May 31, 2022
By Evan Lepler
Did you realize that DraftKings had all eight road teams as favorites this past weekend?
New York and DC were both favored up in Canada. Minnesota and Indianapolis were giving points in Madison and Detroit, respectively. Pittsburgh and Portland were expected to win their road games against their winless foes. Even Salt Lake, going on the road against undefeated Colorado in the Summit's home opener, was a two-goal favorite.
So that’s the context for pointing out that home teams, all underdogs according to the oddsmakers, went 2-6 this past weekend. The trend of road success, though, is not just a Week 5 thing.
Through 50 games this season, AUDL teams have gone just 24-26 at home, and we’ve seen four different teams—Salt Lake, Colorado, Philadelphia, and New York—sweep road doubleheaders. We’ve also witnessed Montreal get a victory in Philadelphia, only to see the Phoenix return the favor and prevail on the Royal’s home-field one week later.
It’s far to early to make any massive conclusions, but it does feel like road teams are becoming far more capable competitors. Some teams are still plagued by roster inconsistencies, but more often we are seeing continuity and commitment when a team leaves home, recognizing the reality that every game matters vitally in a 12-game regular season.
In 2021, home teams went 71-56, a winning percentage of .559. There’s a reasonable chance that home success rises to approach or meet that level over the next couple months, but anecdotally, it does feel like we’re seeing road teams handle the challenges of travel better than ever before. In particular, in our five Fox Sports "AUDL Game of the Week" broadcasts so far this season, four road teams have gotten wins, with only Atlanta’s strong fourth quarter against Austin preventing a road sweep of the first five marquee matchups.
The Full Field Layout
While plenty of intriguing action unfolded all across the eight-game slate, the game of the weekend certainly transpired in Denver, where the Summit and Shred gave the fans more drama than they could’ve ever bargained for. The two expansion squads were both undefeated, and they played level through the early stages of the third before Salt Lake seized control. After 11 ties through 22 points—neither side gained any separation over the first 28 minutes—the Shred D-line ran off three breaks in the last eight minutes of the third to build a 17-14 lead heading to the fourth.
But Colorado responded with four breaks in the fourth, including a 52-yard shot from Jonathan Nethercutt to Jay Froude with 2:14 remaining, to put the Summit ahead 20-19. A nearly catastrophic reset error in the closing seconds of regulation gave the Shred a chance for the desperation equalizer, but AUDL veteran Dave Wiseman, with his 97 games of experience, used his size and savvy to deflect the game’s last throw to the ground, just out of the reach out Salt Lake’s Jordan Kerr, who lunged unsuccessfully for the disc that slipped out of Wiseman’s hand in the crowded pack as time expired.
It was a thrilling game, a chaotic finish, and a marvelous table-setter for the many more West Division battles we will enjoy from these 2022 AUDL expansion teams.
“Yea, that game was wild,” said Wiseman, who played 94 games for the Madison Radicals from 2013-19 before joining the Summit this season. “It was kind of a surreal experience to know that we were down, but as a player, it never felt like we were out of it.”
Froude finished with 383 receiving yards, 311 throwing yards, seven assists, four goals, and three blocks with no turns, as pristine a stat line as any player could ever hope to create. Salt Lake’s Joe Merrill was nearly as flawless, with 577 total yards, five goals, four assists, and two blocks with no turns, but obviously the most important stat was the team result, as the Shred fell to 3-1, suffering their first loss in franchise history. Kerr collected eight more assists along with two goals and 550 yards with only one giveaway on 26 throws, but it was all for naught in the 21-20 setback, the first loss in Shred history.
“This past weekend was definitely disappointing,” acknowledged Kerr. “But props to Colorado, they’ve got bona fide stars in Jay, Nethercutt, [Quinn] Finer, etc., and we knew going in that they were going to capitalize and punish any mistake we made, and they did just that.”
The first ever meeting between Salt Lake and Colorado was obviously exciting and consequential from a standings standpoint, though the atmosphere created by Summit fans might have been the story of the night. Just as Shred fans delivered an amazing home opener in Utah two weeks earlier, the crowd in Denver was packed, lively, and exhilarated by the wild finish.
“The Salt Lake and Colorado home openers were probably the two biggest crowds I’ve ever played in front of, and this past weekend the atmosphere was electric,” said Kerr. “It’s definitely a different story when the massive crowd is rooting for you as opposed to against you, but it was still such a cool environment. Especially in the fourth quarter when Colorado started to bring it back, the crowd got really into it. It was so loud. It definitely helps having thousands of fans cheering you on if you’re Colorado. But we’re also excited to get back in front of our home crowd this next week.”
