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MLR Week 2 Preview

New England Free Jacks @ Utah Warriors

Where to Watch: FTF TV, Eleven Sports live Saturday at 2:30PM EST, tape delay 5PM Sunday on NESN

The New England Free Jacks shocked the MLR world with a debut victory against RUNY, one of 2019’s semifinalists. The perfect debut continues on the road against the Utah Warriors.

Austin Gilgronis @ RUNY

Where to Watch: ESPN+ Saturday at 6:30PM EST

Austin is in a transition period, and got worked 38-10 last week. Hard to see a different outcome on the road against a RUNY squad that will be hungry to prove that last week’s loss was just a fluke.

Houston SaberCats @ Toronto Arrows

Where to Watch: ESPN+, Sunday at 2:30PM EST

Tough one to pick. Houston continued last season’s late momentum with a Week One win against a talented Colorado Raptors’ squad. Toronto, meanwhile, picked up a blowout win against Austin. I’ll give the Arrows the edge at home.

Seattle Seawolves @ Old Glory

Where to Watch: NBC Sports Washington/ESPN+, Sunday at 3PM EST

A Match of the Week contender. The Beast has landed in DC and Declan O’Donnell should be available after missing Week One with the flu. Bouncing back against the two-time defending champion Seawolves—coming off a Week One loss, no less— is a tall order, however. Seattle picks up the victory to spoil Old Glory’s home debut.

Colorado Raptors @ San Diego Legion

Where to Watch: ESPN+ Sunday at 6PM EST

Another early contender for Match of the Week. There will be a lot of talent on the field in the forms of Rene Ranger, Digby Ioane, Ma’a Nonu and a host of Eagles in the Legion backline. The Legion take it to move to 2-0.

Rugby ATL @ NOLA Gold

Where to Watch: CBS Sports Network at 6PM EST

Rugby ATL debuted with a strong win last week. However, NOLA Gold is a tough order for any opponent when healthy. It’s full speed ahead for one of MLR’s most exciting teams, as NOLA Gold starts out 2-0.

MLR Week One Recap

Houston Sabercats 21-Colorado Raptors 12

Houston follows up on a strong finish last season to secure the home victory against Colorado. The Raptors have reinforcements on the way, but the opening-week loss has to be a bit concerning to a team that was disappointed to miss the playoffs last season after losing in the championship in Year One.

Rugby ATL 28-Utah Warriors 19

Rugby ATL secures the home win its debut match. ATL has to be happy, recovering from a 19-8 deficit in the second half to secure take the debut victory.

NOLA Gold 46-Old Glory 13

In the best of times, it was going to be a tall task for Old Glory to keep up with NOLA’s pace in its first game together. Absences of The Beast and Declan O’Donnell certainly didn’t help matters. Old Glory faces another tough match next weekend vs. the two-time defending champion Seawolves, who are also coming off a loss. For NOLA, can they keep this pace up for all 16 weeks and finally capture that elusive playoff spot?

New England Free Jacks 34-RUNY 14

The absolute shocker of the weekend. The star-laden semifinalists go down in brutal fashion to the upstart Free Jacks. Was RUNY feeling itself a bit much in Week One, or are the boys from New England here to stay? Big-name signee Mathieu Bastareaud looked a bit frustrated in his debut, so that is one to watch for RUNY moving forward.

Toronto Arrows 38 -Austin Gilgronis 10

No surprise her as last year’s semifinalists continue their winning ways. Austin is struggling to find an identity off the field as much as on it, with a new ownership group and three names/rebrands in three years. It’s a talented roster that will be bolstered by the additions of Adam Ashley-Cooper and Roland Suniula, but after two listless seasons, including an 0-16 2019 campaign, this team needs to see improvement— soon.

*Game of the Week: San Diego Legion 33-Seattle Seawolves 24

The Championship Rematch did not disappoint. Seattle looked like it was going to continue to dominate this rivalry with an early 10-0 lead. However, it was all Legion from there as the squad popped off for a 33-0 run. Ma’a Nonu made his presence felt in his MLR debut, assisting in two second-half tries.

