June 25, 2019
By Evan Lepler
In the nearly eight-year history of the AUDL, we have not witnessed too many games like Saturday’s double overtime thriller in Raleigh. Between the all-world talent of two impeccably well coached, first place teams, the breathtakingly high level at which they battled, the lively crowd, perfect weather, and a national television audience, it was a virtually perfect evening for everyone, except for the home team and their fans at the very end of the exhilarating night.
After the 8-0 New York Empire and 7-1 Raleigh Flyers traded heavyweight haymakers for nearly three hours, the action culminated with a dramatic and stunning final point in which arguably each team’s top player throughout the game turned it over on a shot to the end zone. After two turnovers and two timeouts, a perfect Jack Williams huck to Beau Kittredge finally punctuated the proceedings, a quirky and relatively unlikely way for the dramatic action to conclude.
“Beau’s been giving me a hard time about not throwing it to him this season,” divulged Williams, “so I told him that was a pretty good way to finally get on the same page.
Not only was it Kittredge’s first goal of the night, it was also the first time in nine games this season that Jack hit Beau for a score. It certainly came at a memorable time and capped the contest in a poetic way, with Williams, the former Flyer making his return to North Carolina to face his old team, finding Kittredge, the oldest player on the field who owns more AUDL titles than all the rest of the game’s competitors combined.
A couple hours after the clinching catch, the clock struck midnight and Kittredge, already a four-time champion, turned 37 years old. Though he may be more of a role player at this stage of his career, his presence and intelligence clearly still can be game-changing factors.
“It drives me nuts how smart that guy is,” vented Raleigh Coach Mike DeNardis, flabbergasted by Beau’s ability to still get the job done. “Everyone thinks he’s washed up and you just watch him all game long and he’s just spying and spying. He picks his moments in the big spots. He’s so smart.”
While New York celebrated the thrilling win, enabled by a bevy of game-saving plays throughout the critical moments, Raleigh registered disbelief at the way it got away. The Flyers led by two with 90 seconds left, had possession up by one with 20 seconds left, received to start overtime, and had the disc in double OT, all to come up short in a haunting fashion, evoking painful recall of past anguish to accompany the new excruciating dose of disappointment. It was undoubtedly another missed opportunity to build belief, but the reality of the regular season clash is that both teams still have plenty of work ahead, and these two teams are as well-positioned as any in the league to win a championship on August 11.
For the moment, New York is still perfect, barely. The now 9-0 Empire absolutely snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for the third time this season, and that’s actually more close calls than the now 7-2 Flyers have dealt with in their nine-game run. With just three weekends left before the playoffs, both teams still sit atop their divisions. A Championship Weekend rematch is a tantalizing thought, but each team knows that their divisional brethren are good enough to beat them well before flights are booked for San Jose.
While we are still a ways away from drawing definitive conclusions about their 2019 destinies, we can still marvel at the gem of a sporting event we watched unfold on Saturday, full of so many crazy moments it would be foolish to even dare try and mention them all. Along with three other exciting and significant one-goal finishes around the league on Saturday night, it became imperative to reassess the context of the weekend in the grand scheme of the season-long narrative.
We expected the “Game of the Year,” and Empire-Flyers delivered. Add in the rest of the AUDL’s hectic, meaningful schedule and Week 12 may have been the “Week of the Year” too.
The Full Field Layout
Let’s focus in on a few plays from the Flyers-Empire game; otherwise, this column might be closer to 70,000 words than the normal 7,000, though I imagine some of you could devour bottomless insight into the strategy and emotions behind this intense chess-match.
After trailing by as many as three in the first half, the Flyers swung the momentum in the third quarter, transforming a 12-11 halftime deficit into an 18-16 advantage heading into the fourth. On the opening point of the fourth, Raleigh’s David Richardson earned a block on a Ben Jagt huck, giving the Flyers a chance to stretch the lead to three for the first time. But a hasty huck decision by Raleigh rookie Connor Russell enabled New York to retake possession and punch in the hold to inch back within one, commencing a string of 11 consecutive O-line holds in the final quarter. In fact, Raleigh’s opportunity to break on the opening point of the fourth was the only break chance for either side in those first 11 points, which left the Flyers ahead 23-22 on offense with 1:08 remaining.
