With the Los Angeles Aviator's last second hammer to win 24-23 in overtime over the San Jose Spiders tonight, the 12-team 2017 playoff field is set. The East Division has yet to determine it's ordering, but all of the following teams have qualified for the postseason.
Toronto can win the division with a win tomorrow against New York at home. A loss would result in DC taking first place in the division, the first time in division history a team other than Toronto would finish first since 2013.
• San Francisco clinches a playoff spot with one win and clinches the top seed with two wins.
• San Jose clinches a playoff spot one win.
• Bizarrely, despite currently being in third place, Los Angeles has already clinched a playoff spot.
• For Seattle to make the playoffs, the Cascades need a win over San Francisco and they will need at least one of the Bay Area teams to go 0-2 on their road trip. It’s an unlikely path for Seattle, though it’s not impossible.
The multiple team tiebreakers can be a little confusing. Thankfully, for the sanity of the league office, there will mercifully not be four teams even in the standings at the end of the season. However, there are several three-team scenarios.
If San Francisco splits its two games and San Jose also goes 1-1 with a win vs. San Diego and a loss to Los Angeles, then we would have a three-way tie for first at 9-5. In this scenario, we would look at the three teams’ records against each other. San Francisco (2-2 vs. SJ, 2-0 vs. LA) would be 4-2, Los Angeles (2-0 vs. SJ, 0-2 vs. SF) would be 2-2, and San Jose (2-2 vs. SF, 0-2 vs. LA) would be 2-4.
Consequently, in this three-way logjam, the order would go San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then San Jose. All three teams would still make the playoffs.
The more treacherous three-way tiebreakers involve either San Francisco or San Jose losing both their games this weekend.
• If the Bay Area combined to go 0-4, then Los Angeles would take the top spot at 9-5, while the other three would be 8-6. In this unlikely event, San Francisco would miss the playoffs.
• If San Francisco goes 0-2 but San Jose beats LA, then San Jose would be #1 with the other three at 8-6. In this scenario, a three-way tiebreaker between San Francisco, LA, and Seattle, the Cascades would miss the playoffs.
Every other outcome would create two-way ties, and these are a little easier to decipher.
• San Francisco owns the head-to-head breakers vs. San Jose and Los Angeles, but not against Seattle (assuming the FlameThrowers lost to the Cascades on Friday and the head-to-head tiebreaker became relevant).
• Los Angeles, with a win against San Jose, would own the head-to-head vs. the Spiders and the Cascades, but not against the FlameThrowers.
• San Jose loses a head-to-head tiebreaker with everyone.
• Seattle, with a win over San Francisco, would win the head-to-head with both Bay Area teams, but not against Los Angeles.
It may seem odd that the Aviators have seemingly already clinched a playoff spot despite being in third place at the moment, but it is accurate since any two-way or three-way tie involving an elimination situation would include Seattle, and LA’s 2-0 mark against Seattle would give them the edge in any head-to-head situation, even if you mix a third team in.
Easy as pi, right?
Complexity aside, it’s pretty incredible that things are this uncertain heading into the last week of the regular season, and it’s cool that San Diego and Vancouver, the two teams already eliminated from the playoffs, both will have a say in the final seeding depending upon how they compete in their season finales.
Now, let’s dive into a memorable Week 16, starting with a booming individual performance from perhaps the most humble Cannon.
The Full Field Layout
In their first four games of the 2017 season, the Jacksonville Cannons scored 99 goals. Mischa Freystaetter and Jeremy Langdon registered 20 apiece, while Cole Sullivan had 13.
Jordan Huston, better known to his teammates as “J-Bo,” only had three.
Who would have ever imagined that, three months later, he would be not only the top scorer on his team, but also the #1 goal catcher in the entire league?
On Saturday night in Jacksonville, Huston scored 22 times in the Cannons’ 33-24 victory over Nashville, smashing the AUDL’s single-game scoring record by eight goals. The NightWatch attempted to double-team Huston downfield during portions of the second half, but the Cannons’ continued their quest to feed the 27-year-cutter around the end zone.
All 22 of Jordan Huston's record-setting goals from Saturday.
“Before the game started, our O-line wanted to see if I could become the league leader in scores,” said Huston, who entered the night with 58 goals on the season. “I was eight goals behind the lead, so we figured we could go for it and try to get as much of a buffer as we could. At halftime, I was at 10 goals, so we decided to see how high we could take that.”
Though Huston only tallied two of his team’s first six scores, he became the target for eight of the Cannons’ next nine goals as Jacksonville built a 16-10 halftime lead. In the third quarter, he delivered nine of the team’s 11 strikes in the period, before adding three more in fourth.
Highlights from July 15 between Nashville and Jacksonville.
“At some point in the second quarter, we realized that he was very much on pace for beating the record,” said Jacksonville’s Andrew Roney, who had the assist on three of Huston’s scores. “But al of his goals to that point were wide open looks; he made good cuts and lost his man. The mindset at the beginning of the game was to stay sharp before the playoffs, so creating space with cuts, dump swing, etc. But after Jordan’s first half, the offense was excited about continuing to get him looks so that he could score. From there on out, we wanted to give Jordan priority around the end zone to cut and get open, especially on the break side. We set up a lot of break throws to him so that he could cut out from the stack to a wide open space. Our handling core had some creative throws to open spaces that allowed Jordan to really boost his numbers as well.”
By the end of the game, Huston had set an absurd new standard. Prior to Saturday, Pittsburgh’s Ethan Beardsley and Toronto’s Steve Armitage had both scored 14 goals in a game. If a Cannon was going to break this record, it would have made sense to bet on Freystaetter or Langdon. But perhaps it’s poetic, as a capper to a chaotic and unpredictable season across the league, that Huston now holds the mark.
Consider that a year ago Huston had just 18 goals in seven games as a member of the Raleigh Flyers. Consider also that every single team in the AUDL has had a game this year when it has scored fewer than 22 goals as a full squad. Accumulating that many individually is unforeseen and, frankly, bonkers. Just like so much of what we have witnessed across the league throughout the season.
“I normally just try to take what the defender is giving me,” said Huston, when asked about his cutting strategy for this particular game. “As the game went on, they tried harder to stop me from scoring and put some double teams on me, but when you’re cutting for handlers like Chris LaRocque, Andrew Roney, Bobby Ley, and Tyler Kunsa, it makes your job easier. All I had to do was find open space and I knew they could get the disc there…I can’t stress enough how much credit the other six guys on the line deserve in achieving this accomplishment. They did all the hard work and made my job easy.”
While Huston was eager to deflect praise onto his teammates, they were collectively thrilled for him to experience the glory. Cole Sullivan, who missed his fifth straight game with a lower back injury but expects to be back for the playoffs, tweeted after the game that Huston “is the humblest man on our team and deserves every bit of recognition.” Several other Cannons concurred.
“Honestly, there isn’t anyone else that I would rather see break the record,” said Roney, whose ultimate career was partly born when Huston convinced him to join the FSU team as a freshman. “He has always led by example and been a great teammate and friend. Seeing Jordan get the recognition that he deserves was great for all of us that have played with him for years and know the work that he has put in but has never gotten any outside praise.”
Along with the historic individual effort, the Cannons reached double-digit victories for the second time in three years, improving to 10-4. Meanwhile, they awaited the result from Texas, knowing that if Austin could edge Dallas, then Jacksonville would host the Roughnecks in the opening round of the playoffs.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Sol and Roughnecks were deadlocked at 21, and Austin looked like they had a great chance to down the defending champs. But Dallas, bolstered by return of Kurt Gibson, closed on a 6-2 rally to prevail 27-23 and secure the #2 seed in the South. Gibson, who suffered a torn pectoral muscle while ‘jumping off a cliff in the Philippines’ before the AUDL season began, showed a dash of rust in his 2017 debut, but also distributed a game-high eight assists and caught a pair of goals.
Highlights from July 15 between Dallas and Austin.
“The first quarter I think I had three turnovers,” said Gibson, who is seeking his third AUDL title after winning with the Spiders in 2014 and the Roughnecks a season ago. “I turfed like three flicks right into the ground. But it was great getting out there and playing. Running was actually pretty good because I had been running for a month. But my throwing for sure was not where I wanted it to be.”
The injury occurred in early March while attending the Boon Rock Star Cup, an ultimate event in the Philippines that Gibson attended along with Jimmy Mickle. During a day excursion in Boracay, there were several people jumping off platforms of different heights into the ocean. Multiple times, Gibson leapt off an elevated diving board that was about eight meters high. Fearful of getting injured, he chose not to attempt the highest board. When he jumped off the same rock platform and into the water for a fourth and final time, he ‘landed really weird.’