The Seawolves showed their championship heart to fight back and make it competitive at the end, but the damage was well done. Seattle has proved to be a late and postseason team, however, and will have plenty to say as the hosts in the April 12th rematch.

MLR Season Predictions

Eastern Conference Playoffs:

  1. RUNY (Bye)
  2. Ontario Arrows
  3. Old Glory

The addition of Mathieu Bastareaud to an already explosive and experienced backline carries RUNY through to the bye. Newcomers Old Glory recover from a relatively slow start as they gel to capture the final playoff spot in the East and upset last year’s semifinalist Ontario Arrows in the first round.

Eastern Conference Semis

RUNY’s cohesion and experience end the dream debut for Old Glory. RUNY avenges last year’s heartbreaking semifinal loss to play for ‘Ship.

Western Conference Playoffs:

  1. San Diego Legion (Bye)
  2. Seattle Seawolves
  3. Colorado Raptors

The Raptors have been a disappointment in the MLR thus far, but serious investments in the forms of Rene Ranger and Digby Ioane get the team into the playoffs. However, defense beats offense as the Seawolves advance once again.

Western Conference Semifinals:

San Diego finally gets vengeance over Seattle, who bounced them in the semis in Year One, then stole the championship at the death from the Legion in Year Two. The grudge match in MLR’s first true rivalry proves to be the game of the year.

MLR Finals— San Diego over RUNY

The Legion brought in Ma’a Nonu in the hopes that he can push the squad over the top, and he does jus that. Nonu proves to be the perfect addition to a backline that features Eagles Nate Augspurger, Dylan Audsley, Ryan Matyas and Mikey Te’o (sevens responsibilities pending). Of course, it all starts up front and the loss of Paddy Ryan will hurt. But the forwards are able to do their job just enough throughout the year to retain ball and let the backs do their work.

MVP: Ma’a Nonu

Nonu’s still got plenty left in the tank, and his experience proves to be a weekly nightmare for the weekly opposition. Look out for matchups vs. Thretton Palamo (Old Glory), Bastareaud, and the Rene Ranger/Digby Ioane combo in Colorado to highlight the season.

Old Gaelic Defends Home Turf with Win over Philly Whitemarsh

Old Gaelic Rugby Football Club came back and held on for a tight 26-23 victory over Philly Whitemarsh on Saturday. Its final home match of the fall was kicked off by a pregame helicopter show, setting the stage for an exciting day of rugby.

Old Gaelic came out strong, driving the ball right down the pitch agains the Whitemarsh defense. But a missed opportunity inside the 10 gave the ball pack to the visitors and the PWM 8-man finished a long score. Gaelic responded six minutes later with an impressive run from #13 Jase Martin and the Brady Reisman boot knotted it up at 7 apiece.

Just when it seemed like Gaelic might take some momentum it got sloppy with both defense and repeated penalties. PWM  capitalized with two penalty kicks sandwiching a converted try to take a commanding 20-7 lead. With Captain Hart knocked out of the match due to injury, things did not look good for the Black and Gold.

But right after the second penalty kick, Martin sparked the offense again. This time he found winger JC and OG was right back in it. Just four minutes later a well-orchestrated red zone offense culminated in a “QB” try from flanker Alex Diegel and the clutch Reisman boot made it 21-20 Gaelic. The defense closed out the half and the home team went to the break with the lead and the momentum.

However, it only took two minutes for Gaelic’s toughest opponent to rear its ugly head once again—itself. Yet another penalty gave the PWM 9 a shot at goal, and he struck his third to take the lead back. Gaelic wasted no time, marching the ball right down the field and got a near-try from hooker Nick DeTorre. Instead “held up” was the call and Dan Roth—who came in for the injured Hart at 9— got the ball back from #8 Curtis Brillhart and scored the decisive try. Reisman’s boot was off this time, meaning Gaelic had to defend the three-point lead for the final 32 minutes of the match. And it did just that.