Whereas 12 or 13 completions may have ran out the clock, Raleigh only registered 10 before New York’s pressure incited a turnover, as Eric Taylor’s hammer toward Henry Fisher was contested by a bidding Kittredge and eluded the Flyers’ top receiver. New York immediately called timeout with 13 seconds left, and Jack Williams took charge in the huddle to diagram the Empire’s game-tying sequence. “I’m not entirely sure where [the play] came from, but as soon as we got the turn and I saw how much time was left, it just sort of came to me,” remembered Williams, who caught three of his four goals in the fourth quarter. “I just knew that with that much time left, Raleigh was going to stay really tight on everyone. The front of the stack is my favorite place to be, and I knew whoever was guarding me—either Tim [McAllister] or Sol [Yanuck]— was going to be really tight on me. Our offense does a lot of dump swings from the sideline using the front of the stack. Those guys are really smart so I figured they would anticipate me trying to continue from the front, so I just drew up a counter and I was pretty certain I’d be open. It was more a matter if [Ben] Katz could get it to me. It was one hell of a throw; I mean damn near perfect. I really didn’t anticipate me being able to catch it in the end zone. I thought at best I’d be just outside of it and then have to figure something out. But that was the throw of the game. Right when he let it go, I knew it was a score. It was right where it needed to be.”
Seven seconds still remained after Williams’ secured Katz’s spectacular flick, but Raleigh’s last-second prayer would be swatted away by New York’s Jeff Babbitt in the end zone. Overtime beckoned, and it was not the last time that a Babbitt block would keep the Empire alive.
Each team scored once in the first overtime period, with New York breaking Raleigh on the opening point before the Flyers found the equalizer with just 30 seconds remaining on Bobby Ley’s dangerously dramatic backhand to Jacob Fairfax, who made the second-effort catch in between Empire defenders. New York had its own last-second hail mary shot at the close of the five-minute OT, but the disc clanged off multiple hands, including Babbitt and Katz, before fluttering to the grass incomplete.
The Empire received on universe point and moved the disc well to set up Jagt for a backhand huck toward Conor Kline. It could have been Jagt’s 10th assist (along with six goals) and Kline’s sixth goal of the game, but the disc flew too far and suddenly, again, the Flyers had another chance to win the thing. Despite his fifth throwaway of the game, Jagt’s confidence was undeterred.
“I’ve probably thrown that exact throw a hundred times to Conor over the past seven years and thought he would have the wheels to track it down,” remarked Jagt, who tallied an incredible 16 total scores for the game along with his five miscues. “Unfortunately, it was a little too flat and too far out for him to get there…Being a part of so many close victory’s this year has given me so much confidence in my teammates in big moments. So even when I threw that one away, I felt horrible personally, but good about our chances.”
After Raleigh’s timeout, the Flyers’ offense again worked the disc to the brink of victory, with Ley sneaking away from the defense to catch a wide-open mid-range huck about 20 yards from the end zone. He saw Fairfax streaking toward the front left corner of the goal-line and lofted a backhand that he immediately wanted back, as Babbitt’s footsteps were sprinting a couple strides behind the Raleigh receiver in pursuit of a game-saving block.
“When the disc went up to [Ley] and I saw he was uncovered, I knew that Fairfax would be busting deep,” recalled Babbitt. “As I chased him, I knew the throw was coming and I told myself that no matter what I was putting my body on the line to get the block. I was expecting a laser to come up, but when the disc lofted all I knew was I couldn’t give it any chance to come back in bounds and let Jacob make any play on it.”
At a full sprint, Babbitt bid a step or two shy of the sideline near the front pylon and soared through the air a good five to seven yards, deflecting the disc with his right hand and then crashing down out of bounds, knocking the wind out of himself in the process of making the heroic play. The closest referee signaled for an injury timeout, which was followed a New York timeout. Then, five completions preceded Williams’ backhand huck to Kittredge for the final throw of the night.