Heading into June, though, it’s Colorado atop the West, with three wins by a grand total of five goals. For someone like Dave Wiseman, who recognizes that he may not have too many more showcase opportunities left, he’s cherishing every chance he gets.
“I’m definitely honored to get to represent Colorado’s first pro [ultimate] team,” Wiseman said. “I mean, I’m in the twilight of my ultimate career and am just having a blast with a bunch of young upstarts—and a couple other vets—in a community wrought with talent."
The Shred and Summit both get home games in Week 6, with the Oakland Spiders traveling to Salt Lake on Friday and Denver on Saturday.
The only other down-to-the-wire finish in Week 5 came in Toronto, where the Rush overcame a rough start to push the Breeze to the brink. DC led 3-0 less than three minutes into the game, but Toronto quickly responded, tying the game at six and then carrying a multi-goal lead into the fourth quarter. Despite being seven and a half point underdogs on DraftKings, the Rush actually held a 24-22 advantage with 6:48 remaining, before DC ran off a clutch 5-1 run to go ahead 27-25 with one minute left. The Rush inched back within one, only taking 18 seconds off the clock, to make it 27-26, but in a game with 53 scores and just 20 total turnovers, Toronto could not dispossess DC in the closing moments, as DC completed 12 consecutive throws to run out the clock and narrowly escape Ontario with the one-goal win.
“I think we felt like it wasn’t going to be a close game,” said Breeze veteran Jeff Wodatch. “Especially after those first three points. The fact that we underestimated them, plus that they came ready to play and had a fantastic performance, combined to put them in a great spot to win the game.”
Interestingly, DC never had previously won in Toronto, but the Breeze still entered with considerable confidence against the rebuilding Rush, only to nearly get beaten by this tantalizing squad that’s seemingly getting better each and every week.
“Yea, it was a super exciting game,” said Rush Head Coach Adrian Yearwood. “Definitely could have been the kind of situation where we packed it in after spotting them those three points early, but our O-line really cleaned up, and we switched up a few things on D that started generating some real pressure on their handlers. Having Ryan Poloz back was huge for our O-line; he brings some great stability and had a number of excellent throws into tight windows to get us out of a few sticky situations, and was also moving well down the field.”
With the score tied 17-all in the third, Yearwood and his assistant, Jamie Millage, made eye-contact on the sideline and conjured the possibility of utilizing the iconic trick play that they had briefly discussed in practice earlier in the week.
“He looked at me during the preceding O-point and said, ‘Is now the time? Do we do it? Is it crazy?’” remembered Yearwood. “I said, ‘it may be crazy, but I’m absolutely in.’ We had Zach Armstrong chatting with us by the sideline, though on the field, with us looking out to see where their threats were. I think a few of their guys may have noticed it was happening because at least one of them started pointing at us and yelling that there was a guy deep, but I think that actually worked in our favor because I’m pretty sure Rowan [McDonnell] thought they were referring to his guy who was streaking deep unmarked and immediately boosted a big backhand down the field.”
Indeed, McDonnell misunderstood the chaotic shouting from his teammates and the Breeze sideline.
“I don’t think he would have thrown it except people were trying to communicate too complex of a thought to be shouted out,” said DC Head Coach Darryl Stanley. “Rowan thought they were telling him to throw it to a poached player. Yelling, ‘Rowan, watch out’ and pointing over and over about something he wasn’t even looking at was quite an unfortunate lesson to learn.”
Toronto got the block, McDonnell’s only mistake in an otherwise magnificent night—nine assists, three goals, 888 total yards—and the Rush had seized momentum in thrilling, shocking fashion, only for DC to snatch it back in the fourth.
“They’re a great team with an extremely experienced coaching staff,” said Yearwood, “and whereas that sort of thing could break a lesser squad’s morale, they stayed focused and hungry. And unfortunately, the wheels kind of came off for us a bit late in the game, with a slew of unforced errors from our go-to-guys through the final few minutes. But those are the growing pains that make us better, and even though it was rattling to have the game in the palms of our hands and fumble it, I was incredibly happy with the effort and spirits are high heading back into the lab at practice this week.”
DC got a massive game from Tyler Monroe, who delivered 391 receiving yards, 374 throwing yards, and completed 60 of his 62 throws. Joe Richards added four goals and five assists, Wodatch contributed four goals and four assists, and Moussa Dia finished with five goals and two blocks, including a key run-throw interception early in the fourth that many felt was the turning-point in the game.
“If the Rush scored that point, it was game over,” said Wodatch.
DC and Toronto are both home in Week 6, with the Breeze hosting Boston and the Rush taking on New York.