Ferocious defense, impact reserves making big plays, and a possession-based offense won the day for Gaelic. Though of course it had to make things difficult with penalties but three long attempts from Philly 9 failed to split the uprights. The third and final attempt resulted in a 22M which Reisman executed with a little dink, recovered by fullback Matt Leggett, who hit Diegel, who then fed flanker John Kroesen and Gaelic flipped the field to just about seal the match.  But of course the Black and Gold had to scare the home crowd one more time. A penalty at 79′ and counting gave Whitemarsh a scrum at 50. The pack chose the final scrum of the match to steal one  with a brilliant hook from Nick DeTorre;  8-man Lee Townsend smartly kicked the ball out of bounds and victory went to the Gaelic!

Coaching Notes:

What a great team win. Every player who stepped on the pitch made a huge impact. Forwards were strong in the set pieces and set a physical tone. Backs made timely breaks and largely shut down arguably the best (and noisiest) backlines we’ll face. If you didn’t get time, your dedication and work at practice still make all the difference. The “club-first” mentality was on display in all ways, exemplified by Old Boy and CV Coach Dan Morris making an emergency jersey drop off for our opponents (even though the jerks didn’t end up needing them ha).

Don’t rest on our laurels. We took a huge step toward a 5-1 fall but still have work to do. We’ve got a scrappy Phoenixville team looking to make noise at the D2 level. We’ve got some guys unavailable; it will be a tough match and we must prepare accordingly. See you at the field Tuesday and Thursday.

Great win, gents.

Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 Mock Draft

In spite of the AFC Championship’s final score, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not as far from from the New England Patriots as it seems. The full stable of offensive weapons and a defensive playmaker or two should close the gap. Here’s the draft that can get them there:

  1. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU. His NFL Draft profile lists him as “Experienced island corner with slot reps over last two seasons. Best suited for all forms of man coverage. Should compete as special teams performer.” Sound like someone who Pittsburgh could have used last season? Yeah. Punt/kick return ability a bonus, as Steelers were pedestrian there in 2016.
  2. Carl Lawson, OLB, Auburn. Strong, sets the edge. Thick frame currently weighing in at 261 lbs. Sounds like the perfect protege’ for James Harrison. Should make some splash plays while learning from and spelling “The Ageless One.”
  3. Marcus Williams, S, Utah. Long, strong, and fast (6’1″/202lbs/4.56 40). 5 Ints and 5 pass break ups show coverage chops. Could be used in sub packages while groomed as the safety of the future behind Mike Mitchell.  3B (Compensatory pick). Jake Butt, TE, Michigan. A first-round talent that blew out his knee in the Senior Bowl. Tight end is not an immediate need so no need to rush him on the field. It looks like the Steelers are giving Ladarius Green another year to prove he can stay healthy and Jesse James was solid in his absence. Interesting to see what project Xavier Grimble can do after getting his feet wet in the NFL last season, when he made impressive contact catches. Butt can maybe make some plays as a rookie. If not, he still solidifies the position’s future.
  4. Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington: Highly productive player from a smaller school who’s draft stock tumbled due to a disappointing 40 time. Remind you of anyone?
  5. James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh. A well-rounded “thumper” that will get the yinzers excited. Looks like a good complement to give Bell some rest and step in if injured. Possible starter down the road if he impresses and Steelers can’t come to terms with Bell long term.
  6. Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech: “Burly frame that can absorb punishment and hand it out if necessary.” If there’s one team that would lick its chops at that QB description, its the Steelers. Great season in one year as starter for Hokies. Young, some were surprised he didn’t come back for another year. Another trait Steelers look for in draft prospects.
  7. Darius English, DE, South Carolina. The Steelers like to swing for freaks late in the draft and see what they can do with them. They also like tall DEs that can get into passing lanes. At 6’6″ with a 4.63 40, English fits the bill. Steelers will have to decide if they want him to add bulk to his lean frame (238lbs.) or develop him as an OLB. A perfect practice squad candidate.

Pittsburgh Steelers “Dream” Draft

What a Steelers draft would look like with a couple of unlikely but not inconceivable draft day slides.