“When I saw Jack huck the disc looking for Beau, my first thought was that it was going to be out the back of the end zone,” shared Babbitt. “When it got caught [in-bounds], my reaction was total relief combined with being extremely amped that we pulled off such a great win…It was an extremely fun game, one of the most fun games I have been a part of. The atmosphere was like that of a playoff game. Everyone was working their hardest, and you could feel the intensity immediately.”
As most everyone on New York euphorically marveled at the incredible victory and everyone on Raleigh came to grips with the heartbreaking result, Williams found himself in a unique emotional limbo, a byproduct of his past merging directly with his present.
“I usually like not knowing a lot of guys on the opposite team,” he acknowledged. “It makes it a lot easier to go out and have that killer mentality of wanting to crush the opponent. This was definitely a different experience. It was weird seeing all of them in a different uniform than me. I caught myself wanting to just hang out and catch up with them pregame, but there was an obvious tension there, sort of like ‘we love you but also we’re coming for you.’
“After we won, it was definitely a strange feeling. I told JD [Hastings] I sort of knew how he felt after helping us [at UNC-Wilmington] win against [Hastings’ old school] UNC in the semis. Obviously, not to the same extent, but it definitely helped me understand just how hard that game must have been for him. I caught myself a few times during the game thinking, ‘wow they are really playing amazingly well, that’s awesome to see.’ I’ve also been on their side through some really tough losses, some of the toughest losses in all of ultimate in the past few years. That’s why it was especially tough for this game to end the way it did. That high-five line at the end of the game sucked. Felt weird being so ecstatic with the victory and then having to so quickly go high-five all of my friends who were grieving the loss. All in all, it was one of the best AUDL games I’ve played in. Hopefully we can get a rematch with them come playoff time.”
For many years, the AUDL’s Midwest Division was Madison’s playpen. The Madison Radicals would often toy with their overmatched opponent, eventually flexing their superiority in a way that felt inevitable. Obviously, things have changed. That’s what has made has made the past couple months in the Midwest so bizarre and compelling, as the typical pecking order has been shockingly upended in ways that feel hard to fathom. The only thing missing from the chaos is a Detroit winning streak.
On Saturday night in Steel City, the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds earned their first win over the Radicals since 2015, surviving a late Madison surge to prevail 21-20 in overtime. Though the Radicals showed positive signs of life throughout the second half, the reality of Madison’s precarious situation became even more dire as the two teams continued their trend in opposite directions. After opening the season with two wins, the defending champs lost for the fifth time in the last seven games, falling to 4-5 on the year, their first time ever below .500 at any point in a season in the 111-game history of the franchise. Contrastingly, the Thunderbirds, who went 4-10 last year and opened the 2019 season with three straight losses, won their fifth consecutive game to remain within a half-game of the division lead.
“This was a must-win game for us, and we knew it was for Madison too, which always makes an exciting one,” commented Thunderbirds Coach Pat Hammonds. “This game did not disappoint.”
At halftime, Pittsburgh led 11-7, capitalizing on most Madison mistakes to create early separation. But the Radicals stormed back early in the third quarter, looking reinvigorated by a 5-0 run that felt like it had the potential to save their season.
“I thought the way we battled back was one of a few positive takeaways from that game,” remarked Madison’s Sterling Knoche, who registered two of his game-high four blocks during the run of four straight breaks that lifted the Radicals to a 12-11 lead. “Going down a couple points early on the road, it would have been easy to mentally check out of that game, especially with how the last three games have gone. We could have let those negative thoughts in and take over, but I thought we did a good job checking those negative emotions and clawing our way back.”
This mindset was echoed almost exactly by Pittsburgh, who similarly refused to give in to the adversity in the third quarter. In fact, the Thunderbirds responded to Madison’s 5-0 rally by scoring three of the last four goals of the quarter to take a 14-13 lead heading into the fourth. Even when the Radicals registered two more breaks to open the final period, the Thunderbirds kept their composure, tying the game at 19-all with 2:05 left on a majestic full-field flick huck from Max Sheppard to Dylan Best.
“The difference between our team today and our team [that lost to Madison in April] is our ability to take punches and keep getting up,” Thunderbirds Captain David Vatz told his team immediately after the game, according to Hammonds. “Madison hit us really hard tonight, but we weren’t shook. We were able to regroup and finish this game the way we know how.”
