“Hi-ho, hi-ho. It’s up the Five we go.” gleefully sang four carloads of San Diego Lions on Saturday July 30 as they headed from the Sorrento Valley Park ‘n’ Ride to the field behind South Lake Middle School for the opening round of the 2016 inaugural California Cup; a three-way US Nationals-styled competition between Los Angeles Dragons, Orange County Bombers and San Diego Lions. The games consist of two 20-minute quarters between full-sized teams on a full-sized field, with a round robin played on one day. The Cup provides matches for the teams as well as inputs to the USAFL ranking system for downstream formulation of the Nationals divisions.
First up, the OC Bomber hosts took on the LA Dragons in a one-sided affair, in which it took OC until late in the game to register on the scoreboard. LA ran out convincing winners, needless to say, with great use of the width of the ground. Solo umpire and former Bomber Paul Pietsch did the field officiating for this and, indeed, for all three consecutive matches. The Lions provided boundary and goal umpires, which in the building heat provided a good warm up for some of us.
San Diego, arriving with a contingent of 16 players, borrowed 3 from the LA Dragons: forward flank John the elder, forward pocket John the younger, and first-gamer bruiser Travis. A bench of one can be a godsend at times! There was a glimmer of hope that LA had shot their wad in downing OC and that, shaking off the road trip, the Lions would capitalize when John the elder booted truly with the first goal of the game against a string a point from LA. But a late first-half goal to the Dragons saw them head to the trees at half-time – for shade rather than climbing – with a lead of 3 points. Coming out for the second period saw an onslaught from LA with a string of unanswered goals. The Lions went down fighting but were unable to get their forward line moving. Your author and coach of last resort, Bob, made an uncharacteristic gaffe in meteorology and the wind was against us for both halves … climate change!
With both sides having been shredded in a similar manner by LA, there was interest to see who could regain composure and breath for the final match. With the LA team departing, the Lions lost their loaner players and 16-a-side was agreed. So no bench and, therefore little for the coach to do tactically. Although, game day runner Ben Evans did a mighty job taking water and instructions onto the field. Some reckon that he ran more than he would in a match.
The Lions played with an open forward line running Fletcher Wall and Brian Nickel as two-pronged center half-forwards – one prong each, I suppose. Doug Day at full forward was given a roving commission and roamed widely putting pressure on the OC defense with support from Brian Adamson. Evan Bradshaw in the ruck for the whole match and recovering from illness over the week found his straps, shook off the wog, and was master of the air once he had availed himself of the medicinal magic sponge. The Lions were well ahead at half time with JV proving solid in the middle and Brando running from center half-back and taking the kicks in. Then OC, via the gray-haired but not nearly as tall as Gandalf Brattles, started to control and drive off their half-back line. Before long, they hit the front midway through the second term. With nothing left to look forward to but the long drive home on the Five, the Lions piled on the pressure and found renewed coordination through the middle via Johnny Carpenter and Ryan Nielson, taking to the heat as if he had finally thawed out from Minnesota. The engine room of Evan, JV and Swanny spread the ball effectively. The backs recently fortified with skilled Lions first gamers Tony and Jason along with Scuba, AJ, and Anthony held strong, and the Lions cruised home to a 2-point win.
A minor controversy erupted in the crowd when with 45 seconds left in the match and the Lions ahead by 2 points, Fletch took a mark in the middle and immediately fell to ground with leg cramp. “He’s faking it!”, “Stop the clock!” etc. was screamed. The clock stopped, Fletch hobbled off and we won with 15 on the field.
Arthur Kinsey the Lions wing and LA Ambassador identified the Barley Forge Bar for post-game recuperations and storytelling. Evan Bradshaw was voted overwhelmingly as Players Player on the day. A small group took off home early and, despite being 90 minutes ahead of the drinkers, arrived home a bare 15 minutes ahead. There has to be a moral there.