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Tampa Bay Damage wins behind the 1v1 talent of Jacob Edwards; NXL Lone Star Open Recap

Article written in partnership with IconicPB, Quinn Nadu

Giant Party Sports Park in Allen, Texas

SHOCKING; truly the best word to sum up an extraordinary weekend of paintball at the NXL Lone Star Open. During an event where all predictions and expectations were thrown out the window on the NXL pro field, Division stalwarts like San Diego Dynasty and San Antonio XFactor missed Sunday, while young programs like the New Orleans Hurricanes and NRG Elite shined. Featuring a blind layout for the first time in NXL pro division history, the play on field was electrifying, with the athletes true talents and poise being on full display. Strategies constantly evolved throughout the weekend and some of the most creative plays of the year so far were seen all weekend long.

Tampa Bay Damage pulled off an astonishing victory during a tense overtime finals match against Edmonton Impact, where they won their first event since 2013, breaking the longest drought in their franchise history. The entire event came down to a single one versus one matchup, where the emerging superstar, Jacob Edwards was the hero of the day for his squad.

Players and fans around the event continually commented on the venue, Giant Party Sports, with many players saying it was one of the best venues to date for the NXL. The fully turfed playing surfaces, permanent semi-indoor pits, and unique layout made the 2022 Lone Star Open an event to remember.

On the Pro field, Sunday’s Games

The Lone Star Open presented some interesting matches throughout the prelims and the nature of a blind layout created mismatches and shocking losses for some of the league's best programs. The pro division saw one its most diverse Sunday fields to date, with a strong mix of historically dominant programs and some of the league's best up-and-coming franchises.

The Quarter-Finals

Photo of Edmonton Impact by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

Photo of Edmonton Impact by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

In the first matchup of the quarter finals between Edmonton Impact and the New Orleans Hurricanes, Impact took the early lead and their experience was put on full display against the NXL’s youngest franchise. Although Impact won the match 6-3, this was a big victory for the Hurricanes, making Sunday in just their second event as a pro team and putting the division on notice that they are here to stay. Mike Bianca is a talented coach for the Hurricanes and he has quickly developed this roster.

Photo of Houston Heat by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

Photo of MLKings by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

The Quarter-Finals match between Houston Heat and the MLKings was a game that was never close from the start. The MLKings have rapidly improved over the last 6 events in pro, but Houston Heat's level of skill and experience is hard to handle for any team on Sunday. Heat firmly won the match 8-5 in the highest scoring matchup of the finals. Chad George was especially impactful for Heat in the snake, with the MLKings struggling to get him off the field.

In a surprising matchup between San Diego Aftermath and NRG Elite, many fans were quick to assume Aftermath would easily handle NRG. However, NRG entered the match resolutely, with a strategy based around a fast and wild gameplan, focused on constant attack down the field. The NRG offense was too overwhelming for Aftermath to overcome once they fell behind in the score, and NRG won the match 5-3.

Photo of Los Angeles Infamous by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

Photo of Tampa Bay Damage by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

The most anticipated Quarter-Finals matchup against Los Angeles Infamous and Tampa Bay Damage proved to be a back and forth slugfest that saw the historic franchises trade blows all match long. Harrison Frye continues to be a key player for Infamous with his incredible offensive versatility, but the methodical, grinding style of play by Damage was too difficult for Infamous to break. Los Angeles nearly pulled off a comeback win, but Damage won the close matchup 4-3, getting one step closer to winning the event in a match that put the depth of the Damage roster on full display.

The Semi-Finals

Photo of NRG Elite by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

And then there were four, Houston Heat, NRG Elite, Tampa Bay Damage, and Edmonton Impact would face off in the Semi-Finals for a chance to go on to the pro finals. In the first matchup of Houston Heat vs. Edmonton Impact, the balanced playstyle of Heat clashed against the offensive heavy attack of Impact. Impact was able to win the first point, but Chad Bouchez began to find room to operate in the center of the field and became a thorn in the side of Impact. Bouchez played one of the best events we have ever seen from him, and it is hard to deny that he is maybe one of the most creative center players in NXL thus far in 2022. With the game tied at 3-3 with just 48 seconds left, Heat forged a strong attack through the center, but the game went to overtime and Impact held off Heat to win the match 4-3 and go onto finals.