“As soon as I hit the water,” he explains, “my body went down and my arm got caught on the surface and it pulled my arm up when I was kind of flexing, I guess; so that tore my tendon off the bone, and they had to sew it back on the bone. It wasn’t too fun.”
He barely touched a disc for five months and could not even run for four months after surgery, but throughout the season his return to the field was always lingering as a fascinating wild card in the South Division race. With an ultimate résumé that commands respect, Dallas is hopeful that Gibson can help the team return to Championship Weekend.
“We are super excited to have Kurt back in the lineup,” Brandon Malecek remarked, “and it was good to get him rolling before the playoffs. We tried to feed him the rock early on so he could get his timing back and some chemistry flowing.”
The Sol, despite playing the Roughnecks much tougher in 2017, went 0-4 against their Texas rivals for the second year in a row.
“It was a close game until it wasn’t, which tends to be the story for us against Dallas,” offered Austin’s Ethan Pollack. “It wasn’t an especially clean game on either side. I’d say the difference was they took better advantage of our mistakes than we did of theirs, especially in the fourth. I don’t remember one guy really killing us. That’s what makes them such a dangerous team: they’re deep enough to hurt you in a lot of different ways.”
When Jacksonville and Dallas intersect again in a week and a half, each team will be determined and focused, with the survivor advancing to Raleigh and the loser’s season ending. The Cannons will try and stop Kurt and company—perhaps Jacksonville’s Chris Gibson will have some familial insight—while the Roughnecks will seek to stifle the league’s leading goal scorer, who’s coming off the most prolific scoring Saturday in AUDL history.
Without a doubt, this will be the most hyped and anticipated first-round playoff game the league has ever seen.
After that review of the contentious South, let’s return to the confusing West.
The drama commenced on Friday evening as San Jose hosted Seattle. Entering the night, the surprising Spiders were at the top of the crowded race and very much in control of their own destiny to be the #1 seed and grab that coveted bye into the West Division finals.
It would be an overreaction to suggest that the Cascades completely transformed the Cinderella Spiders into harmless pumpkins, but San Jose did indeed struggle against Seattle. When John Randolph skied for a thrilling buzzer beater at the end of the second quarter, the Cascades took a 10-9 lead into the half, and a 4-1 rampage early in the third quarter helped keep Seattle in front the rest of the way in the 21-17 triumph.
Highlights from July 14 between Seattle and San Jose.
“We didn’t come in with the fire that we needed to in warmups,” said San Jose Coach Tyler Grant. “Our offense was looking good during warmups, but not because it was crisp. It was because we were behind on D.”
The Cascades offense was far from flawless, but Seattle did more than enough to possess the disc and maintain their lead in the second half. Whenever it looked like the Spiders might make a run, either Seattle’s pressure would lead to a D or San Jose would make a careless decision. Multiple ill-advised hammers near the end zone severely plagued the Spiders’ comeback bid, while the Cascades kept making plays in what was absolutely a must-win situation for them.
“I think we got fed up with the games where we’d play really well for two quarters or three quarters of a game and then kinda let our guard down,” said Cascades Captain Mark Burton, who led the squad with six assists on Friday night. “Our D-line just kept making them work, kept making them grind. Our O-line was confident. We knew that we could get what we wanted for the most part, and even though they did a really good job pressuring us, the handlers did a great job activating early and the cutters were cutting hard.”
Certainly the Spiders’ comeback cause was hampered by separate ankle injuries that O-line stalwarts Justin Norden and Evan Boucher both suffered in the second half.
“Both of them came down with decently bad ankle sprains,” acknowledged Grant. “That was certainly unfortunate.”
The Friday victory moved Seattle within a game of first place, with the opportunity to surpass the FlameThrowers and ascend into a playoff position on Saturday. During a fast-paced first quarter, the Cascades traded punches with San Fran, and it was 6-all after 12 points, with very few turnovers mixed into the goal-scoring spree.
But the FlameThrowers earned back-to-back breaks late in the first to build a lead that would gradually grow to as many as eight by the latter stages of the third. On the second day of a back-to-back, the Cascades looked fresh enough. Unfortunately, San Francisco was clicking on all cylinders, while Seattle could not maintain its mistake-free methods that allowed the Cascades to beat the FlameThrowers back in May.
Highlights from July 15 between Seattle and San Francisco.
“I think we had lot more execution errors in this game compared to the last time we played them,” said Seattle’s John Doherty. “Maybe they didn’t make as many mistakes as they did in the last game as well. I wouldn’t [attribute] it to legs; normally on the second game of a doubleheader, you’d [attribute] it to legs, but I think [on Saturday] they were just more clinical than we were.”
Late in the third quarter, though, the Cascades made a little run. After an offensive hold with 38 seconds left, Seattle capitalized on a Cassidy Rasmussen throwaway and punched in another goal at the buzzer. Suddenly, an eight-goal deficit had been trimmed to six, and the Cascades would be starting the fourth on offense.
“It was like the nut that let the bolt that let the gear that let the tire fall off,” explained the always loquacious Beau Kittredge when asked to describe what happened at the end of the third. “Then, we were there with no tire.”
Seattle held on their first O-point in the fourth and added two more breaks to inch within three with 7:06 remaining, advancing the dream if an amazing comeback. But then San Francisco stabilized itself, breaking back twice to increase the lead back to six.
“Luckily, we have like six other spare tires,” Kittredge mused, “so we put one of the spares on and kept driving.”
Kittredge’s quirkiness aside, Saturday did illustrate how the FlameThrowers have plenty of wheels to ride toward their intended destination. Against Seattle, Joel Schlachet scored nine goals along with four assists, while Mac Taylor contributed four goals and five assists. Ashlin Joye, playing in just his second AUDL game of the season, had five assists and only one turnover in 42 throws. Overall, the San Francisco O-line was in gear.
“That was fantastic,” said FlameThrowers Coach Ryo Kawaoka, commenting on the team’s offense performance immediately after their 31-26 victory. “I think [we] have great rhythm and chemistry right now, and it was great to see them connect over and over again both away and in the small ball game.”
Entering Week 17, San Francisco finds itself back in first place, exactly where most prognosticators expected the FlameThrowers to be before the season. With two road games up in the Pacific Northwest, they know that they can finish at the top by closing 2-0. A 1-1 weekend could secure their residency in the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Aviators began their Saturday night knowing that a home victory against San Diego would give them the first-place perch entering Week 17. Considering they had just clobbered the Growlers on the road the previous week, there was plenty of reason to believe that LA would be sitting pretty at 9-4.
Of course, that’s why they play the games.
Highlights from June 15 between San Diego and Los Angeles.
The Growlers followed the easy script early, falling behind 4-1 in the first quarter. But San Diego quickly found a groove and evened things at six. Late in the third, with the score tied at 15, the Growlers scored two in a row to enter the fourth with momentum. In the final 12 minutes, LA could not break San Diego’s offense, as the Growlers, playing without Hunter Corbett and Steven Milardovich, prevailed 22-18.
“The main rallying cry was ‘not on our watch,” said San Diego’s Will Griffin. “We knew they could secure a playoff spot with a win, but we weren’t going to let that be against us. We tweaked our marking strategy to take away the inside throw and force them to break the mark, which they don’t like to do. So they ended up swinging back and forth without being able to get an upfield throw. We really made their offense earn every point and it showed come the end of the game when we started to pull away.”
It was an interesting contrast for the Aviators offense, which had played so smoothly in winning their previous four games. By the end of the game, eight different Aviators had accumulated multiple throwaways, a high volume of errors to try and overcome.
“We got Eli [Friedman] and Tom [Doi] back, which was awesome, but since we had played so many games without them, the chemistry might have ben a tad bit off,” admitted LA’s Michael Kiyoi. “We turned it over on unforced errors. San Diego had a couple nice blocks, but we must have had four or five turns on easy dump looks or resets that we didn’t execute well. Give credit to San Diego for putting a little more pressure on and playing a clean game.”
Both the Growlers and Aviators will host the Spiders this coming weekend. San Diego looks to play spoiler, while LA hopes to advance its playoff position and avoid a two-game slide heading into the postseason.
“The San Diego loss was a tough one,” said Aviators Coach Franklin Rho. “We’re confident that we’ll bounce back vs. San Jose; it should be a very exciting weekend.”
Close games between Minnesota and Indianapolis are nothing new. In fact, Friday’s overtime thriller was the fourth time in the last six meetings that the Wind Chill and AlleyCats have been separated by just one goal.
Highlights from July 14 between Minnesota and Indianapolis.
