11/18/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/19/2019 00:05
At the beginning of this decade, it seemed neigh impossible that anyone would reach the heights that the Denver Bulldogs had during the last one.
Between 2000 and 2011, the Doggies had been to ten D1 Men's Grand Finals and won eight. They were the team of the USAFL's first decade, and the gold standard in the league's formative years.
But over the past eight seasons, Denver had faded into the background among the also-rans, and a new dynasty emerged. This one, wearing blue, gold, and red, has taken over the flagship mantle on the men's side. With four wins already in six seasons, the Austin Crows have been the best team of the USAFL's second calendar decade.
And so it was fitting that those two teams would duke it out in Lakewood Ranch for the last Men's D1 Grand Final of the 2010's, in front of a National TV audience. And though the Bulldogs had history and experience on their side, Austin had more of it.
The Crows parried away early Denver threats and stomped home to a resounding 51-10 win on Sunday, October 13, to win their fifth John Harrell Cup in seven seasons, and remain unbeaten in D1 Men's Grand Final matches.
Stefan Barr's Crows had a relatively straight forward run through pool play. Wins over Seattle and Quebec on Tuesday were followed up with a 51-point rout of Los Angeles on Sunday morning to punch their ticket. The highlight of the weekend was the first ever match between the Cox brothers, as Austin (the human) and Seattle fell to Nolan and Austin (the team). The score then belied a plucky effort all weekend from the Grizzlies in their return from a five year Men's Divvy 1 absence.
Denver's road to the final was a bit more challenging. An 11-point decision over New York and a 21-point win over last year's D2 champion Minnesota set up a virtual semifinal with much fancied Golden Gate on Sunday morning. But it was the Rocky Mountain boys who prevailed 27-17 in the showdown, ending the Roos' run of three straight Men's D1 Grand Final. The win put the Doggies into their first D1 championship decider in eight seasons.
The wind was swirling as umpire Derek Govier, the pride of Toronto, tossed the opening ball up to the heavens. And the Bulldogs mushed forward and chiseled out the first two points of the match after winning some hard ground balls. If Denver was going to have any chance of pulling off a Ric Flair special, this is what they needed to do while they had the breeze.
But Austin can beat you if you let them string kicks together, and they did just that. Kenrick Tyrell doing what he always does, getting away from his defenders to take a mark, which he converted for the game's first major score on their first trip inside the 50 meter arc. The Crows can also beat you if you make mistakes; two minutes after goal number one, a free kick down field allowed Stefan Barr to find Dylan Barr to find the game's second.
After that shock to the system, Alex Mayberry and the Denver defense stood tall to stem the prods forward by the tricolors. The Bulldogs played desperation football in order to triage the bleeding. On the offensive side, they were inefficient as they kicked four behinds from four scoring shots in the first half. By contrast, an interception from Grant Campbell led to a strong goal-square mark from Tyrell who booted home his second and the game's third. A Denver answer came from Lachie Fleet, who had been snake-bit on his first two shot, was true on his third to bring the margin back to nine points at the halftime hooter. With the 'Doggies down 19-10, they faced a tough, but possible task in overcoming the Crows and a two-goal breeze in the final twenty minutes.
A frantic and sloppy several minutes punctuated the opening of the final stanza, as both teams sprayed handballs and kicks like a garden hose in the backyard. Dan Brown's midfield play helped clarify the confusion as he racked up meaningful possessions for the Texans. Pressure and Denver unforced Bulldog errors led to the half's first major, a Ben May free kick from 55 meters out that cut through the gulf winds and between the big sticks.
Both teams had periods of play where they had effective passes, but Austin's possessions were more efficient. Nolan Cox's goal midway through the second half was a dagger, and another one a few minutes later practically sealed Denver's fate. With Cox taking marks, Tyrell and Pete Petinari and all world forward Ben Carpenter-Nwanyanwu slotting home highlight reel caliber goals, Austin's fifth title was secure. The Doggies never gave up and never relented, but 32-unanswered second stanza points was too much to overcome. Austin 51, Denver 10.
'I was so proud of our players, to enter the weekend with the 'favorite' badge brings pressure on the entire club to meet those expectations. Each player stepped up and shared the load,' Barr told USAFL.com.
'I was really proud of the development of this group over the last two seasons. For example, we had seven players in the Division 1 winning side playing in 2019 who were not part of last year's success. That's almost a third of our guys, and they were integral in pushing the entire group to perform again. In particular, guys like Will Stewart & Salim Hajjar (who finished 1 & 2 in our reserves best & fairest last year), both stood up & worked hard to earn their place, and perform in this year's team.
As the 2020's, and the league's third full decade approach, Barr affirmed Austin's commitment as the best community on and off the oval: 'As a club, the success we've been experiencing has been a lot of fun & ultimately this builds & grows the mateship & culture we have. We're eager for next year. '