On the other side of the Semi-Finals, the surging NRG Elite took on the veteran Tampa Bay Damage squad for a chance to make their first finals. However, for the first time in the event, the cracks started to show in the NRG gameplan. Tampa Bay was able to consistently lockdown NRG and eliminate players off the break to control the pace of the game from the start. All weekend long, Damage ran deep lines, changing personnel frequently. It was a great coaching decision by Joey Blute, as the constantly changing style of Damage made them unpredictable and hard to strategize against. Damage won the match 5-1 to move onto their first finals showdown in five seasons.

An Epic Finals Showdown on the Pro Field

Photos by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

And then there were two, and the stage was set for a heavyweight battle between Tampa Bay Damage and Edmonton Impact. Both teams have historically been some of the best in paintball history, with both looking to add yet another finals trophy to their prestigious franchises.

Photo of Edmonton Impact by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

Photo of Tampa Bay Damage by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

Game 1: Damage goes up 1-0 after shooting a few bodies off the break early. Axel Gaudin, who played at an MVP level all weekend long for Impact, tries to push down the field and make something happen down on bodies, but Damage holds him off to win the first point.

Game 2: Back and forth eliminations for each side opens the field for Zach Yachimec to penetrate in the center. Damage loses track of his position as Yachimec scores a few easy eliminations for Impact. Veteran star Bryan Smith tries to get creative for Damage in a 1 vs. 2 but after a trade out, Cornell hits the buzzer for Impact to tie the match 1-1.

Game 3: Jared Lackey pushes down the snake early for Damage, but gets matched by Axel Gaudin on the cross mirror snake. The game slowed down into a strategic battle with no eliminations early in the point and the center players for each team locking off the snake. But, Bryan Smith gets a shot in on Axel Gaudin in a gunfight and gives Damage the advantage where they chip away at Impact over the next two minutes to win the point. Damage 2-1.

Game 4: Impact drops Zuppa and Justin Cornell early on trying to push into the snake, as both are eliminated by Daniel Holiday from the center. But, after a few sloppy moves, Damage drops two bodies as well bringing it down to a 2 vs. 3. However, Holiday makes a great move through the center to trade out with Nick Leival as Jacob Edwards closes out the point. Damage 3-1.

Game 5: Impact comes out aggressive, sending Justin Cornell deep up the center off the break as Brandon Cornell pushes down the dorito side. Justin Cornell makes a huge move onto Damage’s side of the field and eliminates another body before getting eliminated himself. But the move drew enough pressure for the rest of Impact to move down the field and win the point. Damage 3-2.

Game 6: Losing the match with little time left, Impact attacks knowing this is their final chance. They take the center of the field, but both teams drop a body early. Nick Leival keeps the pressure up in the center of the field and opens up the snake side for Axel Gaudin. Keith Brown is able to eliminate Zach Yachimec and Nick Leival from the Damage snake, but Gaudin plays smart and is the last player standing to tie the game at 3-3.

Overtime: After a quick no-point in the seventh game, the score was still tied at 3-3, which meant the game would go to sudden death overtime. Both teams come out reserved, feeling out the other team with both sides getting pressure up the center to lock out the snake side. After a trade out in the center by Bryan Smith, both teams start to lock off the field. Neither team makes a mistake, but as the time runs down, Impact makes a final, wild push down the field to try and win the event. Axel Gaudin nearly pulls it off, but Jason Edwards masterfully holds off three players by himself with just 9 seconds left to keep his team's hope alive.

Photo of Tampa Bay Damage by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

This only means one thing; one versus ones to decide the tournament. Each team would send out their best players, one at a time, with the chance to win the entire event; the first team to score a point wins. For Impact, they send out their longest tenured player Zach Yachimec, and Damage sends out one of the best to ever play, Bryan Smith as their champion. Both players' elite experience and gunfighting skills are put on full display as neither gives an inch and the game clock runs out, no point.

Photo of Jacob Edwards / Tampa Bay Damage by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

The next players out are Brandon Cornell for Impact, and Jacob Edwards for Damage. With the entire event on the line and a chance to win the first event for his team since 2013, Jacob Edwards comes out stoic and poised as Brandon Cornell attacks down the field. Edwards catches Cornell between moves and eliminates him, winning the event for his team. The rest of Damage rushes out on the field with exuberance, embracing Edwards for his massive victory.