The most recent showdown featured a handful of lead changes. Indy broke Minnesota’s O-line four times in the first quarter, but the AlleyCats never led by more than three. The Wind Chill scored five goals in a row to begin the second half, but their 18-15 lead would also be short-lived, as the AlleyCats roared back to send it the fourth even at 19-all.
In the final frame, Indy took a lead; then Minnesota went up one; the Indy surged in front again. But when Josh Klane hit Ryan Osgar for the equalizer with around 30 seconds left, overtime beckoned at 24-all.
In the bonus session, the Wind Chill took charge, beginning the five-minute period with a hold and a break to lead 26-24. Indy snuck back within one and induced a turnover to have a chance to tie in the last minute, but could not convert to force a dramatic universe point.
“Overall, I would say that Indy beat us on most of the individual matchups,” admitted Wind Chill Coach Phil Bowen narrowly prevailing 26-25 in OT. “They might have won every jump ball and had some legit Ds. But I think our depth finally showed up towards the end of the game, and we were just able to put fresher legs on the field. I thought that Caleb Denecour got faster throughout the game in comparison to his defenders. He was able to open up space and help our O efficiency later in the game.”
The triumph improved the Wind Chill to 10-3, giving Minnesota a double-digit win total for the first time in franchise history. Still, Minnesota will need to defeat Pittsburgh this Saturday to earn a home playoff game in the Midwest Division.
Meanwhile, the AlleyCats, haunted by six losses by three scores or less, dropped to 4-8 heading into their final weekend of the season. Several of Indy’s leaders had harped on the team’s lack of mental toughness throughout the season, however they did not blame the most recent slim setback on this particular factor.
“I honestly think we played a pretty good game mentally,” said Indy’s Cameron Brock, who collective five goals and four assists in the game. “I didn’t see the weakness in our team when things got tough. For once, when we got punched, we punched back…I think we are setting ourselves up for a good last weekend, and I’m hoping to end the season on a two-game win streak. I feel like we can do it.”
The AlleyCats will close their season at Chicago on Saturday and Madison on Sunday.
The Philadelphia Phoenix won’t be appearing in the 2017 postseason, but their recent momentum could very well be the spark to a playoff push a year from now. The franchise that won just three games over three seasons from 2014 to 2016 improved to 4-9 with a brilliant performance against the New York Empire on Saturday. Winners of back-to-back games for the first time since 2013, the Phoenix will aim to close their season with another upset against DC this coming weekend.
“We felt we had something to prove,” said Philly ultimate veteran Trey Katzenbach, when asked about the game against the Empire. “We came out loose, they had a lot of drops, but we were right on their backs when they had those drops.”
While the Phoenix came out on fire, the Empire delivered an absolute dud. New York’s O-line was broken three consecutive points to start the game and then three more times after finally punching it in once. Early in the second quarter, the Empire shockingly trailed 8-1.
“That first quarter was definitely the worst in Empire history,” said New York Coach C.J. Ouellette. “I think it was a combination of Philly playing hard defense and several mental and execution errors on our part. We had 12 turns and two drops, which is more than most of our halves this season. Missing guys like Chris Kocher, Sam Little, and Muk Kuzmowycz, who are usually our initiation cut, definitely didn’t help. It wasn’t until I moved Babbitt over from D-line and moved Sam Taylor up to the starting O-line in the second quarter that we actually started to move the disc properly.”
The stat-stuffing Babbitt finished the game with six goals, two assists, and four Ds, but by the time the Empire found their footing, the damage was done. The Phoenix led by eight at the half and New York never crept closer than five in Philly’s 30-23 triumph.
For the Phoenix, it was a great team effort.
“There was an early layout D by Paul Klimkowski near the goal line,” remembered Katzenbach. “Charles Cannon had a couple dump defensive plays, which were great. Sean Mott had another couple of posters.”
Nicky Spiva paced the Phoenix with seven assists and just one turnover in 47 throws, while Klimkowski and Cannon were two of the five Phoenix to each register multiple Ds. Eric Nardelli recorded three blocks in the victory, taking advantage of the Empire’s offensive strife.
“Our offensive unit was a revolving door week to week [throughout the season],” said New York’s Matt Auletta, when asked to assess the Empire’s season. “Only Taylor Brooks and I have played in every game; some of our top guys, Kocher, Little, Muk, [Sean] Keegan, and [Kevin] Norton have all missed a bunch of games because of injuries or different Worlds commitments. We have lost a lot of close ones, and if we had that consistency throughout the season I think we would be having a different conversation.”
The Empire dropped to 5-7 heading into their final weekend of the year, at Ottawa on Saturday and at Toronto, a team they have never beaten before, on Sunday. Ouellete says the Empire will have 25 guys making the road trip this weekend.
“I would love to be able to end the season on a high note,” Ouellete said. “Doing it against Toronto would just make it mean more, since we have never beaten them.”
The Outside In
It’s always interesting to watch players move from the college ranks to the AUDL. Several coaches have shared the belief that some players are more apt than others to excel quickly in the pro game. In other cases, the larger space, quicker stall count, and smaller margin of error can give some guys trouble making the adjustment.
The Growlers appear to have a keeper in Will Turner.
“Turner just graduated from UCSB and was their main guy last year,” explained Will Griffin. “Really good kid with great throws. He’s starting to become more confident on a more veteran team and we have done a good job trying to put him in a position to succeed. A few weeks ago, it was to focus in on a couple players defensively, and this past weekend, it was to be that second offensive handler with Leggio. We told him his job is to get it downfield to [Travis] Dunn, [Sean] Ham, and [Jesse] Cohen however he can, and he executed well.”
Against LA, in just his third game as a Growler, Turner scored twice, dished one assist, and played turnover free with 16 completions. Leggio, who completed 57 of his 58 throws, was grateful to have Turner by his side.
“Will Turner might not have lit up the stat sheet, but he had a really solid offensive game for us,” said Leggio, when asked about which individuals were key to the team’s road win. “He had a few possession saving grabs and consistently got the disc upfield into tight windows.”
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
I very much appreciate self-awareness and the sharing of interesting numerical nuggets. Nashville’s Corey Hardesty checks both boxes in this illuminating tweet.
I hope Hardesty plays in the AUDL in 2018. If he does, I’ll be rooting for him to snap that long and painful skid.
Seven On The Line
1. Here are few more nuggets on Jordan Huston’s historic Saturday night at the Bolles School. Firstly, the 22 goals were distributed by five different teammates. Chris LaRocque found Huston in the end zone seven times, five of which came in the second half, while Bobby Ley connected with him six times. Chris Gibson dished for four of Huston’s goals, while Andrew Roney had three and Tyler Kunsa had two. While Huston scored just two of the team’s first six goals and none of the final three, he was a monster in the middle, scoring 20 out of Jacksonville’s 24 goals in one extended stretch. Overall, he played all 26 O-points and six D-points, with three of his goals punctuating D-line appearances. Aside from Huston, seven other Cannons scored the team’s 11 other goals, with Jakeem Polk topping that group with three.
2. The Madison Radicals wrapped up the regular season Midwest title with a superb second half on Friday night in Chicago. Tied at 10s at the break, the Rads outscored the Wildfire 16-7 after halftime to improve to 11-2. “We had a run of three breaks early in the third quarter which helped open up the game for us and gave our offensive line a chance to play with more freedom,” said Madison’s Andrew Meshnick, who registered three Ds in the win. “Clinching the top spot in the Midwest is always one of our goals heading into the season, so it’s great to accomplish that.”
Highlights from June 14 between Madison and Chicago.
3. The Radicals tale of two halves on Friday in Chicago is somewhat representative of the team’s season overall, a fact that Madison’s official twitter account illustrated on Saturday.
The Radicals clearly started the 2017 season in a bit of a funk after the heartbreaking finish to last year’s semifinal, but over the past six weeks they have re-established themselves as title contenders. A willingness to confront the lingering pain and identity questions that surfaced at the end of last year has gradually enabled the Radicals to grow past it. “I think the Seattle loss did a lot of psychological damage to us,” admitted Kevin Pettit-Scantling, who recorded four more Ds in the team’s Friday win over Chicago. “We spent the majority of the this season creating a new identity for ourselves because a loss at that level, in the way it happened, made us rethink what we were doing as a team. Is our current system broken? Was that loss a fluke and we’re really fine? We’re also a different team roster-wise. Take a look at our team from last year. We’re missing [Matt] Weber, [Mike] Swain, Jay [Froude], Abe [Coffin], and Scott [Richgels]. Kevin Brown has missed the majority of our games. We’ve had to replenish the ranks for the first time in four seasons. When was the last time you’ve seen the Radicals with this much variance in our roster from one year to the next? It’s not something we’re used to. Chemistry needs to be cultivated, plays taught, instincts disciplined. I think what you saw last season was a well-oiled machine with four years of chemistry put into it. Now, we’re building a new machine, bigger and better. But it takes time to get something like that moving. Especially in one season.”
