The Lonestars made their annual pilgrimage to Ft Lauderdale eager to enjoy the white sand and crystal blue waters of one of Florida's great beaches. However, footy was the main item on the agenda with the team keen to finally notch up a first win against the Flying Squids after four previous attempts. With NYC a late withdrawal from the comp, the St Petersberg Starfish came over from the west coast of Florida to team up with some of the new Lonestars to take on the Squids new players in a game to follow the main game.
Leading in with a solid training session on Wednesday night, the weekend unfolded with players and their support crew flying in a few days before to soak up the beach and the party pool at the Hilton Hotel on Beach Blvd. The Friday evening team function started at our fave old school Florida bar "The Deck" with cold beer, pina coladas and the world's longest list of boozy frozen delights on offer! For dinner a group of 35 headed to The Plaza Bistro for the second year running, where the boys exchanged predictions of whether a win was possible the next day. It was a good bonding experience but we kept a lid on things that night – our game on the big stadium was the real reason for the journey...
The big day started with a very strange wayward team bus ride, resulting in half the team turning up at the stadium only 40mins before kick-off. There were obvious nerves en-route and when the team piled off the minibus, the scale of the 15,000 seat stadium and immaculately groomed field made our hairs stand on end – this was going to be awesome! Not to mention the air-conditoned change rooms with individual locker bays…!
The key messages during the preparation revolved around the simple things we have been focussing on for the last few months, with Rixy drawing on some of the great team efforts from the Summer Metro season as drivers and themes. One thing was for sure this Lonestars team had come a long way this year and were ready for a ripping performance!! Despite missing some key position players, the Lonestars were a formidable unit, regaining Stu Job to the midfield unit that contained ample pace, size and ticker to worry any USAFL team. The backline looked so solid it could hold up the Pantheon despite the absence of Vice Captain Dave Edge to injury. However there were some concerns about a forward line that has struggled to fire during much of the year, but with Holwerda getting over a wrist injury and Sean switching up forward, all of a sudden our our goal kicking potential looked promising.
With a bit of pre-game rain, the field was slippery during the warm up, however the Lonestars found focus and were ready for battle. Ft Lauderdale were missing a few of their starting line-up but fielded a good side containing several usual experienced suspects from our previous encounters. With the experience of Chisi on the boundary line, and great support from the girls running water and goal umpiring, this was surely going to be a cracking game!
The first bounce saw Rixy comfortably win the first of a plethora of ruck taps and it was suddenly game on. The squids got the better of the early exchanges in greasy conditions, entering their forward 50 a couple of times in the first minutes and scoring the first goal of the game. Lonestars possibly over-awed by the stadium and occasion, were off to a very tentative start. Called into action several times in the first 5 minutes, the backline held firm led by Zac, Art and Matt Stevens as the midfield tried to find early rhythm. Stu and Blake started to get more of the ball as the quarter wore on off-setting the energetic start by the Squids midfield. Poor kicking prevented the Lonestars taking a lead into the first break as they went into the huddle goalless.
Lonestars: 0 . 6 . 6
Squids: 1 . 2 . 8
The second quarter started tight with both teams attacking the ball ferociously and scoring proving very difficult as the pre-game rain still made conditions a little slippery. This was a time when bravery would be rewarded as demonstrated by Ruggles' fearless attack on a ball that prevented a turnover and a probable goal, soon followed by a monumental effort with Bren winning a ball in a two on one contest and following up in the next contest up the field, winning the ball again! – Squids must have been thinking this guy is relentless! The backline again stood firm along with consistent midfield run from Stu, Blake and Ben Power and the Lonestars started to gain the ascendency, and with Dan and Ben Power kicking truly, the Lonestars hit the front before half time.
Lonestars: 2 . 8 . 20
Squids: 2 . 3 . 15
With the humid conditions it was a relief to head into the change rooms at halftime and recoup with the air-conditioning! The boys were right in the middle of a great game of footy and felt they were getting on top – time for one of Rixy's inspirational half time speeches….and did he deliver. First half highlights were the solid back-liner form and the pure hardness being shown by Bren in his first USAFL game for the club. Coming out of the rooms a little flat, the boys were given a jab by Rixy asking us to dig deep and deliver on the same 3 key messages in the second half; give off to the runners, beat your man and play hard 'n tough.
