June 20, 2023
By Evan Lepler
- New York keeps cruising
The Empire became the first team to officially punch their postseason ticket in 2023, clinching a playoff berth on Friday night with their 25-16 victory over the Boston Glory. It was New York’s 23rd straight win, their 26th consecutive home win, and arguably their finest overall performance of the season.
“I think we have been playing some of our best ultimate of the season the last two games,” said Empire Co-Coach Charlie Hoppes. “Things are rounding into shape. We’ve worked the disc relentlessly so often that teams are rightfully trying to push us out. It’s been fun seeing our guys remind everyone that we have one of the must sustainable deep games in the league if it comes to that.” Indeed, the Empire went 12-for-15 on their hucks against Boston and are now 24-for-31 in that department over their past two games. Furthermore, the New York O-line converted on 80 percent of their possessions (16-for-20) against the Glory, as the Empire had a season-low 10 turnovers. “Their chemistry is clearly one of their largest strengths, allowing them to outlast teams, especially from an offensive perspective,” said Boston’s Tanner Halkyard. “Some of the things that impressed me about their offense was their ability to stay calm and steady throughout the game and keep the stack centered in the field at all times. This created wide open cutting lanes that they were consistently able to squeeze with a deep cut, and immediately fill under. This tactic ended up being so methodical and standard, that quick changes in who was cutting, when they were cutting, and their direction were able to throw us off downfield at times.” The Glory actually broke on the opening point of the game, but that turned out to be their only break of the night. Tied 4-4 with three minutes left in the first, the Empire bolted on a 10-2 run to create significant separation. Midseason MVP Jeff Babbitt did not play in the fourth quarter after getting knocked in the face while pursuing the third quarter buzzer-beater, but he expected to be back in the lineup following New York’s Week 9 bye week. “I’m doing alright,” said Babbitt. “Should be all good to go for the DC home game on the 30th.”
- Breeze still searching for consistency
It’s hard to be too critical after a nine-goal win, but DC continued its inconsistent, up-and-down brand of ultimate that we’ve witnessed throughout the season in their 23-14 triumph over Montreal. The Breeze built a 13-6 lead before surrendering a 7-2 Royal rally that allowed Montreal to sneak back within two.
On the opening point of the fourth, DC required a sensational block from Thomas Edmonds to prevent the Royal from getting within one. “I think we came out a little sleepy, so I wanted to turn it up for us and lead by example,” Edmonds told Joe Maher in a postgame interview on AUDL.tv. “I gave my guy a little bit of a cushion, probably unintentionally, but started to catch up to him, saw the huck was a little floaty, knew I could get there, left my feet, and touched it.” From there, the Breeze outscored the Royal 8-1 the rest of the way. “Definitely a comfortable win at the end,” added Edmonds. “In the middle, we had to turn it up. And we did, so that’s what matters.” While the Empire are 8-0 and off until they host DC at the end of the month, the Breeze, at 4-2, have a tricky road trip coming up this weekend, at Montreal on Friday and at Boston on Saturday.
- Four straight for Hotbirds
After starting the season 0-4, the Philadelphia Phoenix are now 4-4 and sitting just a half-game behind 4-3 Boston in the race for the East Division’s final playoff spot. The Hotbirds hammered the Royal in the opening quarter on Saturday, jumping in front 3-0 and 6-1 before closing the first period up 9-4.
Philly never led by fewer than four the rest of the night, ultimately winning 22-13. “I was worried that this was a trap game, but it was nice that we were able to focus and not have the game come down to the last quarter,” said Phoenix Assistant Coach Tom Glass, via the team’s instagram. “We’re right there. We’re 4-4. When we were 0-4, we never stopped believing, so we just gotta keep that momentum going. We have our path to the playoffs, and we’re gonna take it.” In their last four games, the Phoenix are averaging just 15.3 turnovers per contest, which would rank fourth in the league if it was their full-season count. Through eight weeks, the Phoenix are also tied for the league lead in completed hucks, with 77. Idle in Week 9, Philly travels to Montreal for a rematch with the Royal in Week 10 before returning home to finish the season with three consecutive home games against Boston, DC, and Toronto.