Seven On The Line
- Detroit’s losing streak lives on, but not without some drama on Saturday night in Michigan. The AlleyCats and Mechanix were actually tied 14-all early in the fourth quarter before Indianapolis’ 5-1 run created significant separation. Up 19-15 with 5:11 left, the AlleyCats were en route to a 23-19 win, which also served as Detroit’s 54th consecutive loss.
‘We played some of our best ultimate of the past few years,” said Mechanix cutter Andrew Sjogren, who caught four goals in the game. “I can’t really say I thought the streak was going to end when we were tied in the fourth, but I knew that we had a chance. We had five turnovers in the fourth quarter—three throwaways, two drops—to Indy’s one, and that was the difference.” Cam Brock scored seven goals, Keegan North dished seven assists, and Xavier Payne totaled five blocks as the AlleyCats improved to 3-1, sending the Mechanix to 0-4. “If there’s anything to take away from this game, it’s that we have put together two incredible fourth quarters as an O-line in our last two games,” said Brock. “Not just from a results standpoint, but from a decision-making and execution standpoint. We’ll need to have that same effort and focus for four quarters this weekend to win in Minnesota. That will be the message to the offense all week.”
- As for the Wind Chill, they are headed back to St. Paul for a three-game homestand after earning their second straight road win this past Saturday night in Madison. Minnesota trailed 4-3 after one and the action was even at eights by halftime, but the Wind Chill made a minor adjustment at the break and scored 10 of the first 14 goals in the second half en route to a 19-16 victory at Breese Stevens Field. “During the second quarter we were going more force flick on them, and they seemed pretty comfortable with that, so we switched it back to backhand for the remainder of the third and fourth quarter, and that seemed to help us out with our person defense, putting pressure on their handlers and cutters downfield,” said Minnesota’s Abe Coffin, who finished with three assists and two blocks while playing primarily on the Wind Chill D-line. Bret Bergmeier continued his strong season with four blocks for Minnesota’s defense, while Josh Klane threw for 399 yards to lead the Wind Chill offense. Madison’s Kai DeLorenzo authored plenty of his own highlights with four assists, one goal, one block, and 466 total yards, but the Radicals converted only three breaks in 18 chances, suffering their first loss of the season.
- In terms of overall efficiency, no one in the league can match what the New York Empire have shown over the season’s first month. That offensive wizardry was again on display this past weekend in Canada, as the Empire offense outscored Montreal and Ottawa by the combined total of 52-36 in two comfortable road wins. On Saturday against the Outlaws, New York’s offense scored on 17 of its 20 possessions, an exceptional 85 percent rate. “Our trip to Canada was incredible,” said Ryan Osgar, who completed all 68 of his throws across the two games, compiling 13 assists, five goals, and 980 yards in the process.
“Our game against Montreal started with a torrential downpour for the first quarter, but that didn’t stop the more than 1,000 fans from showing up and being engaged with the game. The atmosphere in Sherbrooke was electric, and Montreal played a fine game which made for a really special event. Our second game against Ottawa was less close, but the night was still beautiful and, as a team, we were still focused on what we needed to improve on. [Empire Coach] Charlie [Hoppes] also got to have some fun calling eclectic lines, including the famous ‘brothers-line:” the Chartocks, the Drosts, the Fortins, plus one more.” Empire veteran and team General Manager Matt Stevens was the seventh on the brother’s line for New York, which played consecutive points in the fourth quarter against the Outlaws.
- Along with Colorado, the Seattle Cascades were the home underdog that won on Saturday, surprising Portland to earn their first win of the year. The fact that Seattle prevailed at Memorial Stadium was far from a shock, though their margin of victory was a bit stunning, as the Cascades pounded the Nitro 26-18.
Each team scored six in the first quarter and seven in the fourth quarter, but Seattle outscored Portland 13-5 in the middle two periods. Veteran handler Adam Simon compiled another huge game for the ‘Scades with 723 yards, seven assists, one goal, and one block, while Matt Rehder made his first appearance for Seattle since the 2016 AUDL Championship game, collecting three goals, two assists, one block, and 412 yards in his 2022 debut. As for Portland, Leandro Marx and Raphy Hayes combined for 19 scores and four blocks, but they also combined for 12 turnovers, six apiece. The Portland offense, missing notable cogs like Eli Friedman and Daniel Lee, converted only 36 percent of its possessions, going 13-for-36. The Nitro and Cascades will both host Los Angeles this coming weekend, as the Aviators head to Portland on Saturday and Seattle on Sunday, both of which will be massively important results for the three teams currently standing fourth, fifth, and sixth in the ultra-competitive West Division.
- Pittsburgh picked up its second win of the season on Saturday, snapping a three-game skid by outscoring Tampa Bay 7-1 in the fourth quarter to prevail 24-19. The Cannons led 18-17 through three quarters, but only scored once in the last 12 minutes, as the Thunderbirds ran off five breaks in that span to earn the interdivisional road win.