Photos by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

Divisional Highlights

Photo of KC Missouri Allstars by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

Semi-Pro: After pushing ahead early in the match against Annapolis A-Team, Blastcamp never ceded the lead in a dominant event win. Jackson Frey is showing his pro-level poise on the field, commanding his team from the back line and closing out games. After a slow start to the season, many were questioning if Blastcamp still had what it took to win a pro spot, and they silenced all their critics with a near perfect performance in the Lone Star Open.

Division 2: In a Division 2 matchup featuring event one winner, New Jersey Leverage, the KC Missouri Allstars were able to score their first win in Division 2 behind Todd Boyer and former pro Damian Ryan. The addition of Damian Ryan was critical for the Allstars, as his experience and gunfighting skills were overwhelming for Leverage the entire finals matchup. Todd Boyer is starting to show real flashes of pro-ready skills on the division two field, and if they continue on this path the rest of the year, they should be fighting for a pro-spot during the 2023 season.

Division 3: During a close Division 3 matchup, Texas Cyclone was able to secure an event win. This was a program that was consistently in the top five of the Division Four standings last season, and so far throughout 2022, are one of the NXL’s standout Division 3 programs. The event win should firmly entrench Cyclone in the division three season championship race, and with the D3 field so talented this season, it could be an early indicator at the level of talent on this young roster.

Division 4: Houston Zone entered the Division 4 X-Ball finals as a bit of an underdog against Tropic Thunder. However, Zone was able to quickly pull ahead in the match and controlled the game from the first horn winning the Division 4 crown, 5-1. Zone played a bit more defensive and pocketed style in order to control the pace of the game. The discipline they displayed was the critical element against a Tropic Thunder squad that played a bit overextended at times.

Division 5: In Division 5 X-Ball, The Storm Riders out of New York were able to secure the event win over the Outlaw Anodizing factory team. This win comes after a 4th place finish to open up the season in Florida and puts the Storm Riders as an early-season favorite to win the series championship. With nearly half the roster being in their first year of competitive paintball tournaments, it was an impressive victory for the Storm Riders.

Missed it? Go back and watch all of the 2022 NXL Lone Star Open action only on!

Three biggest moments of the weekend

Photo by MCPhotography19 | NXL Media

1. Damage Scores First Win Since 2013

The event win for Damage comes after their longest drought in franchise history. It silences many of the Tampa Bay Damage critics and shows that their style is beginning to evolve in a way that could mean more success is coming. The level of depth across their roster this event is something that hasn’t been seen in years, with the emergence of Jared Lackey adding to an already potent snake attack from Keith Brown. Jacob Edwards is on the verge of entering superstar status after a dominant event, and if he continues to play this way he will be in serious conversation for Player of the Year.

2. Dynasty Win Streak Ends

After going on the longest event winning streak since Edmonton Impact in 2017, San Diego Dynasty’s three event run has ended after a surprisingly quiet event that saw them miss Sunday for the first time since 2017. However, this franchise is still the elite of the pro division, and we should see a strong return for Dynasty at the NXL Mid-Atlantic Major.

Photo by Giant Party Sports

3. Giant Party Sports Secures Long Term Deal

One of the most under-the-radar moments of the weekend has to be the emergence of a long-term location deal the NXL secured with Giant Part Sports and the Degidio family. Gio and Bear Degidio are the owners of some of the nations best paintball facilities and signed a deal with the NXL to become a more permanent location for the league. This is a critical deal for both players and fans, as it solidifies one of the best fields in the world as a consistent event location for the foreseeable future.

Looking Forward to the NXL Mid-Atlantic Major

Players will have a short break before the next major NXL event held outside of Philadelphia on June 17th - 19th at the Mid-Atlantic Major. With the Pro Division Season Championship currently in a tight race between 6 major programs, it will be a critical step for teams in their aspirations to be crowned the best team of 2022. Tune into to rewatch the entire NXL Lone Star Open and catch all the latest stories leading up to the next event on the NXL Blog.

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