The 2018 regular season is complete, and your Raleigh Flyers are once again in the playoff for the fourth straight year! The Flyers were able to finish out their season strong, winning four of their last five games. Because of their late-season success, the Flyers were able to lock up the #2 seed in the AUDL South Division, right in front of the Austin Sol and right behind the Dallas Roughnecks, both teams that they split a pair of regular-season contests with.
While the Flyers had dominant performances against Nashville and Tampa Bay over the course of the entire season, they were challenged by a rebuilt Austin squad on the road and experienced tough losses to Dallas, DC, and Atlanta. Unlike 2017 when the Flyers’ roster was basically built coming into the season, the 2018 regular season saw Raleigh integrating new faces well into the middle of the regular season. Mischa Freystaetter and Andrew McKelvey joined the Flyers after moving from Florida in the offseason. Johnnie Lynch and Matt Ellis headlined some of the new college pickups that were signed as well. Settling players into new roles took time for the Flyers and it had an marked impact on the Flyers' early season performances.
The month of April was one of ups and downs. The Flyers started out their month with a loss to the Dallas Roughnecks, but went on to win three of their next four games (one win against Tampa Bay, one win against Nashville, one win against Dallas). Despite the difficulties of playing two away games back to back on the road in Texas with a smaller traveling roster, Raleigh managed to cling to a second place spot in the south with a key road win over Dallas after a tight 25-23 loss in overtime to Austin. Those two games are instructive as we look ahead at the South Division Playoffs.
Despite competing with a smaller roster, Raleigh was able to overcome a four point deficit and send the game into overtime on a 90-yard buzzer beater huck from Justin Allen. Hunter Taylor had six blocks to lead the Flyers on the defensive side. To round out the stats, Noah Saul and Jack Williams led the Flyers in points played with 30, while Jonathan Helton and Jack Williams led the Flyers in Plus/Minus at six a piece. The Flyers were able to challenge Austin with simple matchup defense but struggled to convert on break chances. That remained a pretty consistent trend in Raleigh’s four losses during the regular season. Austin’s size and chemistry (with most of their players competing together in the club division) remain their greatest strengths. Alongside a strong veteran core, Chase Cunningham stands out for the Sol with 52 assists to his name in the 2018 regular season. While listed as a handler, Cunningham’s athleticism and dynamism as a lefty gives the Sol plenty of different way to initiate their offense. Countering Cunningham’s impact along with the remainder of Dallas’ receiving core will be crucial this weekend.
Should Raleigh advance to Saturday, all eyes will be on their game against Dallas. In the history of these two teams meetings the Flyers have only two wins to their name. In 2017 as the host team for the South Division Championship game they fell hard 27-24. When Raleigh hosted Dallas on April 7th at the start of the season, Dallas owned the adverse weather conditions and held Raleigh’s explosive offense in check, as they limited the Flyers to 14 goals, their lowest total of the season. Despite pretty significant roster turnover the Roughnecks have fielded the most consistent squad in the division this season with their single loss coming later in April against Raleigh. While Raleigh owned the calm conditions they faced in late April it’s hard to know how the pieces will fall this weekend coming with Raleigh coming off of a game in Austin.
In addition to having a home field advantage and only a single game to play on the weekend, the Roughnecks have claimed the Division crown for two straight seasons. Fielding a much more local team this season, Dallas’ new look has the potential to challenge the Flyers in a high stakes game to go to Final Four Weekend. The Flyers’ hope for their first final four appearance rests on their ability to disrupt Dallas’ offense and stay steady in the heat (temperatures top off at 103 degrees this weekend). Jay Froude and Dalton Smith have been some of the most exciting hybrid players to watch in the league and Dallas has a very experienced supporting cast that has a strong history of post-season success.
With two tough playoff games stacked against them on the road what advantages do the Flyers bring to the table this weekend? Earlier in the year after a road loss to Atlanta the message the Flyers’ coaching staff had for the team was that they could not be complacent with any matchup. Playing on the road this weekend doesn’t convey many advantage on paper to the Flyers aside from narrowing the focus of the players on the battle they’ll face the road. That might not necessarily be a bad thing. It will take razor sharp focus and tenacity to see Raleigh through to Final Four Weekend. With nothing more than two games to be played far from home, all that remains for Raleigh is to come out and execute. And, regardless of outcome, this could be one of the most compelling playoff scenarios the South Division, in its brief four season existence, has seen.