“We started to load up our lines a little in the third and fourth,” said Pittsburgh’s Max Sheppard, who finished with eight goals, two assists, and one block. “We need to win at all cost.” Clint McSherry found himself on the Week 5 Honor Roll following a 714 yard, eight assist performance, while Thomas Edmonds produced 481 yards, 330 as a receiver. Brandon Perales threw for 530 yards to lead the Cannons, but Tampa’s O-line managed to score on just 13 of 32 possessions, a 40 percent rate that paled in comparison to Tampa’s D-line, which converted six breaks in eight opportunities. Despite the D-line’s efficiency and the late lead, the Cannons remained winless, falling to 0-5. The Thunderbirds rose to 2-3 heading into their Friday night home matchup with Madison.
- Although it did not lead to a victory for the Mechanix, activating former Brown University star Mac Hecht for the first time was an exciting development for Detroit. Hecht played 26 points in his AUDL debut, the majority on D-line, finishing with four assists, two blocks, and only one turnover on 26 throws. “Mac did a great job coming into his first game with us,” said Detroit’s Bryan Walsh. “He learned our systems quickly, provided some great leadership from the start, and then played as expected from a high-level player like himself.” For much of the game, Hecht paired with Johnny Bansfield leading the D-line, which created a formidable duo for a team that had been struggling mightily with converting breaks. While Detroit only went four-for-21 on break chances on Saturday, that was a significant step forward considering the Mechanix had gone just 4-for-55 in their previous three games. “Mac and Johnny on a line together, they are much more dangerous on a turn,” said Indy’s Brock. “Those two can play catch seemingly all day, and they did a great job on many points playing patient defense.” Catching up with Hecht on the sidelines at College Nationals in Milwaukee, he said there were no specific plans for him to play any more games for Detroit this season, though he remained opened to it.
- Does it feel like there are more individual big-yardage performances this season compared to last year? It should. Through 50 games, there have been 127 instances of a player throwing for at least 300 yards in a game and 101 times where someone has churned for at least 300 receiving yards. That’s more than two and a half times per every game for throwers surpassing that mark, and just over twice per game, on average, that a receiver is registering that total. For the 2021 season, the first year in which the AUDL fully catalogued yardage stats, there were 239 instances of a 300-yard throwing game over 130 games, including the playoffs. That’s about 1.8 per game. Similarly, their were just 152 300-yard receiving efforts, or less than 1.2 per game. There’s no guarantee that these higher individual numbers will continue, though my hunch is they will. Part of it might be the fact that top players are in better shape this year compared to 2021 when they were emerging from the pandemic. We’re definitely seeing many star players competing in more points early in the season than we saw a year ago. Similarly, last year in the regular season there were only 14 instances of a player recording at least 300 throwing yards and 300 receiving yards in the same game. This season, it’s already happened 13 times! Seattle’s Declan Miller, Indy’s Keegan North, and Ottawa’s Geoff Bevan have all already done it twice, while Boston’s Cole Davis-Brand, Portland’s Raphy Hayes, Detroit’s Bryan Walsh, Toronto’s James Lewis, DC’s Tyler Monroe, Salt Lake’s Luke Yorgason, and Colorado’s Jay Froude have all done it once. Miller and North are the only two players in AUDL history (since the advent of yardage stats beginning at 2019 Championship Weekend) who have recorded 400 throwing yards and 400 receiving yards in a game.
A new month arrives tomorrow, and with it the AUDL season moves to a higher gear.
Around the league, teams will be counting on the return of many of their collegiate stars to give them a boost. In the coming weeks, we should see John Randolph debut for the New York Empire, Andrew Li premier for the Carolina Flyers, and we’ll also inevitably encounter some other late signings as franchises look to bolster their squads with young, in-shape talent.
The Austin Sol are one team that will get some additional depth this weekend. Whereas University of Texas athletes Jake Sames, Zach Slayton, and Jake Worthington did not make the trip to North Carolina the week before College Nationals, all three are likely to appear in the Sol’s rematch with the Flyers this Saturday night in Texas.
The Carolina-Austin showdown is the Fox Sports Game of the Week, one of the 14 contests on tap in Week 6, a slate that includes a rare Wednesday matchup between Montreal and Ottawa, scheduled for 8 PM tomorrow night.
The Week 6 lines aren’t available yet, but it’s very possible there could be eight more road favorites this week. It’s also the first weekend of the season where all 25 teams will be in action.
Indeed, the Road to Championship Weekend heats up in June, and it should be a mighty entertaining journey.