The Tuesday Toss: Down Go the Champs!
July 11, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
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.
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.
— Toronto Rush (@TorontoRush) July 8, 2017
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