  1. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU. See above. With OLB being the deepest position in the draft, it seems like Steelers will lean toward best man corner available, unless there’s an OLB on the board that they have rated much higher than best CB.
  2. Jabrill Peppers, S/LB, Michigan. I’d seen some mocks that already had Peppers sliding to the early-to-mid second round. That was before his diluted urine sample. If the Steelers can get an athlete like this in the 2nd, they’ll get D Coordinator Keith Butler his shiny new toy to play with. A sub package Deone Buchanan-type, Pittsburgh will hope the splash plays he makes with his athleticism counter the ones he’s bound to give up while learning a new position in the NFL. He also doubles as a safety of the future behind Mike Mitchell. And of course, they’ll have to hope that the diluted sample was an aberration. The ultimate boom or bust pick.
  3. Derek Rivers, OLB, Youngstown State. Rivers is a bit of an enigma, as he shot up draft boards after his combine numbers. The expectations are of course tampered by his small school background at Youngstown. I’ve seen him mocked anywhere from 1-4. Great protege’ to the former Kent State project, James Harrison. (3B Comp pick) TE Jake Butt. See above.
  4. Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State. 6’2″/222lbs./4.49 40. All of the measurables, not all of the production. Pittsburgh reaches back into the undergrad Ohio State well (Ryan Shazier, Cam Heyward) and hopes to find gold again. Another guy mocked anywhere from  rds 2-4, teams will have to decide if they value production or combine numbers/potential more.
  5. James Conner. See above. This one just makes too much sense, seems like a lock.
  6. Jerod Evans. See above. Again, seems to make sense. But not as much of a lock as Conner.
  7. Demetrius Cox, S, Michigan State. While they find a way to get Peppers on the field and groom him for a long-term position, the Steelers could use some true safety depth in the backfield. Great measurables—6’1″/198/4.53 40—another rangy athlete to throw into the secondary mix. Cox had one pick in his lone season at safety. The year before he had three ints as a starting cornerback. The experience at corner points to coverage skills, something Pittsburgh needs in spades.

LeBron James Goes to College, Brings Home Championship

“Miami, for me, has almost been like college for other kids.” LeBron James said this an in interview when he came back to Cleveland in 2014. He took a lot of heat (no pun intended) for leaving Cleveland for Miami six years ago. But he went there for one thing: to learn how to be a champion.

In his last seasons with Cleveland he was dragging an underwhelming roster to heights they wouldn’t have sniffed without him. IN 2007, He took a team that started Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes to the Finals and was swept by a far better Spurs team. The following year, he was upset by a hot-shooting Orlando Magic team that featured Dwight Howard at the height of his powers. He averaged 39 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in those Conference Finals. But it wasn’t enough. He was a “choker” for not getting the job done. He was chasing ghosts. He was chasing rings. He was chasing Jordan.

So he left. He left in the worst way imaginable, yes. And agreed, he left to create a team that would be the odds-on NBA Champs. He was helped by an NBA Finals MVP in Dwyane Wade. But he learned how to win. He learned how to be a champion. He “went to college” for four years. And then he came home.

He promised a championship. He went to the Finals the first year, taking a wounded Cleveland team that won just 33 games the year before with him. It was his fifth straight appearance, now with two different teams. Much like the Orlando series, he went down in historic fashion, this time good for 36, 13 and 9 per game.

Then he did it all over again. Down 3-1, he went for 82 combined in games 5 and 6. All that was left was to beat the greatest regular season team of all time for a third straight game, second at home. He didn’t go for 41. He dropped a triple double, just the third man to do it in an NBA Finals Game 7.

I won’t be shocked if some people still criticize, point to Draymond Green’s suspension or his 9 for 24 Game 7 shooting. Those people would be fools. The Cavs beat Golden State with Draymond three times, including two potential close out opportunities. Game 7 was a slugfest. And LeBron was Ali, a half-step step ahead of his opponent for just enough time to seal the win. It wasn’t pretty. But it was a winning performance.

I’m a Bulls fan. I should hate LeBron. But I grew up watching Jordan; I appreciate greatness. And I’m now willing to entertaining the GOAT conversation. He’s definitely in the top three with Kareem and Jordan. And he’s not done yet.