4. Six different Pittsburgh Thunderbirds recorded multiple Ds as the T-Birds picked up their fifth consecutive win on Saturday, 28-24 over Detroit. After the game was tied at ones, the Thunderbirds recorded a break and led the rest of the way. The Mechanix hung tough and were within two at the end of the third, but a 4-1 run to start the final frame removed doubt that Pittsburgh would prevail. David Vatz recorded six goals while Jonathan Mast paced the handlers with five assists, as the Thunderbirds survived without the services of Tyler DeGirolamo, Pat Earles, Mark Fedorenko, Max Sheppard, or Sam VanDusen. At 9-4, Pittsburgh can surge past Minnesota and earn a playoff game with a win over the Wind Chill this Saturday. Detroit’s Anthony Davis concluded his second pro season six goals and six assists, boosting his 2017 plus/minus to a team-best +50. But with a 1-13 record, the Mechanix finished with just one win or fewer for the third time in four years.
5. The Toronto Rush reached the 30-goal plateau for the fifth time this year, improving to 10-3 with a 30-25 victory against Ottawa on Sunday afternoon. The victory puts the Rush one win away from officially securing the top spot in the East, which they can earn with a triumph against New York this weekend (or if DC falls at Philly). Back in the preseason, we wondered whether Toronto’s youth would give the franchise a significant boost in 2017. Sunday’s game was yet another example of the significance of the Rush’s roster reinforcements. “Ben Burelle and Jeff Woo were absolute terrors all game, scoring 10 goals between them and creating a ton of space for the rest of the O-line to work with. For two rookies to step in and dominate like that is amazing to see and a real testament to the system that our coaching staff has developed over the past five years.” Though the Rush were without veteran stalwarts like Mark Lloyd, Jonathan Martin, Cam Harris, Andrew Carroll, and Geoff Powell, they still had a few reliable and recognizable contributors. Isaiah Masek-Kelly dished six assists along with scoring twice, while Yearwood had four assists and three goals. Thomson McKnight completed 43 passes with just one throwaway. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to earn home field advantage and a first-round bye, but New York is another team that is much more dangerous than the standings indicate,” said Yearwood. “They consistently match up well against us and have given us tons of problems in the past.”
6. Atlanta’s Matt Smith added another +8 to his impressive statistical season as the Hustle surpassed the NightWatch 27-22 on Saturday, capping the seasons for both squads. Nashville actually opened up a 5-1 lead in the first quarter, but Atlanta rallied to tie it up at 13 by halftime. The Nightwatch scored first in the second half, but Atlanta would soon break multiple times, bolting on a 6-1 run to create some separation. For the full season, Smith’s +76 is good for fifth in the league behind Huston (+83), Indy’s Rick Gross (+83), Babbitt (+83), and Burton (+81). At 5-9, the Hustle concluded their 2017 campaign in fourth place in the South, but five games back of Jacksonville, who finished in third.
7. After recording two wins in 2015 and three in 2016, the Nashville NightWatch endured their first winless season in 2017, a journey featured 14 straight losses by an average of more than 10 goals per game. Their closest game of the season was a 14-11 loss against Jacksonville back on April 23—yes, the Cannons won with eight fewer goals than Jordan Huston scored against the NightWatch this past weekend. For the season, Ethan Downs paced Nashville’s offense with 33 goals, while Blake Waldron recorded 33 assists, tops on the squad. “Going into this year, I was incredibly pleased with our team and thought that we had some great potential,” reflected Waldron. “None of that has changed. The problem was that every other team in this division got better as well. You have Raleigh signing lots of the solid Charlotte guys. Oh, and throw in Goose [Helton] and [Brett] Matzuka. Jacksonville brings in Jakeem [Polk], [Jeremy] Langdon, and a ton of hype. Dallas didn’t really need any help. Atlanta signed one of our top guys, [Paul Lally], and Austin kept a strong core together. So, we had a tough road ahead of us. I am really proud of our team for pushing through and fighting hard till the last buzzer. It is really exhausting and hard to endure a 14-loss season, but I am very pleased with our grit throughout the season.”
On the final weekend of the regular season, eight of the 11 games remain meaningful from a seeding standpoint. All three spots in the East are still undecided, while the two/three homefield advantage in the Midwest will come down to Saturday’s result in Minnesota. And obviously, there are a plethora of possible permutations out West; by Sunday night, we’ll see some clarity.
With our Sunday afternoon telecast in Toronto, our Game of the Week crew will aim to both cover the Empire-Rush matchup and break down the postseason picture league-wide. For the first time since April, Bryan Jones will rejoin me up in the booth.
After this 11-game weekend, there will only be 11 elimination games remaining in the 2017 AUDL journey. By Sunday evening, the championship bracket will be set, and the march to Montreal will gradually crescendo over the next month.
I hope you’re as excited about it as I am.
The Tuesday Toss is published weekly on theAUDL.com during the season. Got a comment or question about the AUDL or the current state of ultimate? E-mail Evan Lepler at AUDLMailbag@gmail.com. Feedback can also be levied on twitter: @EvanLepler
Thursday Thoughts: Week 15
July 13, 2017
1. There are 22 games left in the AUDL regular season, 18 of which could have postseason implications.
We’re 45 days away from the sixth AUDL Championship game—Sunday, August 27 in Montreal—and there are 13 teams that could still mathematically be there. Nine teams are already assured postseason berths, while the four West Division clubs are still tangling for three spots. But as pointed out at the open of Tuesday’s Toss, only one of those 13 teams—the 13-1 Raleigh Flyers—is locked into a seed. There are 11 games this weekend and 11 games next weekend, with a potential for more than 80% of them to be meaningful.
2. Tomorrow night is a must-win for Seattle's playoff hopes.
Of the 13 teams that are still alive to be the 2017 AUDL Champ, the Seattle Cascades are the one that’s most likely to be left out of the postseason dance entirely. And urgency is imperative since a winless weekend in the Bay Area would completely extinguish their already fading hopes.
A finalist at Championship Weekend in Madison last season, Seattle experienced a great deal of roster turnover in the offseason. Even still, the new array of talent coalesced quickly. When the calendar flipped to June, Seattle was one point away from being 5-0. Even factoring in the buzzer-beating setback against the Spiders on April 28, the Cascades were 4-1 in the West and very much in the mix.
Highlights from April 28 between San Jose and Seattle.
Over the past six weeks, however, the team’s lack of depth has been its downfall. Since recording impressive wins over Pittsburgh and San Francisco on back-to-back May Saturdays, the Cascades have not beaten anyone other than 1-12 Vancouver. They dropped games against San Diego in consecutive weeks, the latter being the shocking collapse on June 9 when they gave up a seven-goal lead over the final 15 minutes. Los Angeles also swept Seattle in a pair of June matchups, two more missed opportunities for the Cascades to right the ship.
Now, Seattle’s at San Jose and San Francisco on back-to-back days. Aside from Dallas’s jaunt to Jacksonville and Raleigh in mid-May, it’s hard to imagine a more daunting two-day gauntlet. The Spiders and FlameThrowers both will have among their strongest rosters of the season this weekend, with O-line standouts Justin Norden and Evan Boucher returning to the field for San Jose and superstars Ashlin Joye and Eli Kerns expected to be in uniform for San Francisco.
Seattle’s one-goal triumph over San Francisco back in May was an eyebrow-raising result, and it suggests the Cascades might have a couple more tricks up their sleeve. But it’s hard to envision them having the legs in their second game of the weekend against a vicious FlameThrowers roster, especially if they can’t enter with any momentum.
Highlights from May 13 between Seattle and San Francisco.
Consequently, it’s imperative they take care of business against the Spiders, a squad the Cascades feel they should have beaten back in April. Obviously, the matchup holds great meaning for San Jose too, as the Spiders look to maintain their slim one-game lead atop the West Division.
But the Spiders could theoretically stumble tomorrow and still find themselves in the playoffs. If the Cascades crumble down the stretch again, it will almost certainly be the final straw for their postseason dreams.
3. I cannot wait until Jacksonville-Dallas, Part III.
The Cannons have already handed the Roughnecks their first loss ever and their first home loss ever. On the weekend of July 29-30, Jacksonville will look to beat Dallas in the postseason, yet another unprecedented outcome that the Cannons will pursue.