Defense prevailed in the final two minutes of regulation, summoning overtime as the critical result hung in the balance. Pittsburgh won the toss, chose to receive, and seized control on Sheppard’s skying grab in between a pair of Radicals defenders that gave the Thunderbirds a 20-19 lead, setting the tone for the OT. On the next Pittsburgh O-point, Sheppard snagged another Thomas Edmonds flick, this time with just 28 seconds left, which became the final goal of the game when Madison’s last chance throw came up short of the end zone.
“The key factor in the game was simple,” asserted Knoche after the Radicals suffered their unprecedented fifth loss of the season. “Pittsburgh played a cleaner game with less execution errors. Props to them for playing a good, hard game.
For many on the Thunderbirds, including the head coach, who joined the team in 2016, it was their first ever victory over Madison, and they cherished the cathartic triumph while also keeping their eye on the difficult road ahead.
“Credit to Madison; Saturday’s win took everything we had,” said Hammonds. “We were obviously hyped to finally notch one against them. As exciting as the moment was, however, it was another reminder of the opportunity we have in front of us.”
The 5-3 Thunderbirds are one win away from taking over first place, a pursuit within reach if Pittsburgh can beat Indianapolis this Saturday in the Steel City. Contrarily, the 4-5 Radicals are truly in desperation mode as they return to Madison for a Friday evening battle with Chicago. With their final three games at home, the Radicals are very much still alive to return to the playoffs and defend their title, but obviously, their margin for error is miniscule.
Elsewhere in the merciless Midwest, the Minnesota Wind Chill and Indianapolis AlleyCats also tangled in a thrilling one-goal finish that could have easily gone either way. Frankly, many felt it would have gone the other way if not for an honorable integrity call made with just north of two minutes left.
“Late in the game when it was tied up [at 22], I took a deep shot to Rick Gross,” explained Indy’s Travis Carpenter. “The game was extremely tense at this point. Every possession was critical. Nerves were high. Both teams had started getting a bit chippy and pretty upset with the refs when a call did not go their way. By the time the disc was about to reach the end zone, three defenders had all caught up to Rick and were bodying him up. Two of the guys were not making a great play on the disc and were more concerned about Rick, to the point that they knocked him to the ground pretty hard in a sandwich between them. After Rick hit the ground, the disc then reached a defender and he swatted the disc away. There was no call made, and the entire [Indy] crowd went nuts. It was the loudest I have ever heard our home crowd yell before.”
Several members of the Wind Chill immediately began to organize their ensuing offensive possession, but the AUDL’s blocks leader, Jimmy Kittlesen, remained close to Gross, who was slow to get up. It also gave him a chance to contemplate the contact that had occurred.
“Because if the injury, I had time to analyze it,” said Kittlesen. “While I thought he didn’t have a chance to actually make a play on the disc, it did feel like he got bumped to the left and then tripped on me. A few minutes before the foul, Gross had commented to me how good of a game it was, to which I responded, ‘This is super [bleeping] fun!’ We’ve been playing against each other for years, and I respect Gross as a fair player, so I told him ‘if you think that was a foul, I’ll call integrity.’ He responded that he got decked, so I called integrity. In the moment, I was just thinking I want to beat these guys without any controversy.”
One throw later, Indy took a 23-22 lead as Gross hit Brock with 1:57 left. Of course, it only took 17 seconds for Minnesota to tie the game again, as Josh Klane’s huck found sprinting Bryan Vohnoutka, whose short flip to Matthew Ladyman event things again with 1:40 remaining. And after Carpenter’s only throwaway of the game with 1:18 left, the Wind Chill had a chance to surge back in front. But Indy’s Keegan North picked off Kittlesen’s high-stall throw with just under a minute to go.
After a timeout, the AlleyCats worked the disc into the red zone, where North’s hammer found Carpenter for the winning score with just four seconds left. On the final point, Klane’s last-ditch huck was knocked down by Nick Hutton as the buzzer sounded, securing Indy the heart-stopping 24-23 win.