- Rush not fading
Although Toronto’s only divisional victories have come against winless Montreal, the Rush sit at 3-4 and remain right in the East Division mix after they edged Pittsburgh in an interdivisional nail-biter, 18-17, on Saturday at Varsity Stadium.
The Thunderbirds tied the game on four different occasions in the fourth quarter, but the Rush always had the answer on offense, and Luc Comire found Griffin McKee with less than a second left to win the game. “During the last drive, we just played a normal point, and I didn’t really think too much of it,” said Comire. “If it wasn’t for our sideline counting down, I wouldn’t have had any idea of the time so they definitely won us that point. Griffin’s been playing unbelievable this season, so I’m glad he got to catch such an important goal.” Looking ahead, the Rush still have games against the struggling Royal and the eternally scuffling Mechanix, but Toronto’s playoff hopes will certainly hinge upon whether they can earn at least one win against either Boston, DC, or Philly. They probably will require positive results against two of those contending teams. As for Pittsburgh, the Thunderbirds fell to 0-2 against the East and 3-4 overall, despite playing a pretty solid game against a brand new opponent. “Overall, I thought we played well, but it still wasn’t enough,” said Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Mast. “There were multiple times the game could’ve taken a turn, on our side as well as on theirs. Our offense gave up three breaks, and in turn we broke them three times. They committed 20 turnovers. We committed 21. It felt pretty evenly matched throughout, but overall they were able to convert on the end of quarter scenario that really mattered, and their offensive line played good defense to keep us just [getting] the three breaks.”
- South Division stand-off
In the South Division, the clear divide between the top three and bottom two grew wider in Week 8, though the Austin Sol endured and survived a sweaty roller-coaster against the Havoc. With the “feels like” temperature in the triple digits and wind gusts preventing many easy throws, the two Texas teams grinded through 69 total turnovers before Austin prevailed 18-15.
There were a dozen turns alone on the opening point of the night, which lasted six minutes and 11 seconds. “Yea, our offensive inconsistency has been plaguing us all season,” said Sol veteran Elliott Moore. Meanwhile, the Dallas Legion’s travel-based frustration probably exceeded any element-related turnover. The Legion and Carolina Flyers were forced to postpone their scheduled Friday night contest due to Dallas’ travel troubles, and after the Legion played a competitive first quarter on Saturday in Atlanta, the Hustle dominated the rest of the night, turning it over just 11 times, compared to Dallas’ 26, in a 29-14 win. Trip Crowley scored a career-high eight goals, while Justin Burnett produced six second-half blocks. “It’s really gratifying to see the next generation of Hustle players making big plays,” said Atlanta veteran Matt Smith. “Eight goals from Trip was incredible, and he made some tough catches to get them. I also am glad Justin is getting a chance to show out after winning the Callahan Award. I know he had some haters, and it must be tough for them when he goes out and consistently has this kind of impact at the AUDL level.”
At 6-2, the Hustle remain atop the South, a half-game in front of Carolina and Austin, who are both 6-3. If Atlanta can sweep their upcoming trip through Houston and Dallas—they’ll be clearly favored in both games but there’s nothing easy on back-to-back days in the Texas heat—then the Hustle will need just one win in their final two games against the Flyers in order to earn the top seed and home-field advantage in the South Division final.