Assuming the Roughnecks prevail in Austin this Saturday—I think they will—the South Division Wild Card game will take place in Dallas. But after Jacksonville’s performance at The Colony last weekend, one wonders just how much that matters. The poise and composure the Cannons displayed down the stretch creates the belief that their A-game is good enough to beat anyone anywhere.
It’s easy to forget, but two years ago, Jacksonville would have won the South and advanced to Championship Weekend if not for an excruciating late-game error and the ensuing miraculous last-ditch effort from Raleigh. This year’s road is exponentially tougher, but the Cannons should be ready.
The Roughnecks, as talented as they are, still have a bunch of questions. It’s clear that they are not as deep as last year’s juggernaut, and even as they sit at 10-3, the squad still feels unsettled. They have an amazing number of desirable puzzle pieces, but the leadership is still trying to fit them together correctly. Adding the malleable Kurt Gibson back for the playoffs should theoretically be a slam dunk, but with the changing roles of key guys throughout the season, it’s hard to know how everyone else will adapt.
The Cannons, on the other hand, may not be as talented at the very top. But they may be deeper than Dallas. And, perhaps more importantly, the Cannons have found success with their current alignment of contributors. Primarily, this has been trusting Bobby Ley, Andrew Roney, and Tyler Kunsa to run the show on offense, utilizing cutters like Jeremy Langdon, Jordan Huston, and Travis Catron serving as the initiators downfield. While the versatile Cole Sullivan did not play this past weekend, he could slot into either role for the Cannons in the postseason.
It’s bewildering to suggest that Jacksonville’s offense may be better with Mischa Freystaetter playing D, but the big fellas has been a revelation for the Cannons’ D-line. Between him and Jakeem Polk, it feels like Jacksonville always has someone who can patrol the skies on a deep shot, either as the primary defender or the poach.
The Cannons have beaten the Roughnecks twice, but both games could have gone either way, as Jacksonville won the two tilts by a total of three goals. During those contests, the rivalry has intensified. Even with both teams praising the other’s spirit in the most recent meeting, plenty of bad blood remains.
When they collide again later this month, the pressure and stakes will be massive. Dallas will still be a slight favorite at home, but the Roughnecks will enter that game with some nerves.
It’s simply shaping up to be spectacular showdown, and it will be a ton of fun to follow.
Jacksonville's Jeremy Langdon Earns AUDL Player of the Week
July 13, 2017
With 16 goals, seven assists, 49 completions, and just one turnover in the Jacksonville Cannons' two game sweep of Texas, Jeremy Langdon is the AUDL Player of the Week!
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, only one playoff position is certain.
The Raleigh Flyers, at a mighty 13-1, are locked into the top spot in the South. They will also be the #1 seed at Championship Weekend in Montreal, if they can make it that far.
Beyond that, the rest of the postseason picture remains very muddied. We may know all three playoff teams in three of the four divisions, but the races for home field advantage and first-round byes are incredibly foggy.
And in the West, nothing is decided. Four teams are still very much in control of their own fate to make it to the dance, and any of that quartet—San Jose (8-3), Los Angeles (8-4), San Francisco (7-4), or Seattle (6-5)—could still mathematically host the division title game.
With just one weekend of play left in the 2017 regular season, the West Division is still completely up for grabs.
Some of the haze out West could clear up this coming weekend, with Seattle heading to the Bay Area for a daunting doubleheader. In the East and Midwest, on the other hand, the landscape certainly won’t settle until the following weekend.
As for the most recent developments of Week 15, it felt representative of many other moments from the wacky and exciting 2017 AUDL season. Like so many other sequences from this spring and summer, the quest for answers has created a brand new batch of questions.
Most notably, the defending champs fell at home for the first time in franchise history. Jacksonville’s dramatic Friday night win over Dallas contained all sorts of ramifications, both in the standings and in the mindsets of the competitors.
The Cannons-Roughnecks clash, a slim 28-27 triumph for the Floridian visitors, easily made the short list for “AUDL Game of the Year.”
Full game footage from Friday's instant classic between Jacksonville and Dallas.
The Full Field Layout
Back on May 12, when the Jacksonville Cannons snapped Dallas’ 23-game winning streak with a 24-22 victory over the Roughnecks, the champs were bummed but not dismayed. Mentally, they knew that they had traveled with a short roster and were missing several of their key contributors. Confidently, they looked toward the July 7 rematch, boldly thinking that they would enjoy a large serving of sweet revenge against the controversial Cannons.
Highlights from May 12 between Dallas and Jacksonville.
This is not to say they did not respect the Cannons as competitors. They did. They realized that Jacksonville had made great strides from 2016, but as champions themselves, they understandably possessed the swagger and belief that they would reassert their superiority when the teams reunited in Texas.
Now, after the Cannons pulled off the thrilling one-goal win to sweep the season series, Jacksonville has no doubt that it can beat Dallas on its home field. And the Roughnecks—even though they expect to add Ben Lohre and Kurt Gibson when they collide with the Cannons again in the playoffs—have to be wondering whether they still possess the championship mettle that led to perfection a year ago.
The flow of Friday’s action provided excitement from the outset. There were no turnovers in the first eight points of the game, which is not to say that the defenses lacked intensity. Many times throughout the entire 48-minute battle, a bidding defender would seemingly be inches shy of a game-changing deflection, only to see the offense narrowly convert.
Highlights from June 7 between Jacksonville and Dallas.
But at 4-all in the first quarter, Jimmy Mickle’s deep look into traffic was stolen by Mischa Freystaetter, the first of eight Ds that the Cannons’ towering presence would accumulate over the course of Jacksonville’s two-game weekend. Four throws later, Chris LaRocque hit Jakeem Polk and the Cannons had their first lead.
Another turnover-free Dallas hold evened the score at fives, but then the Roughnecks experienced an uncharacteristic unraveling. With Jacksonville playing near-flawless ultimate, the Cannons bolted on a 5-0 run. Then, after the Roughnecks’ offense finally held serve again to make it 10-6, the Cannons added three more scores. By the end of the onslaught, Jacksonville was up 13-6, and the Roughnecks were on the ropes.
“We have been working on a loose zone that puts our players into positions where they can succeed,” said Jeremy Langdon, the former Roughneck who scored 16 goals on the weekend for the Cannons. “It takes away having to cover the full length of the field against incredible athletes and highly skilled throwers. They put up a couple of long balls that hung, allowing Mischa and Jakeem to get blocks. Then, our defensive offense with LaRocque at the helm made them pay with breaks for their turns. It was incredibly exciting to watch them convert, but we knew hat Dallas would be back with a vengeance come the second half.”
Jacksonville went unbroken through the first half and led 16-10 at intermission, but Langdon’s premonition of a fierce Roughnecks response would prove correct. After trailing 20-14 midway through the third, the Roughnecks, who had tightened their lines considerably, began to make their move.
Four straight goals sliced the six-goal gap down to two, and by the end of a wild third quarter, the Roughnecks had inched within one at 22-21. Dallas had outscored Jacksonville 11-5 in the third, and it felt like the smart money was on the Roughnecks to continue their second-half rampage and win going away.
“We did not play our best in the second half, and Dallas and their fans made it known they were fired up for a comeback,” recalled Jacksonville Assistant Coach Beth Vavrica. “It shows the growth of the team to withstand Dallas’s big run and pull out the game.”
The Cannons held to begin the fourth and then added a break to increase their lead to three, but the Roughnecks roared back again. After trailing 26-23, Dallas ran off three straight scores to create the first tie since five-all in the first quarter.
The partisan crowd went bonkers when Mickle skied for Dylan Freechild’s sailing huck. Though he landed just shy of the goal line, a critical reset to Matt Jackson and a quick dish to a hustling Freechild evened the game at 26-all with 2:22 remaining. Freechild, as he has been known to do, emotionally spiked the disc to culminate this thrilling sequence.
Jeremy Langdon could not stop laying out in Week 15.
“We knew they would make a push, but we did not know they would put us under siege the way they did,” remarked Jacksonville Head Coach Tuba Benson-Jaja. “Dylan and Jimmy put on some of the best individual performances I have seen in a long time during the third and fourth quarter. They were on a mission and never looked shaken when they were down by six points. So when the game ended up being tied at 26, I knew it was going to be a tall order to win the game.”
But the Jacksonville offense responded. Though the Cannons had not been nearly as stingy with the disc in the second half, they quickly and calmly worked it down the field, retaking the lead about 30 seconds later when Andrew Roney, who had six assists in the game and 16 on the weekend, launched a diagonal cross-field hammer that found Langdon in the end zone.
On Dallas’s ensuing possession, Dalton Smith was fouled in pursuit of an Abe Coffin huck. With the disc on the goal line, Smith executed a backhand break to Mickle to knot the score at 27-all with 1:12 left.
