The Baltimore-Washington Eagles claimed their first ever USAFL Division I Eastern Regional trophy on Saturday, with three straight wins as further proof of the team’s mercurial rise.

Clear skies and an uncomfortably hot afternoon set the stage for the Eagles to dominate the tournament at NC State University in Raleigh. Six teams from the east coast gathered in a round-robin tournament split into two divisions—New York, Boston, and Columbus joining the Eagles in Division I, while Philadelphia and hosts North Carolina competed against the Eagles’ B team in Division II.

The Eagles entered Division I an outside chance with the lowest rank, but defied the odds to topple east-coast heavyweights and reigning champions New York.

“This is a fantastic result for our club,” said club president, Antoun Issa, adding, “New York, before this tournament, were listed as one of the best teams in the country, and we have just defeated them. So we’re sending a message to the whole competition: we are not the pushovers that we used to be.”

This year’s regional tournament was an opportunity for the Eagles to show the results of their rapid growth as a club. With two men’s teams and a growing women’s team, they are now the largest club on the east coast, and, with a Div I trophy in hand, are a force to be reckoned with.

“It’s just the beginning,” Issa said, continuing, “We don’t want to be just the best club on the east coast. We want to be the best and biggest club in the USAFL.”

Men’s Division I

The men’s A-team had a tough task ahead of them, with three games scheduled against the best teams on the east coast. Their first would be against the New York Magpies, a team that had not lost to the Eagles since 2009.

Just two weeks ago, player-coach, Dean Vigus, said confidently that he thought the Eagles could beat anyone in the east, and made it clear that the team had their sights set on beating New York. The Eagles had lost to New York in torrid conditions in the Big Apple in May by six goals.

Player-coach, Dean Vigus, takes the ball upfield against the Magpies. Credit: Eric Brown

The Eagles seemed in control for most of the game, but broke away in the second half. The Eagles scored seven goals in the second half, and finished the game with a six-goal win in a complete reversal of the last encounter and ending the voodoo against New York.

Leading the charge were big Sam Rowley, Ian Payne, and Jake Moyer, a past American national-team member, who scored his first goal in two years since badly injuring his ankle.

“I think New York might have been the toughest team mentally for us to get over and we did,” Moyer said.

Luckily, the Eagles were able to get their biggest test of the day out of the way in the first game, but they had another difficult opponent in game two as they squared up against the Columbus Jackaroos. Columbus knocked Baltimore-Washington out of the 2016 National Tournament in a heartbreaking loss, laying the seeds for a new rivalry on the east coast.

The Eagles came out with high adrenaline in the first half of the game, but they were matched by an equally impressive Jackaroos offense, led by the big man, Mark McClure. The first half was coming to a finish with the score tied when McClure went down with a knee injury. McClure’s absence hurt the Jackaroos, as the Eagles capitalized and ran away with seven unanswered goals.

Team co-captain Ian Payne credited the offensive production to the team’s midfielders.

“The ball was clean coming out of the middle,” Payne said. “Big Sam and I scoring were just the result of strong midfield play. We do our job, and we should be kicking that way the whole day. And they were really doing their job.”

Eagles forward Ian Payne kneels down to check on the injured Columbus big man, Mark McClure. Credit: Eric Brown

The final game was against the Boston Demons, who had lost both of their previous games on the day against the Magpies and the Jackaroos. They came out strong in game three, and their desire to win at least one game in the tournament was evident in their play.

It was a tightly contested defensive match. There was not much scoring on either side and the ball seemed to stagnant in the midfield. After an efficient second half, the Eagles came away with the victory, 40-25.

The Eagles players were the last men on the field grounds as they huddled in celebration, sang the team song, and took photos for family and friends. There was not a single face without a smile, and the next step would be celebration in Raleigh.

“So many guys have put so much effort into this Baltimore-Washington Eagles club. To give that to them is a really good feeling,” said Rowley, a first-year player. “It’s a really positive atmosphere around us right now.”

Men’s Division II

The Eagles are well on their way to becoming the biggest club. They had far more players than any other club that attended the tournament, and were the only club to field two teams.

The men’s Div II team played their first of two games against the Philadelphia Hawks, a team that the Eagles Div I team slaughtered just a few weeks back by 111 points. The Eagles fielded a much different squad this time around, and gave many of their new DC and Baltimore recruits a chance to show off their newly acquired skills.

The game looked extremely one-sided in the first half as the Hawks looked to take advantage of the Eagles’ inexperience. Baltimore-Washington was shut out in the first half and the Hawks scored 42 points.

The Eagles seemed to come out a different team in the second half, and scored 28 points to the Hawks 12. The rookie players seemed to lock in and fixed the placing issues that were evident in the first half. The final score of the game was a 26-point loss, 54-28.

Eagles newbie Aldo Batubara makes a strong tackle in his first game with the club. Credit: Eric Brown

The Eagles looked much stronger in their second game as they took on a strong Div II opponent in the North Carolina Tigers, who beat the Hawks in their first game 53-12. While the Tigers held most of the control offensively, the Eagles players seemed to have a new drive, and took advantage of their offensive chances.

The game ended in a Tigers victory 53-21, but the day was not a loss for the Eagles, with the Div II team showing impressive signs for future development.

“It’s actually the first time all of these guys have played together,” said coach Dannie Seow. “It’s the first time any team has had two teams in a regional tournament as well. So it’s all about development. They’ll learn a lot. We watch and we’ll tell them what they need to work on, what we saw, and what they need to do. So they played quite well, and they put in the effort, that’s the main thing.”

Lady Eagles Combine with Columbus Jillaroos

Each club brought a small team of women to participate in the tournament, with the intention of combining teams and playing one match. New York, Boston, and Philadelphia joined forces against Baltimore-Washington and Columbus in a four-quarter game.

The Eagles women dressed in the Columbus Jillaroos pink jerseys, and fielded many new recruits who would be playing their first game. But their novice was almost unnoticeable as the two teams clashed together for a hard-fought defensive match.

Both teams took advantage of the few scoring chances they were given in the first half. New York/Boston/Philly seemed to have a slight edge in the first half, as they came out on top, 30-23.

The second half was just as fiercely contested as the first. Neither team could break-away, with the fight at its peak in the midfield.

Baltimore-Washington/Columbus were unable to bridge the gap, with New York/Boston/Philly prevailing in a tight match, 43-30.

 

FINAL SCORES

Div I:

Baltimore-Washington – 10.4.64

New York – 3.4.22

 

Baltimore-Washington – 12.1.73

Columbus – 4.7.31

 

Baltimore-Washington – 6.4.40

Boston – 4.1.25

 

Div II:

Baltimore-Washington – 4.4.28

Philadelphia – 7.12.54

 

Baltimore-Washington – 3.3.21

North Carolina – 8.7.55

 

Women:

NY/Boston/Philadelphia – 5.13.43

Baltimore-Washington/Columbus – 4.6.30

 

COMING UP

The team travels to Columbus on July 8 for a rematch with the Jackaroos, with hopes of bringing their all-time record against the club to 2-2.