- Seattle splits SoCal road trip
The Cascades overcame a 16-12 fourth quarter deficit on Saturday night in San Diego, tying the game at 18-all on a 72-yard bomb from Garrett Martin to Jack Brown with 55 seconds left. In overtime, Seattle maintained its momentum, with Spencer Lofink skying for a jump-ball near the end zone before dishing to Brandon Li for the game-winning goal with virtually no time left, as the Cascades eked out the 22-21 OT triumph. “In our team huddle before the fourth quarter, Kenny Lane said, ‘We’ve talked a lot about giving tonight and that’s kept us in the game, but now it’s time to start taking; take the game from them, take the win,’” said Martin. “I think that really fired the guys up and helped fire up the comeback. Spencer Lofink also made some huge plays down the stretch of the game. Massive layout block when we were trailing, and catching that hammer at the buzzer to win the game. He has been an awesome D-line quarterback when we have been successful this year. I can’t really describe the roller coaster of emotions that was that game. One of the more exciting wins of my professional career.” While the Cascades were riding the euphoric wave, the Growlers were staggering to comprehend how they had given the game away. “This last one was definitely tough to take,” said San Diego’s Travis Dunn. “We shot ourselves in the foot too many times throughout the game and let them hang around long enough that they were able to pounce at the end.” While the Cascades were cherishing their overtime victory, the Los Angeles Aviators were also grateful that Seattle saw bonus ultimate on Saturday evening prior to their Sunday matinee. The sluggish Cascades were down 6-1 after six and a half minutes and never really recovered in their 23-14 loss to the Aviators. “I think we were just out of gas a little bit,” said Martin. “LA just played way better than us. They were sharper and more intense than we were, so props to them. It kinda felt like we couldn’t really get up to speed in that game until it was a little too late, and even when we found our legs it felt like they were beating us in most aspects of the game. Sean McDougall should be getting MVP talk. He plays a basically flawless game every game. He leads the league in plus/minus. He’s just a guy I have a lot of respect for. I’m excited to see how the West playoff race shakes out with three teams at 5-3.”
- Chicago evens up record with home win
In conjunction with Pittsburgh’s interdivisional loss, the Union’s interdivisional victory over the still winless Portland Nitro lifted Chicago back into third place in the Central at the midway mark of their season. The Union led 6-5 after one, 12-8 at halftime, and 15-11 through three, en route to their 21-15 win that moved Chicago to 3-3 through six games. Team leadership recognizes that the Union have not exactly been clicking on all cylinders, but with a manageable upcoming schedule, Chicago is hopeful it can make a run in the second half of the season. “Clearly, there’s always room for growth, but I applaud my teammates for getting the job done and getting the win, regardless of who it’s against,” said Ross Barker, who finished with three goals, three assists, two blocks, and 677 total yards. Jack Shanahan added five assists and 532 yards, while Andrew Sjogren had six goals and 408 yards. Connor Stillwell enjoyed a career game for Portland, producing four goals and four assists, but the Nitro were still on the losing end for the 16th straight time they’ve taken the field, dating back to last year.
After two more interdivisional contests in Week 8, we’ve already experienced 11 of these games so far this season, with four more remaining over the final five weeks of the season.
Here’s a look at the full interdivisional slate for the 2023 AUDL season, with the results we’ve witnessed to this point.
- DC at Carolina, April 29 (Week 1) — DC 21-16
- Indianapolis at Atlanta, April 29 (Week 1) — ATL 23-14
- San Diego at Houston, May 19 (Week 4) — SD 23-17
- San Diego at Austin, May 20 (Week 4) — AUS 21-17
- Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, May 27 (Week 5) — PHI 20-19
- Carolina at DC, June 2 (Week 6) — CAR 20-19
- Carolina at Philadelphia, June 3 (Week 6) — PHI 20-17
- Atlanta at Boston, June 9 (Week 7) — ATL 21-15
- Atlanta at New York, June 10 (Week 7) — NY 20-17
- Pittsburgh at Toronto, June 17 (Week 8) — TOR 18-17
- Portland at Chicago, June 17 (Week 8) — CHI 21-15
- Minnesota at Colorado, June 24 (Week 9)
- New York at Colorado, July 14 (Week 12)
- Toronto at Detroit, July 15 (Week 12)
- New York at Salt Lake, July 15 (Week 12)
Interdivisional records by Division (Total Number of Games)
East: 5-2 (10)
South: 4-4 (8)
West: 1-2 (6)
Central: 1-3 (6)
Three of the final four remaining interdivisional contests feature first-place teams going on the road, starting this weekend with the 6-1 Wind Chill traveling to Colorado. The four remaining regular season interdivisional contests are also all first-time matchups, an intriguing wrinkle as we continue the invigorating ride toward Championship Weekend.