Then, less than 20 seconds later, Jacksonville seized the lead again when LaRocque saw Langdon streaking up the line. He launched a precise flick that Langdon, sensing a defender poaching his way, caught with an acrobatic horizontal bid for the go-ahead goal with 53 seconds remaining.
“When Chris threw that flick up the line, all I could think was ‘I’m catching this disc,’” said Langdon. “Right before I made the cut, I glanced over and saw that the stack was pretty far away and Dan Emmons was a step behind me, so I did what I’ve been doing all season. I ran to the end zone. Just as the disc was passing by me, I saw Dillon Larberg coming over to try and get a poach block. I wasn’t entirely sure if I had to layout to get the score, but I wasn’t chancing it. I had played with Dillon last year and I knew he was incredibly athletic, and that he could make big time plays so I was putting my body on the line for the grab.”
As Langdon sprinted for the layout score, LaRocque had no qualms about the pivotal throw.
“Honestly, I thought that throw to Jeremy was perfect,” LaRocque remembered. “You can’t see it in the video, but I immediately start celebrating when the throw went up.”
Obviously, the Cannons needed one more defensive stop. Dallas proceeded to complete 10 consecutive throws, but the Jacksonville defense prevented any huge gainers. With around 10 seconds left, from just shy of mid-field, Smith fired a desperation flick toward the goal line. Unfortunately for the Roughnecks, it never had a chance. The throw, intended to be an outside-in, lost its outside edge and faded out of bounds. It landed a good margin from the sideline, entirely uncatchable, and the Cannons only needed to convert one more throw to clinch the game.
“On that final O-point, I had a chance to throw a flick huck to Jimmy, or the hammer, but looked off both with about 30 seconds left,” said Dallas handler Brandon “Muffin” Malecek. “I didn’t throw either of those because I was the one with the last O-turn at Jacksonville—missing a wide open Freechild deep with a flick too long—and didn’t want to be the reason for two straight Florida losses. But after Dalton’s flick went wide 20 seconds later, I remember regretting not taking that shot.”
After Benson-Jaja called a timeout to sub his offense back in, Roney dished one completion to Langdon, who made the leaping grab near the sideline to officially cap one of the greatest games the AUDL has ever seen.
Benson-Jaja immediately put the Cannons’ performance into a significant context, offering that it ‘was the biggest win in franchise history in several ways.’
“Beating Dallas in Dallas was huge for us because it came after a two-week bye,” he elaborated. “I had no idea how we would respond after our Raleigh loss, but I could not have asked for a better performance from our team. As a coach, a win is nice, but I was more impressed with the poise the team showed when Dallas mounted their comeback.”
Even the Roughnecks acknowledged the lofty nature of the thrilling Friday night showcase.
“It was a crazy fun game,” admitted Freechild, even in defeat. “Hats off to Jacksonville, who played an incredibly clean game. Those guys had a game plan and executed it. I would also like to add that I felt the game was delightful to be a part of. Jacksonville and ourselves rode the fine line of intensity and respect very well, and I was happy to take the field with those guys. Our playoff game should be a good one.”
If Dallas beats Austin this weekend, the Roughnecks will still host the Cannons in the first round of the South Division playoffs. Another loss, combined with a Jacksonville win against Nashville, would allow the Cannons to be at home for the elimination game at the end of July. Wherever it’s played, the Cannons will know that they can win.
“Our post-game discussion was, ‘we came here and did what we planned to do,” said LaRocque, who had four assists and no turnovers in the Dallas victory. “’Not only were we the first team to beat Dallas, but we are now the first team to beat them in their house. So let’s be the first team to sweep Texas tomorrow.’ From there, we were looking forward to the next game. We had that night to celebrate and enjoy the win, but we knew we still had business to do.”
While Jacksonville entered Saturday’s matchup with Austin with confident momentum, the Roughnecks were left with a weekend of pondering what had happened.
“For the most part, I don’t think the team, as a whole, is too worried about the loss,” said Freechild. “The thing I’m worried about is it seems to be a trend that we come out a little slow. Our ability to get the disc back after a turn during an offensive point is still something that can be seen as one of our weaknesses. We found ourselves in a seven-point hole early on, and it was really just the result of a couple of miscues and lazy defense. It wasn’t decision making or Jacksonville getting huge blocks, although there were a few. It came down to focus and desire, and we lacked both. I don’t want to downplay this, as lack of focus and desire can be just as detrimental as any other on-field problem. However, they are problems that can be very easily fixed and don’t involve anything or anybody outside the team.”
While the 10-3 Roughnecks look to regroup, the Cannons improved to 9-4 on Saturday by winning another high-scoring shootout with the Sol, 31-27. Freystaetter had six Ds, while Roney had 10 assists and Langdon scored 10 goals, but Jacksonville still had a tough time breaking away from underrated Austin.
Highlights from June 8 between Jacksonville and Austin.
“We were fighting over-confidence,” offered Vavrica. “It’s really tough to beat the defending champions on their home field and turn around to play another game [24 hours later]. “Physically our guys were feeling good, but the second game of a road trip is always going to be tough physically. After a comfortable first quarter [where we built a four-goal lead], Austin fought hard in the second and third to make it a ballgame.”
After the Sol had tied the game late in the third, Jacksonville took a 24-22 lead into the fourth. Though the Sol inched within one, they never could tie it late. Up 29-27, the Cannons scored the final two goals to win by four.
“I think the last point of the Austin game defined the road trip weekend,” said Vavrica. “We were up by three and coming out on D with a short clock. Austin put it up to the end zone; Polk came down with the D. He was double teamed, but was able to get the pass off with just seconds on the clock. We got it down the field to score at the buzzer. We had defensive intensity even at the end of the game to come away with the D, then we didn’t just run out the clock but worked for another score. It was a terrific feeling to fly back on Sunday morning with two wins, chatting with the team about how the season has gone, the big plays and defining moments, and our drive for the rest of the season.”
While the Cannons will likely have to go to Dallas for the playoffs, they again illustrated how threatening they can be to the top powers in the division and throughout the league. Remember that all four of Jacksonville’s losses came against Raleigh, and two of those defeats came by just one point. If you were to flip those two results, then instead of preparing for a road rampage, Jacksonville would be awaiting at home for the survivor of a Roughnecks-Flyers first-round clash.
Quite frankly, the rest of the league’s elite should feel fortunate that they will only have to tangle with one of the South Division squads in Montreal. It’s entirely possible that the best three teams in the league all reside in the South.
The 2017 AUDL is a circuit where a team can give up a 10-0 run one week and beat the defending champs on the road in their very next game. The Cannons, of course, saw Raleigh run off 10 straight goals in their last game before making their resounding statement this past weekend in Texas. It’s important to remember this context when seeing what Toronto did to Montreal on Saturday afternoon.
Highlights from June 8 between Montreal and Toronto.
With the number one spot in the East Division on the line, the Rush scored 11 goals in a row in an overwhelming avalanche that buried the Royal’s home-field hopes in a convincing 28-20 Toronto victory. At 9-3, the Rush can lock up the top spot in their division by winning at Ottawa this weekend and at home against New York on July 23. Meanwhile, the 8-5 Royal finds themselves firmly stationed in third place in the East. Montreal would only move up if 9-4 DC falls at 3-9 Philly on July 22.
Circumstances would perhaps be wildly different if not for the Royal disintegrating during the pivotal stretch that spanned the second and third quarters on Saturday. After falling behind by four goals early, Montreal had closed the gap to 10-9 before an offensive hold made it 11-9. The Royal had the disc with less than a minute to go in the half, trailing by only two, when the wheels fell off the wagon.
“We broke them with 10 seconds left [in the second quarter],” remarked Toronto Captain Thomson McKnight. “Our next pull rolled out the side, stopping the clock until the release of the first throw. We shut down their first pass to Antoine Genest, and they tried a wide swing that Jeremy Norden D’d. The disc sailed into the end zone and landed with about four seconds left. Jeremy hustled, picked up the disc, returned to the line, and flipped to disc to Remy [Ojo] just as the horn went. Those two quick breaks right at the end of the half to go up 13-9, especially in dramatic fashion, really broke their spirit. Coming out of the half and starting on D, we just seemed to have more energy and desire and ran off a huge run.”
In fact, Toronto’s O-line barely saw the field in the third quarter, as the Rush ran off eight straight breaks to begin the second half.
“There weren’t any huge adjustments,” explained Rush Coach Sachin Raina, “though we did work on a couple specific things in practice to prepare for their offensive style, and I think it paid off. Also, knowing how big of a game this was, I think the boys did a great job of coming out hard from the start and staying focused throughout.”