“These last couple possessions have defined this ‘new age’ of the AlleyCats, I think,” posited Carpenter, who finished the game with seven assists, three goals, and a season-high 60 completions in 61 attempts. “We had a four-year stretch where we could compete with anyone in the division. We could play Madison tight at any given moment. We could pull out a big win here and there over Minnesota or Pittsburgh. But when push came to shove and it was down to the wire, our team lacked the maturity and the poise to close the door on teams in late-game moments. This AlleyCats group has a sense of confidence that no other AlleyCat team has had before…Keegan timed his shot really well on that hammer and gave Minnesota no time to get off a clean look in attempt to tie it. As that disc came in, I attacked it and gripped it as tight as I could with every muscle in my body. I was thinking, ‘I will break this disc if I have to, it’s not leaving my hands.’”
Along with Carpenter’s huge game, North’s performance was also instrumental to Indy’s success. Meanwhile, Klane (52-for-52, six assists), Vohnoutka (five goals, seven assists, two Ds, +14), and Quinn Snider (six goals, two assists, one block, no turns) all had impact performances as well. In short, much like New York-Raleigh and Madison-Pittsburgh, Minnesota-Indy was a game where really neither team deserved to lose.
“It basically turned into a game of who was going to have the disc last with a real chance to score, and that was us,” declared Cam Brock, who paced the Cats with six goals.
With Indy improving to 6-3 and Pittsburgh rising to 5-3, Chicago also kept pace with the division leaders by taking care of business and demolishing winless Detroit. The Wildfire are now 5-3 as well after their 24-11 road rout over the Mechanix, in which Chicago scored nine of the first 11 goals as Detroit suffered its 34th straight loss. For the first time in a while, the Midwest’s top three have slightly separated themselves from fourth and fifth place, but Minnesota (5-5) and Madison (4-5) still cling to justifiable belief that they are very much in contention.
“I was pleasantly surprised by how positive our team seemed immediately following the loss,” added Kittlesen, whose integrity call was universally praised by members of both teams. “Energy is high and we’re confident we can do our part to be in a position to continue playing in the postseason.”
Every year from 2014 to 2017, the Toronto Rush lost a regular season game to the Montreal Royal, dropping four games to the Royal and just three against all other opponents during that four-year span. It gave the Rush comfort, though, that despite the annual setback against the French Canadiens, Toronto won the East Division and advanced to Championship Weekend in each of the those campaigns. In 2018, however, the Rush went 3-0 against the Royal, only to fall short in the playoffs and see their Final Four streak come to an end. Consequently, the Rush capped Week 12 hopeful that perhaps some correlation exists between dropping one to Montreal and surviving the East’s postseason, even as their narrow 23-22 defeat marked their fourth loss, an ignominious regular-season record for the seven-year-old franchise that had won more than 90 percent of its regular season games prior to 2019.
“It would be easier to leave Saturday just frustrated with two blown calls at the end of the second and third quarters, but the reality is the refs aren’t why [Kevin] Quinlan and [Quentin] Bonnaud were +15,” said Rush Head Coach Sachin Raina. “The reality is we simply didn’t execute our game plan. We know that Quinlan is an excellent thrower, and we know Bonnaud is one of the biggest deep threats in the league. All they need is a small opening and they’ll make you pay. The game plan was simple: Deny Quinlan the disc and back Bonnaud. We did neither of those very well. We’re obviously not going to shut them down, but we want them to have to work for their points. On Saturday, we had so many defensive lapses that they didn’t even seem to have to work that hard.”
Quinlan and Bonnaud were thoroughly dominant, taking over the game as much as any particular duo has in any game all year. It was especially amazing how many different defenders the Rush tried to throw at Bonnaud throughout the night, as the French striker sprinted past or skied one after another.
“Yes, they put a lot of different players on me during the game,” reflected Bonnaud, who finished with 11 goals and three assists. “I was always using the only moment of inattention or bad position to go deep, and Quentin [Roger] and Kev can put the disc everywhere on the field.”
While Bonnaud’s offense was the story of the game, his defense won the game, as he recorded his lone block by intercepting the night’s final throw, a Jaret Meron fadeaway prayer that Bonnaud picked off near the goal-line, preserving the Royal’s frenetic one-goal win.
