How the Waterdogs defense held the Cannons’ league best offense to six points
The league’s premier attack duo of Asher Nolting and Marcus Holman was held to 2-for-11 shooting and three points combined in Sunday’s semifinal loss to the Waterdogs. They contributed four of the team’s 21 turnovers and both matched their season-low in points.
Holman and Nolting ranked first and second, respectively, in regular season points. Holman led the league in goals and was the Attackman of the Year, while Nolting cut his turnover tally in half and nearly doubled his rookie point total.
The Cannons led the league in nearly every offensive statistic entering this game: Total offensive efficiency, transition efficiency, settled efficiency, assisted & unassisted shot percentage and two-man shot percentage. Yet, they didn’t play up to their standard in any of those areas.
The Waterdogs utilized a number of deceptive defensive tactics and slides to exploit certain matchups, especially Nolting. Head coach Andy Copelan also employed multiple faceoff strategies and specialists to force the Cannons into rushed possessions on the short clock or to catch them sleeping with quick offense off the clamp. Overall, it was a masterful performance against a Cannons offense that looked unstoppable before now.
Here’s how the Dogs smothered the Boom Squad’s electric offense in the 17-6 semifinal victory:
Randall owns Nolting in round two
The Waterdogs never trailed on Saturday, and their constant bombardment of Nolting is a primary reason. As the quarterback of that offense, Nolting “stirs the drink” for the Cannons, Copelan said before the game. Because of that, he stuck the team’s No. 1 defender on him while slides came from poles and short sticks alike.
Nolting didn’t get a shot off until the end of the first quarter, and it wasn’t a good one. From X, he tried curling into the middle before Randall pushed him back. At that moment, Liam Byrnes abandoned Matt Campbell and anticipated Nolting’s rollback. As soon as he turned, Nolting saw Byrnes streaking toward him, so he rushed the high shot and Dillon Ward snagged it with ease.
Byrnes sliding off his matchup down low could have led to disaster, but he did his job on this play. Campbell was open at the doorstep, but Byrnes’ closeout and Randall’s positioning left Nolting without a passing lane.
Those slides continued throughout the game, and it made the difference in that matchup. Nolting looked rushed and increasingly indecisive as the game went on. Randall did damage in 1-on-1 matchups and set his sliders up for success when they came. That’s exactly the formula I detailed before the game to shut down Nolting, and it was executed to perfection.
Dominance in the short clock
Whether the Waterdogs were winning the clamp or simply forcing the Cannons backwards into a short possession, they dominated the stripe all game. Copelan has fully embraced not dressing a specialist, using Eli Gobrecht and Zach Currier at faceoff this season.
Gobrecht has been tasked with causing chaos off the clamp in Cannons territory. Currier, meanwhile, is often used in situations where Copelan wants to win the clamp and fire off some quick offense.
The Waterdogs went 14-for-24 at the stripe, scoring four goals directly off faceoff wins. Defensively, they allowed very few quality possessions, forcing the ball backwards consistently on clamp losses. That led to rushed shots in the 32-second possessions.
“This strategy is working for Andy Copelan,” said Ryan Boyle on the broadcast. “It’s a genius idea.”
The Waterdogs only allowed one goal off a faceoff loss, and it occurred in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 10. It was a dominant showing at the stripe for both Currier and Gobrecht , especially post-clamp.
Turnovers galore for Cannons
The Cannons and Waterdogs tied for the lowest amount of regular season turnovers with 14.9 per game. But on Sunday, they combined for 42 turnovers, and the Cannons led the way with 23.
The constant giveaways made it nearly impossible for the Boom Squad to gain momentum. Not only were they forcing tough shots, but they couldn’t even get shots off on some possessions because of the turnovers.
In the second quarter, just after Nolting missed a feed and turned the ball over unforced, he gave it away again. Trying to work to his right from X, Randall saw the move coming and threw a strong stick check at Nolting, jarring the ball loose. The two threw shoulders and stick checks, scrambling for the ground ball until Randall kicked it to Ward to collect.
Nolting wasn’t the only one who struggled holding onto the ball, but his turnovers were the most significant because of his prominent role in the Cannons’ offense.
All season, Copelan maintained that the Waterdogs had not played a full 50 minutes of clean lacrosse. On Saturday, they finally achieved that.
“I don’t know if perfection is ever really attainable in sports, but… I feel like this was a complete effort that we should all be very proud of.” Copelan said. “But, it doesn’t guarantee us anything for next week.”
Everything was clicking. Offense. Defense. Faceoff. Wings. Transition. The Waterdogs were elite in all those areas to achieve the blowout victory.
Now, the Dogs will play the Archers in their second-straight PLL Cash App Championship appearance on September 24th. To win that matchup, they will likely have to pull off another complete performance against a squad they split with in the regular season.