Overall, the Rush recorded 20 Ds in the game, with 13 different players registering at least one block. Five different guys finished with multiple blocks.
“As an offensive player, when you see the defensive guys getting early breaks and getting so many turns it takes a ton of pressure off and allows you to just play,” said McKnight, who quarterbacked the Rush O-line with 26 completions in 28 attempts. “It’s a good thing our D was rolling because early in the game our offense was plagued with the drops. If our O wasn’t coughing the disc up so much, I think you may have seen a large gap before the huge run, but our errors were keeping them in the game.
“The win definitely was a big piece for our postseason run. First, it clinched a playoff berth for us for the fifth straight year. Secondly, I believe—based on my understanding of the tiebreaks—that is also guaranteed us first or second, so our first playoff game is guaranteed to be at home. Now, we won’t be happy if we drop into second, and there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that doesn’t happen. It’s been a pretty exciting season to this point, so we know that lots can still happen, but if we take care of ourselves we control our destiny. That is the best place to be in at this point, as we don’t need to hope for other results to decide our season.”
Though Montreal has already punched its taken to the playoffs, the Royal made their road a great deal tougher by stumbling in Toronto. Off this coming weekend, they will conclude their regular season at home against Ottawa on July 23.
“The message from the leadership after [the Toronto] game was to have a short memory and focus on the task at hand,” said Royal Captain Kevin Quinlan. “We have yet to peak as a team. We will be ready for the playoffs.”
Jacksonville gave up a 10-0 run in Raleigh on June 24 and swept through Texas three weeks later. Montreal suffered an 11-0 stretch this past weekend, but the good news is they will have a chance for a similar vengeance three weeks down the road too.
In the Midwest, Minnesota easily handled overmatched Detroit on Saturday to bounce back from their shaky performance the week before in Madison. But on Sunday, in their first opportunity against the team that ended their season a year ago, the Wind Chill came up short against Pittsburgh.
Highlights from June 8 between Minnesota and Detroit.
A tight game throughout, the 26-22 final matched the Thunderbirds’ largest lead of the day. Pittsburgh led 5-4 after one, 12-10 at the half, and 18-16 through three, but the outcome was still very much in doubt when Dylan DeClerck’s D led to Colin Berry’s goal, giving the Wind Chill a break to get within one at 22-21. Pittsburgh’s ensuing turnover-free hold made it 23-21 with 6:26 left, stabilizing the effort, and the Thunderbirds D would deliver the knockout blows over the final six minutes.
Highlights from June 9 between Minnesota and Pittsburgh.
“Our key break happened at 23-21,” explained Pittsburgh Coach David Hogan, “when Minnesota easily worked it to midfield with a pair of high-release backhand breaks. San VanDusen finally point blocked Ryan Osgar, then hit Pat Hammonds deep after a couple of throws to break upwind.”
VanDusen, Hammonds, and Jimmy Towle all finished the game with three Ds apiece for the Thunderbirds. Meanwhile, Tyler DeGirolamo recorded seven assists, two goals, and two Ds, playing in just his fourth game of the season for Pittsburgh. Mark Federenko scored five goals to lead his team in that department.
“It was great to have Tyler back,” Hogan said, stating the obvious. “Interestingly, he may had had his biggest impact in our end zone offense. We were pretty inefficient a week ago against Chicago in the red zone, and his combination of athleticism and throwing made it that much easier for us to punch it in from close.”
Fedorenko also acknowledged that having the explosive DeGirolamo back on the field is a game-changer, while reflecting on some of the challenges of re-integrating a star of his caliber into the team mindset.
“It certainly makes several peoples’ jobs on the O-line easier, but also builds a little anxiety,” Fedorenko admitted. “He causes teams to think a lot more about their matchups and generally pulls the other team’s best defender so everyone gets a slightly easier matchup. In the same sense, though, our offense changes a decent amount to accommodate his more dominant style—less so this game and I think that helped—but I think he is integrating well back into the offense and we are relearning how to work with him, rather than just let him dominate and pray for success.”
The Thunderbirds victory improved them to 8-4 and moved them within a game of 9-3 Minnesota. Pittsburgh will host Detroit this weekend before traveling to Minnesota on July 22, and the Thunderbirds know that winning both of their remaining games would clinch them the #2 spot in the Midwest and the home game that comes with it.
“I feel like we’re rounding into form,” said Hogan. “Our O-line still has some spacing and cut-priority issues to work out, but our D-line offense has improved markedly from where we were our first several weeks of the season. Getting an influx of Pitt players has also helped all facets of our defense. Their combination of athleticism and intelligence lets us play several different styles of defense throughout a game.”
As for the Wind Chill perspective, Minnesota certainly played respectably in both their games, including a 31-17 rout of Detroit, in which Josh Klane finished with 10 assists. On Sunday, Klane dished six more dimes, but his aggressive style also resulted in eight throwaways. Greg Cousins scored 14 goals on the weekend for the Wind Chill, but the offense, which played well throughout the weekend, could not do enough to topple the Thunderbirds on the road.
“I thought that both O-lines were very effective in [the Pittsburgh] game,” said Wind Chill Captain Ryan Osgar, who had nine goals, six assists, and four Ds on the weekend. “There was a lot of good offensive flow from both sides, however we simply made a few too many unforced errors—mainly easy swing or arounds popping up in the gusty wind and getting eaten up. We needed to be more stingy with the disc and punch a couple more of our break opportunities in.”
Before hosting Pittsburgh in their finale, Minnesota plays its final road game of the regular season on Friday night at Indy.
In the only game in the West this past weekend, Los Angeles soared past San Diego 26-19, officially eliminating the Growlers from the postseason. It was another impressive showing from the Aviators, who continue to have a variety of different unsung stars step up for a roster that has dealt with missing many big names throughout the season.
Highlights from June 8 between Los Angeles and San Diego.
“Our offense was pretty consistent the whole game even with a vastly different offensive line than we’re used to,” said LA’s Bryan Nguyen, who registered five goals to share the team high with Brent George. “Mitchell Steiner had to jump in on the O-line this weekend due to a lack of personnel, but he fit in very well. Timmy Beatty and Brent George played extremely solid, per usual. Eric Lissner also had a big game with a couple huge layout goals.”
LA built its lead early and extended it throughout the game. Up 7-4 after one, the Aviators doubled the advantage in the second quarter to lead 14-8 at halftime. By the end of the third, Los Angeles was up 20-13, a margin they maintained to the end.
“Based on personnel, we transitioned styles from deep shots in the first half of the season to quick movement, plug-and-play offense in the second half of the season,” explained Lissner, who finished the game with six assists. “This switch allowed us to easily integrate these new guys.
Defensively, KuoHsun Wang recorded a pair of blocks and Ted Barnett quarterbacked the D-line offense after a turn. Team leaders also praised Andrew Padula and Aaron Weaver for their contributions in creating pressure that compelled the Growlers to give the disc away.
At 8-4 with both of their remaining games at home (vs. San Diego and San Jose), the Aviators are in a sensational position to secure at least one home game in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Growlers followed their four-game winning streak by dropping back-to-back contests out home to fall to 5-7, outside the playoff picture in the West.
Toronto does not have too many unknown commodities, as most of the Rush roster either has considerable experience in the AUDL or suited up for a Canadian Junior National Team in recent years.
The exception to this is a gentleman named Marijo Zlatic, who has fit in exceptionally well in his first season with the Rush. Having primarily played in the Mixed Division in the past, Zlatic had tried out for Toronto in previous years, but narrowly missed the cut. In 2017, however, he earned a spot on the squad and has proven to be an indispensable defender.
For the season, he has recorded 15 Ds, one shy of Bretton Tan for the lead on the team. Zlatic had three of those Ds on Saturday in the Rush’s huge win over the Royal, in which he led the squad in plus/minus.
“He didn’t do anything overly spectacular, but he made the right play over and over again,” said Sachin Raina. “He played solid D, moved the disc quickly, and ran hard. In retrospect, it was very impressive.”
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
By beating the Royal in the final meeting of the regular season, the Rush retained the “Rumble Cup,” a trophy that the two franchises have exchanged as a symbol of the rivalry. As Toronto GM Scott “Shooter” Hastie revealed on Twitter, it was clutch that the Rush took care of business, because the transfer of the trophy would have been difficult considering that Raina had absentmindedly forgot to bring it to the game.
Raina explained what happened. “Shooter’s tweet is accurate,” he admitted. “I woke up late from a nap prior to our game and in my haste to get ready, I left the cup on the mantle. So in the huddle before the game, I reminded the guys of the importance of the matchup and then added ‘Also, we have to win this game because I left the Cup at home!’ Not quite ‘Win one for the Gipper,’ but it got the job done so I’m sure Knute Rockne would approve.”