“Quentin is on another level,” said Quinlan, who matched Bonnaud’s +15 by dishing 12 assists and catching three scores too. “Made me look good in that game for sure. I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder going into this one. That loss last weekend [vs. Ottawa] was tough on me. I really felt like I let the team down.”
The Royal’s victory kept their playoff hopes alive for a moment, though the Rush squashed that vision less than 24 hours later with a resurgent performance at Ottawa. An Outlaws win would have dropped Toronto to 5-5 and left the East’s final playoff berth very up for grabs. But instead, the Rush’s defense that had been abused by Quinlan and Bonnaud took its vengeance out on Ottawa, eliminating both the Royal and the Outlaws from postseason contention in one fell swoop with an impressive 22-17 bounce-back performance. After recording only six total blocks against Montreal, 11 different members of the Rush roster registered a block in Sunday’s triumph over Ottawa.
“The guys had a good talk after [Saturday’s] game, and we identified a couple simple, yet critical, mistakes we kept making,” recalled Raina. “The guys did a good job of climbing that up on Sunday. And after the O-line’s stellar game on Saturday, the D-line really picked them up on Sunday with some huge early breaks.”
At 6-4, the Rush need just one win or one Philly loss to lock in their seventh consecutive playoff berth. They will host the Phoenix, a team that has never won in Toronto, this weekend.
The 2019 Los Angeles Aviators have found a home in “The Outside-In,” a section meant to shine a light on an relatively unknown asset around the league. So far this season, Aviator rookies like Danny Landesman, Joc Jimenez, Kyle Conniff, and Xavier Charles have all emerged as key contributors despite minimal preseason notoriety. This past weekend, a shorthanded LA roster relied on a couple other newcomers to help dispatch San Jose for the fourth time this season.
“If you look at our O-line [against the Spiders], there were really only three players that have consistently played offense this year, so it was great to see the other players step in seamlessly,” voiced Sean McDougall, who set a pretty good example himself with a +10 performance. “Calvin [Brown] was phenomenal, especially after having played in the college series this year [for Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo], and he has dramatically improved just from this year alone in terms of his decision-making and execution. Then you look at KJ [Koo], Brown’s college teammate, and he is a grinder of an athlete, continually cutting and getting open whenever needed.”
Brown completed all 43 of his throws, with seven assists, to earn a spot on the Week 12 Honor Roll in just his third AUDL game. Koo, also playing in just his third contest for LA, erupted for six goals and three assists. Both players finished +9.
“Saturday’s game was a perfect evening for ultimate [in San Jose], a little warm, but no wind,” added McDougall. “From the very beginning of the game, we kinda knew it would be a shootout based on how quickly both teams were scoring and how little rest both sides got in between points. The big stories of the game were how calm and collective the offense was, quickly moving the disc but not rushing it, and how well our players slotted into our team. It wasn’t until the second half that we were really able to pull away from the Spiders [en route to a 31-27 win], so that calmness was definitely needed.”
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
What’s the Midwest Division like right now? Fans of “The Office” will especially appreciate the AlleyCats interpretation of the uncertainty and borderline chaos.
Wondering how AUDL road teams have fared in 2019?
Overall, they are 42-56, a winning percentage of .429 that’s slightly better than the .413 clip of a season ago. But there’s a more interesting corollary to recognize in the narrative of road success.
Through 12 weeks, there have been 17 instances of a team playing back-to-back road games in a single weekend. In those 34 games, the visiting team has gone just 10-24. Consequently, when a team has traveled for just a single game, they have won exactly half the time, as road teams in single-game trips are 32-32 on the year.
In 17 tries, no team has successfully won back-to-back road games on the same weekend yet this season. New York and DC both managed two-win weekends, but in each case, one of the games was at home.
Seven On The Line
- Along with the previously mentioned stellar performances from McDougall, Brown, and Koo, Los Angeles also relied upon Michael Kiyoi’s seven goals, three assists, and a 100 percent completion rate on 22 throws in the Aviators’ four-goal win over the Spiders, whom Kiyoi won a championship with back in 2014. The LA victory capped a four-game season sweep of San Jose, with three wins by four goals and one nine-score rout. In those four victories, the Aviators recorded 48 blocks as a team, while the Spiders registered just 26.
