Cleveland played host to the Midwest sevens qualifiers on July 13 and the results were much the same as the summer’s previous tournaments.
But while the tournament’s results were the same, the day was not without its standout moments.
It was business as usual for the Chicago Lions over the weekend, as they swept another tournament with wins over the CARPS, 1823 and the Youngbloodz. From the first whistle, the Lions looked to push the pace on their opponents to impose their will and put contests out of reach quickly.
Such was the case in their initial match against the CARPS, when the Cleveland side muffed a kickoff. Lions players pounced on the loose ball and streaked in for an early try. The Lions also made their own breaks during the competition, using cut-back runs to take advantage of defenses overly committing. Chicago pulled that move twice on the CARPS in their opening match, at one point passing by multiple would-be tacklers before crossing over the try line to set up for an easy conversion. There were only two scares for the Lions during the match. The first one came when Max Narewski took a hard collision while jumping to field a kickoff. Fortunately, he recovered shortly after hitting the ground and returned to play. The second came when Nick Musarra stabbed a kick through behind the defensive line to put up five for the CARPS. In the end the Lions took that match comfortably, 40-5.
The Griffins had a much harder, and more controversial, time at the tournament than some of the other qualifier teams. In their first two matches the Griffins lost close matches against Pittsburgh and the Barbarians. Then 1823’s second side handed down a stern beating to round out pool play. It is the match against Pittsburgh, though, that stands out. It was a competition marred by passes that were off target the majority of the time and mental errors that kept the Chicago representatives from putting points on the board. This allowed Pittsburgh to keep the match close and remain within striking distance. Momentum was starting to slowly swing Chicago’s way when a Pittsburgh player ran through a Chicago defender and dotted down under the posts for a try. That’s when a second Chicago defender kicked the scorer, who was on the ground, and fists began to fly. When the dust settled the Griffins were down two men: one with a yellow card and another with a red. A second skirmish broke out moments later, resulting in another Griffins player being ejected from the game. The Griffins would end the match with four players, and Pittsburgh would end with a seven-point victory.
The day went a bit better for 1823. The Columbus club handled their pool play competition easily, shutting out the Rhinos from Chicago and holding Western Michigan to a meager five points. After pushing past the Impalas, they were into the semis.
After the knockout rounds finished, the picture of the finals was a familiar one: the Chicago Lions and 1823 for the championship. Early in the first half the Lions put in three tries. Not ones to fold under pressure, 1823 tore up the far sideline and snuck a five-pointer in the corner. The second half started with 1823 taking a page from the Lions’ playbook and scoring from an opponent’s mistake. After the Lions mishandled the ball, an 1823 player scooped it up and broke for the try line. A series of short range offloads and some fancy footwork allowed the Lions to get the final say of the match and the tournament, putting down one last try to bring home top honors in Cleveland and a 31-12 victory.
The sevens season comes to a close next weekend as teams converge on Grand Rapids, Michigan for the Rock Hard 7s tournament.
As a result of the games in Cleveland, and the fact Chicago had to forfeit points due to use of an ineligible player in the Minnesota 7s, the series is now almost deadlocked.
With one tournament to go, Chicago leads with 56 points, one ahead of the Milwaukee Barbarians, who took third in Cleveland, and two ahead of 1823.
Each team, should they play in Grand Rapids, will garner a minimum of eight points (four for showing up, and four more for playing in all five tournaments). So it will come down to who finishes where in Grand Rapids. All three of those teams will need to be at their best to secure one of the two seeds to the national championships.