The game opened up in the 3rd as DB moved into the middle and Stu continuing his dominant performance all over the ground. Rix continued to win in the ruck and was presenting a target all over the field taking several contested marks. The backline continued to rebound anything that came their way, Zac making some sweeping runs off half-back and breaking lines. The forward line found some structure with Dan providing a consistent target and Shaun bringing the ball to ground for crumbers to take advantage of. The Lonestars slotted 5 goals to none in a dominant Premiership quarter setting the game up for a possible first-time win against the Squids. The 3 quarter time huddle was buoyed with a genuine buzz as the boys tasted the feeling of a winning brand of football. Rix was cautious in the address challenging the boys to pick up where they left off and drive home a strong win.
Lonestars: 7 . 10 . 52
Squids: 2 . 3 . 15
The boys responded with an aggressive start to the last quarter, starting with Rixy, Stu and Blake in the middle, with relentless efforts from Bren, Fielder and Mash. The ball found its way down back on a few occasions, but you could take your pick of Zac, Art, Josh M, Ruggles or Matt Stevens combining in a masterclass of defense, spring-boarding a forward thrust each time. The Lonestars fitness shone through as the runners got on top and again Dan was able to convert. Bren continued his great first game fighting for the ball at all costs, with Fielder, Cameron and Ruggles following suit. With the game firmly in Houston's grasp, the Squids failed to register a score in the last quarter (and the last half for that matter!) as a few of their players resorted to rough tactics. Mash was on the receiving end of an head-high shirt-front which should have brought out the red card, however a free kick was all that was given. In style that typified the teams performance all day, Mash proceeded to get to his feet, dust himself off, and finish the game.
Goals: Holwerda 3, Power 2, Hodson 1, Rix 1, Stu 1, DB 1
Best: Zac, Bren, Stu, Rix, DB, Ruggles, Power, Dan, Fielder, rest of the team!!
The jubilation at the end of the game was premiership-like! The players and almost 20 strong family and friends supporting embraced as the Lonestars registered their first ever win over the Ft Lauderdale squids. And did we sing the club song….Absolutely!
It was by far the best performance for the year so far, demonstrating how far the club has come following a successful Summer Metro series and Ausball kick-off. Amazing efforts by Stu, Zac and Brenn in his first game, however this was an even performance across the field with every player contributing and beating their man.
The second game of the day saw a group of Lonestars players combine with the 7 or 8 St Petersberg Starfish players to play the Squids newbies in a 14 a-side game on the big field. Needless to say the game was an open affair with Josh Devlin in the ruck, Brenn and Fielder in midfield and Cameron running wild! The backline held a pretty handy Squids line-up firm, lead by Pete Coates, Josh M and Sean, doing as they pleased. Bomber and Matt L played forward and kept the Squids on their toes. After an even first half, the Starfish/Lonestars team got in top in the 2nd half taking out the game by a couple of goals. It was a monumental effort for the Lonestars backing up for their second game, particulalrly Bren who also starred for a second game in a row. Great work guys!
A huge thank you to Sonni, Bec, Renee, Carrie, Sam, Jody, Kylie, Jen and Kami for supporting the team with high quality water supply, scoring and an entertaining goal umpiring show. This support is what makes our club so strong, particularly on the road! Also, thanks to all the other supporters and family members for making the journey to Ft Lauderdale – we truly appreciated it!
A great night after the game was enjoyed at the Squid hosted event at their local pub Maguires Hill 16. The Squids welcomed us in true style providing a meal and cheap drinks for all - after a hard day on the field, this was much appreciated!! Exchanging tall tales and plenty of laughs with the opposition is what makes the relationship between the two teams so great. The player awards for the best player included the coveted "Mercan" award for the best American player on each team, awarded to Zac for his consistent intensity and rebounding footy over 4 quarters. Other mentions to Stu for getting leather poisining and Bren showing amazing commitment and courage all game. Sam Donnelly was presented the special award for his 21st birthday - a beer chug and a "birthday florida suit", and he made it 3 wins for the day for the Lonestars in the skull-off.
The crew moved onto what has been described as "A rave in a fish'n'chip shop" *JD Copyright* at Tarpon Bend Fish & Tackle, a local bar recommended by the Squids. The Lonestars literally owned the venue, catching weird stares from locals as we proceeded to carve up the joint! The dance floor proved most popular with Sam in his Florida threads cutting moves and even Matt Stevens and Matt L unusually hitting the D floor. This night was one to celebrate and we were duly joined by several Squids players as the night wore on. With hangovers the order of the day the next morning, the Lonestars cut loose and made it "all about today". Sam was fed shots continuously but he held up to all the treatment in fact holding out to see most of the rest of the Lonestars off past 3am! This was one hell of a celebration!
Looking forward, the Lonestars have a big run towards Nationals coming up with games against Baton Rouge and the final leg of Texas Cup in Austin in September. We need to continue doing the simple things we have been focussing on, commit to each other and build towards a successful Nationals tournament.