- Los Angeles remained a game behind San Diego as the Growlers set a new franchise record with their eighth win of the season, a 30-25 triumph at Seattle to avenge their early-May loss under the Space Needle. Having finished 7-7 in three of their first four AUDL seasons, the 8-2 Growlers are clearly having their best season yet, with plenty more ahead they would like to accomplish. “Getting to eight wins definitely feels good, but we know it’s not the end goal,” said Travis Dunn, who gave the Growlers another All-AUDL performance with seven assists and five goals on Saturday in Seattle. “I’ve been on the team since the beginning, so we recognize it’s the first time to finish a season above .500. We can’t let up now.” Seam Ham added six goals and Goose Helton contributed four goals and four assists, while Tim Okita completed all 49 of his throws in San Diego’s five-goal win. “We made Seattle work for every little thing, and unlike last weekend with LA, whenever they slipped up we really made them pay,” added Dunn. “We capitalized on their mistakes both by securing Ds on questionable shots and by methodically working the disc into the end zone after we generated turnovers. It was huge to jump on them early.”
- The DC Breeze also clinched a playoff spot this past Saturday, surging ahead early and hanging on late against Philadelphia. Up 7-3 after one, the lead swelled to 10-5 late in the second, and DC maintained a multi-goal lead the rest of the way in their 21-18 victory. Up 18-16 in the fourth, the Breeze handed the Phoenix an opportunity to claw back within one, but David Shields recorded the block and the assist that boosted the advantage back to three. Shields finished with two goals, two assists, two blocks, and no turnovers for a career-best +6; previously, Shields had never registered better than +2 in any of his previous 28 AUDL games. Offensively, Jacques Nissen, Jeff Wodatch, and Nate Prior all tallied three assists, while Nissen completed all 14 of his throws to maintain his 100% completion rate through four games.
- Texas 52, Tampa 36. That was the combined score from the Cannons’ disappointing weekend in the Lone Star State, a two-day stretch that officially eliminated the Floridians from playoff contention. “The main story for us as a team was how we would bounce back from the game with Raleigh,” said Abe Coffin, who registered six assists and three blocks in Dallas’ comfortable 29-22 victory. “We all knew that we did not bring our best game to Raleigh and we needed to learn and fight back to playing the style of ultimate we know how to play. Saturday, We played more as one team, working on and off the field for each other.” Jay Froude, Kevin Richardson, Thomas Slack, and Carson Wilder also all contributed multiple goals and multiple assists for the Roughnecks’ offense that was only broken once in the first half. After being down 17-10, however, the Cannons did rally within two at 21-19, only to falter again down the stretch, as Dallas’ D-line took over and closed the game on an 8-3 sprint to the finish line. “Their grit on defense and poise on the turn came through for us later in the game to help seal the win after a shaky third quarter,” added Coffin, praising the Roughnecks’ defensive effort.
- The Cannons briefly held a lead on Sunday in Austin, but the Sol’s fresh legs and depth prevented Tampa from coming anywhere close to a weekend split. The Cannons scored three straight to bolt in front 3-2 after falling behind 2-0, but Austin surged back to win the first quarter 6-4. It was still tight at the half, with the Sol up 13-11, but the floodgates opened in the third, where the Cannons were outscored 6-1 en route to a 10-3 second half and a 23-14 final. “We had lots of our lesser-known players making great plays,” said Austin Head Coach Steven Darroh. “John Cecil with a fantastic end zone catch under double coverage to complete a break; Eric Brodbeck with a midfield block and 80-yard flick a couple points later; Brian Gfroerer playing some tireless D on Tampa’s best cutters. Out O played very well and fortunately didn’t play more than four points in the second half.” Darroh also heaped praise on the impact that 21-year-old Mason Wuensch had in his first game since May 11; Wuencsch totaled three goals, one assist, and two blocks as the Sol improved to 3-8. Though the Sol have endured a largely disappointing season, a home win over Atlanta this weekend along with a couple more losses from the Hustle and Cannons down the stretch could enable Austin to finish the regular season in third place in the South.
