wayward with their kicks for goal, being able to take three shots for every one the Lonestars had a chance at meant the Hawks had no worries.
At the end of the day, the Hawks kicked 5.6 for 36 points, while the Lonestars only managed 2.2 for 14 points, to get the weekend off to a solid start.
The second match of the day would prove to be the hardest match the Hawks would face – and the closest match in Division II all weekend. The San Diego Lions, travelling heavy and coming off a season where they went 7-0 against the D-I Los Angeles Dragons (including a dominating 111-point win in the regular season finals) were by and large the favorites to win Division II.
The Lions came out guns blazing, capitalizing on some defensive miscues in the Hawks end while setting a defense that pushed the Hawks out to the wings. Smart movement meant the Lions generally had numbers in every contest, with the lone Hawks’ goal in the first half coming off a snappy handball chain from Des Cairns to Sacci to Gough, who nailed it from the 50-meter arc. The Lions continued to stifle the Hawks inside, pushing engine-room regulars Mark Canatelli and Holland out to the boundaries. At half-time, the Lions seemed to be in control, with 4 goals against the single goal for the Hawks.
With a rousing talk from Coach Jon Loring, the Hawks came out firing from the break. Pressure from Sacci and Ryan Henry off the ball-up started forced the turnover, and Canatelli gathered it up to kick forward to a waiting Gough. Slotting the kick through, the Hawks were out with a bang. What followed was one of the most exhilarating halves of football on the weekend, as constant pressure through the middle of the ground by the Hawks kept chalking up scores, quickly drawing even at four straight apiece. The back-and-forth continued, with a fifth Lions goal quickly answered by the Hawks once again, to knot the score at 30 all.
Unfortunately, the push to catch up soon became evident, as the Lions began to get the upper hand. After kicking through a sixth goal, the Lions managed to pin the ball deep through successive behinds, forcing Philly to chase down the ball and bring it back in, chewing time off the clock. San Diego drew a line in the sand, not allowing movement through the corridor, and locked the ball in the Hawks’ zone to hold on to the 6.2.38 to 5.0.30 final margin.
After a night of rest and recovery, the Hawks returned to the fields, to the unfortunate news that the Lions had handily disposed of the Lonestars by 38 points to lock up the conference birth for the Division II Final. The morning’s match would be mainly for pride, although the Nashville Kangaroos would be looking to avoid the D-II wooden spoon. However, the Hawks would start out the day without Canatelli, who was out with shoulder troubles. The count started moving upwards quickly too, as only minutes into the match against the Nashville Kangaroos, Holland would head to the med tent with dislocated fingers.
Without a final berth on the line, the contest was still full of fire, with tempers flaring throughout the match. In contrast to the Lions match the night before, this had a bit more in it. A back-and-forth first half saw neither team gain an upper hand – continued solid ruck work from Simkus and midfield coverage from the Hinchen brothers saw the Hawks getting advantages from stoppages, but unfortunately their extra movements to the forward line only netted a few extra behinds.
Coming out for the second half, it was clear the Kangaroos were on tired legs, as the Hawks quickly took control of the ball around the contest, and quickly opened up lead, moving out from a two-point advantage to a nine-point lead in the first few minutes of the half. There was no looking back from there, as the Hawks kept pressure around the ball, with Dan Greenberg and Tristan Webster both putting in some front pocket work before Greenberg finally scrambling one through with some help from Crawley and Chris Casey shepherds.
With the likes of Dean Kakouras running on young legs through the middle, and Loring and Henry harassing Roos players in the defending half, the Hawks kept Nashville to minimal scoreboard impact, allowing only a single goal from only a half-dozen or so pushes into the forward 50 in the second half. By the end of the game, the Hawks had walked away to a comfortable lead, finishing up with 6.5.41 to far outpace Nashville’s 3.2.20.
Overall, anyone not following USAFL last year would be hard-pressed to identify them as a team that moved up. Holding the eventual champions to their tightest margin of the tournament, while handily disposing of a Houston team that has been a D-II mainstay for years, you could argue that the Hawks had the best showing of any team that didn’t reach the finals, in any division. Two authoritative wins and a close loss, clean play, and a solid defense all stood out. Even with key parts of 2018’s D-III champs sidelined from injury, the Hawks rose as a group, and showed that there is plenty more to come.