One wonders if Raina’s girlfriend and housemate was rooting for the Royal on Saturday, as she apparently is not a fan of the Cup being prominently displayed in their shared home.
“The Cup proudly sits on the mantle in our house mainly because my girlfriend hates it,” said Raina. “It stayed there all of the last offseason and the plan is to keep it there indefinitely. She tries to take it down every now and then, but I always put it back.”
Though I’ll refrain from offering any relationship advice, I will note that the Rumble Cup could be at stake again before long if the Royal can find their way into a matchup with the Rush in the playoffs. If that transpired, the Cup would have more riding on it than ever before.
After 13 consecutive weekends traveling for ultimate—DC, Colorado Springs, Raleigh, Atlanta, Seattle, Raleigh, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Madison, San Diego/Los Angeles/San Francisco (in one weekend), Toronto, Royan, and Madison—I took a brief breather from the disc this past weekend.
With no “Game of the Week” to call, I journeyed up to New England after the Wind Chill-Radicals tilt to visit family and experience a mini-vacation. Though it’s always hard to entirely separate oneself from the happenings of the sport, a couple days on the beach at Cape Cod and a few sunsets up in Maine were refreshing and rejuvenating.
The enjoyable grind returns this week, with a cross-country trek to the Bay Area for a firsthand look at the West Division chaos. Then, my regular season will conclude in Toronto, where the Rush will likely need to beat New York to secure a first-round bye.
I’ve been trying to speculate for weeks about where the postseason schedule may send our crew, but with literally none of the #2 or #3 seeds set, patience is way more productive than clueless prognostication. However the chips fall, I know that the postseason road will be enticing and ripe with drama.
Seven on the Line
1. As for the one team who is locked into a postseason seed, the Raleigh Flyers beat Nashville twice on Saturday to finish their remarkable season at 13-1 in the South Division. “This past weekend was the final regular season test in that we had a long road trip followed by back-to-back games against a hungry opponent that may have had its strongest roster of the season,” said Raleigh Coach Mike Denardis. “We stressed not easing into our first game and putting as much energy as we could into starting strong. The players rose to the occasion, like they have all year long, and finished the first quarter up 9-2. The start gave us the momentum to continue building on our lead, and we were able to lock up the regular season crown.” The Flyers dispatched the NightWatch 24-14 in the opening game before winning the rematch, necessitated by the postponement from late June, 31-26. “The play of the game was made by Nate Goff, who had a shoulder-high layout to save a pivotal goal in the second half and was rewarded with a trip to the hospital after he tore his hip up on a drainage grate,” remembered Denardis. “All is well, but the injury was pretty nasty upon first viewing.”
2. After dropping their third game of the season at Dallas on the second day of a back-to-back in April, the Flyers will enter the postseason on an 11-game winning streak. “Coming out of the regular season with a 13-1 record is an amazing accomplishment given our schedule, but the fortitude we showed in some of those close wins is unforgettable,” remarked Denardis. “Between [Jonathan] Nethercutt’s and [Jacob] Mouw’s last-minute catches to seal the victories against Jacksonville, our huge comeback vs. DC with David Richardson providing the key bookends late, our gutsy win in Atlanta with a bunch of missing components, we could make a highlight reel of the last two minutes of most of our games this season. The overall factors in our season-long success include our commitment to staying focused and emotionally neutral in the path of both adversity and success. This was a big stepping stone in that we did have those big comebacks when we needed them, but we also made sure to close games when the opportunity presented itself. Another overall growth trend was the players that have been in the system taking that next leap in processing information a bit more easily as many were more comfortable in games ‘doing’ instead of ‘thinking.’ And, finally, it was incredible to have the big influx of talent from Charlotte and Chicago. All of those pieces gave us the ability to always have a nasty 20 on game days.”
3. Did you notice that it was a grand weekend for third-place teams? While perhaps not the sexiest headline, it may be the best way to remember this past weekend, with Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and even idle DC benefitting from the Week 15 action. With the postseason beckoning, all of these non-division leaders have given glimpses of why they could be the Seattle of 2017. Remember, the Cascades were a virtual #3 seed in the West last year before they won three straight playoff games away from home to storm into the finals.
4. When looking at the box score of Saturday’s Montreal-Toronto game, perhaps nothing stuck out more than the playing time of Rush standout Isaiah Masek-Kelly. Against the Royal, he played eight O-points and 19 D-points. This contrasted greatly with his full-season, in which he has played 186 on O and 61 on D. Raina confirmed that Masek-Kelly moved to the D-line on Saturday, and the switch seemed to pay immediate dividends. “Right now, we actually have an abundance of O-line cutters, so I’ve been considering moving someone over for a few weeks. After our O-line performed so admirably vs. San Francisco without Isaiah, and given how much of a beast he can be on defense, moving him over was a bit of a no-brainer. I ran the idea by him earlier in the week and he was all for it. Izzy’s just so dangerous after a turn that he draws so much of the defense’s attention, and when he cuts, someone else is bound to be open. So while he may not have done anything that jumped off the page, I think his presence alone contributed to our improved D-line offense.”
5. If Masek-Kelly remains on Toronto’s D-line the rest of the season, one wonders if it will change the complexion of the Rush in a similar fashion to the way Mischa Freystaetter moving from O to D seemed to rejuvenate the Cannons superstar. A year ago, Freystaetter played more than 78% of his points on the Cannons O-line, and he scored 95 goals, an AUDL single-season record. This year, he has played 64% of his points on D, and while his goal-scoring has dipped tremendously—he has 34 goals on the year, third on the team—Jacksonville has benefitted greatly from the added dimension to their D-line. “I’ve always been a defense-minded player, so going back on defense this year has definitely been a smooth transition,” said Freystaetter after the team’s 2-0 weekend, in which he had eight blocks, bringing his season total to 17. “And seeing that our offense is almost unstoppable right now, it definitely has taken a lot of pressure off me this year and lets me play my game.” It’s worth mentioning that the Cannons were also without Cole Sullivan, who led the AUDL in assists last year with 82, this past weekend in Texas. But Jacksonville has found success in handing the car-keys of the offense over to Bobby Ley and letting him steer the squad downfield. With Langdon, Roney, and Huston all playing at an extremely high level, the Cannons have become a much more balanced, all-around team.
6. The highlight of the weekend for the Austin Sol was probably Mick Walter’s exciting Callahan in the third quarter on Saturday. Not only did it bring the Sol back within two, but it also lifted the Sol into an echelon occupied by no other team in the league this season. Walter’s moment was the fourth Austin Callahan of the season, more than any team in the league. According to the official #s of the league, there have been 15 Callahans in the AUDL this season, and more than a quarter of them have come from Austin—Walter, Mitchell Bennett, Elliott Moore, and Steven Naji each have one apiece. Pittsburgh and Minnesota are the only other teams in the league with multiple Callahans, three and two, respectively, while 15 of the league’s franchises have not yet recorded a Callahan this year.
7. If you’re wondering which teams have thrown the most Callahans this year, the answer is Indianapolis and Detroit, who have each thrown three apiece. Dallas and Nashville each have tossed two, while five other teams have thrown one. Not only has Austin caught four, but the Sol are one of the 15 teams in the league who have not thrown one yet this season.
For those who enjoy Friday night lights—I’m not talking about Matt Saracen and Coach Taylor, though I like them too—Week 16 in the AUDL is for you.
There are four contests on the schedule this coming Friday, including tough road tests for Minnesota and Madison (at Indy and Chicago, respectively) as well as the beginning of Seattle’s challenging two-game trip to the Bay.
On Saturday night, we’ll find out Dallas can rebound and improve to 8-0 all-time against Austin, or whether the Roughnecks might have to travel to Jacksonville for the playoffs. Plus, Seattle will complete its weekend with a nationally televised tilt (with Chuck Kindred joining yours truly for the call) against the FlameThrowers, a team they beat by one in their last meeting and need to beat again to have a shot at the playoffs.
The Cascades will need at least one win over San Jose or San Francisco to keep their postseason hopes alive. If the home team takes both, then the Spiders, FlameThrowers, and Aviators will all clinch playoff bids in the West, though the battle for home field will definitely continue through Week 17.
Only six weeks separate us from the dawn of Championship Weekend in Montreal. It will be here before you know it.
The Tuesday Toss is published weekly on theAUDL.com during the season. Got a comment or question about the AUDL or the current state of ultimate? E-mail Evan Lepler at AUDLMailbag@gmail.com. Feedback can also be levied on twitter: @EvanLepler