- Back in 2015, Minnesota’s Brandon Matis and Indianapolis Cameron Brock traded jerseys after a game. Since then, it has led to a friendly rivalry and plenty of under-the-table challenges between the veteran players. There’s been a running bet between the pair that the loser of each game would have to wear the other’s jersey in a picture with the winner, a wager that both Matis and Brock have had to pay off at points over the past few seasons. On Saturday, the two amiable adversaries added a bit more spice into the stakes. The deal was proposed by Brock via text last Thursday: “Loser has to change their twitter pic to the opposing team’s logo and write a gushing post about the other person. Yea?” A few minutes later, Matis replied, “Alright I’m in.” Consequently, after Brock’s AlleyCats edged Matis’ Wind Chill by one on Saturday, Matis changed his profile photo to an AlleyCat and posted a over-the-top, two-tweet poem hyping Brock.
One more note on New York’s game-winning score: for Jack Williams and many of his Wilmington friends who attended Saturday’s thriller, the backhand bomb to close out the dramatic victory was reminiscent of another one of his career highlights. “I actually had a lot of old Wilmington teammates come and watch that game, and they were all joking that that throw looked really familiar [and transpired amidst] pretty similar circumstances.” They were referencing the game-winning shot Williams launched to cap his unreal collegiate semifinal performance in 2017, when UNC-Wilmington stormed back to beat North Carolina and advance to the finals. “When the throw went up, it felt really good,” he added. “It’s my favorite throw.”
Here’s a quick playoff primer on all four divisions heading into the final three weeks of the season.
In the East, New York (9-0) has clinched the #1 seed, while DC (7-4) has secured its place in the tournament. Regardless of how Toronto (6-4) fares against Philadelphia (2-6) this weekend, the #2 seed will be decided by the result of the Breeze/Rush game on July 6. Any other Philly loss or Toronto win would confirm the Breeze/Rush loser as the #3 seed
In the South, Raleigh (7-2) and Dallas (7-2) will meet again in the South Division final. The only question is where that game will be take place. Most likely, the winner of the June 5 Roughnecks/Flyers matchup in Raleigh will dictate the location of the divisional title contest.
In the West, much like the South, the top two is set, with the site of the postseason tussle still to be determined. San Diego (8-2) can clinch the #1 seed and home field with a win this weekend against Seattle, while Los Angeles (7-3) needs to win both of its final two games and hope for a pair of Growlers losses to avoid slotting into the #2 spot.
Saving the least clear landscape for last, no one in the Midwest has clinched anything yet—with the exception that no one’s sinking below Detroit, whose got a firm grasp on sixth place. Cheap shots aside, the reality is I don’t believe anyone can clinch solely with a win this coming weekend either. If Indy wins in Pittsburgh, they would guarantee themselves at least a tie for the last playoff spot, but potential three or four-team tiebreakers are an unlikely but still-plausible scenario that could leave the AlleyCats out; hence, they cannot clinch on their own. Similarly, Chicago could earn two wins at Madison and vs. Detroit and guarantee themselves at worst a tie for the last spot, but the multi-team tiebreakers are still contingent of a bunch of other uncertain scenarios.
Just to make it interesting, let’s imagine that Pittsburgh prevails at home against Indy, while Madison wins at home over Chicago and Detroit does not upset anyone. In that event, here’s what the standings would look like heading into Week 14, along with the remaining games that will unfold in the final two weekends:
POSSIBLE POST-WEEK 13 STANDINGS
(presuming Pitt over Indy, Mad over Chi, Min/Chi over Det)
Pittsburgh 6-3 (@ Detroit, @ Chicago, @ Indy)
Chicago 6-4 (@ Indy, vs. Pittsburgh)
Indy 6-4 (vs. Chicago, vs. Pittsburgh)
Minnesota 6-5 (@ Madison)
Madison 5-5 (vs. Minnesota, vs. Detroit)
With Minnesota and Madison scheduled to meet again in July, we are certain to avoid a five-way tie at 7-5, but beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess how this race resolves.
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