June 27, 2023
By Evan Lepler
- DC dazzles in Montreal
After leading 3-0 in the opening minutes, the Breeze actually fell behind 9-8 as the Royal rallied with a strong second quarter surge. But then DC erupted for seven straight scores, capitalizing on Montreal mistakes with vicious efficiency en route to a 25-18 victory.
“It was a pretty still day, and we knew that our D-line offense should be able to keep getting open against the Montreal O-line, so we didn’t force anything and were happy to swing the disc and move it down the field,” said Breeze Captain David Bloodgood. “This had two great benefits. One was helping us save our timeouts for when we did get stuck, and the other allowed us to wear down the Montreal O-line to help us get more breaks throughout the game. We were without Jasper Tom this weekend, so Thomas Edmonds played some D-line and having him as a handler on the D-line definitely helped our conversions.” DC produced 10 breaks in 12 chances against Montreal, as the Breeze managed to have just eight turnovers for the entire game, a season-low. AJ Merriman recorded three blocks, while Jonny Malks, Jeff Wodatch, and Tyler Monroe all churned for over 400 total yards apiece. Kevin Quinlan led the Royal with seven assists and 52 completions with just one turn, and Montreal also mustered their fewest turnovers of the season (14), but the Breeze were too good, going 18-for-19 in the red zone and scoring a season-best 25 goals.
- Breeze bring it to Boston
One day after a season-low eight turnovers, DC persevered through a season-hi 21. But the result was the same, as the Breeze again used a big spurt spanning the halves to create separation on Saturday against the Glory. Tied at nine apiece late in the second, DC scored five of the next six goals and led 17-12 by the end of the third.
The advantage grew as large as six in the final period, before the Breeze departed with a 20-16 triumph. “We knew Cole Davis-Brand would be a focal point for their offense without [Ben] Sadok, and Troy Holland did a great job on him all game,” said Bloodgood. “I’m not sure whether he ever got a block, but Troy made it very difficult for Davis-Brand to fight for resets.” The wind was a much more significant factor than the previous day in Montreal, but the Breeze handled the conditions well. “I’m always amazed how the wind doesn’t seem to affect our O-line,” added Bloodgood. “They were patient and methodical, never forcing anything they didn’t need to keep getting hold after hold against some great defense by Boston on a windy day. It also helps when Kevin Healey has an amazing layout grab going downwind to fire everyone up and Thomas Edmonds is skying people in the deep space.” As the Breeze improved to 6-2 on the back of their weekend sweep, the Glory dipped to 4-4 in a tight race for the third spot in the East. “My biggest reflection is that it felt like we played a good game,” said Boston’s Davis-Brand. “[But] they played better.” The Glory also suffered the loss of team leader Brendan McCann early in the third quarter, when he went down with an apparent season-ending knee injury. He was scheduled to have an MRI today to determine the extent of the damage, but it was a tough turning point for everyone. “He’s a tremendous leader on and off the field and to watch him get injured was upsetting,” said Davis-Brand. “I struggled to maintain focus after that moment as I was thinking about him and how he was doing. I think, in general, that moment shifted the team morale and energy as big injuries often do. Sending him love.”
- Rush remain in the playoff race
While three of their four wins have come over winless Montreal, the Toronto Rush find themselves at 4-4 and tied for third-place in the East with Boston and Philadelphia following their 26-19 victory on Sunday afternoon over the Royal. The Rush enjoyed a season-low 14 turns, while Keith McRae and Ty Barbieri both finished plus-10 to pace the Toronto attack. McRae tallied eight goals with two assists and no turns, while Barbieri produced six assists, four goals, two blocks, and was the only player in the league to go for 300 throwing yards and 300 receiving yards in a win this past weekend. “With a couple of our key O-line players out at U-24s, Keith slotted himself back on the O-line super smoothly and absolutely smashed it,” said James Lewis. “He seemed to always be in the right spot at the right time and was unguardable for most of the game. As for Ty, he’s been unstoppable all season and just continued to keep his foot on the gas on Sunday.” While no one would argue that Toronto’s overall resume matches Boston’s or Philly’s—particularly in the wake of head-to-head losses against both—the Rush are still in position to contend for the playoffs if they can find a way to change the result in upcoming battles against those adversaries in the weeks ahead. “We definitely feel in the drivers seat and like we control our fate,” added Lewis, who led Rush with 379 receiving yards on Sunday. “We lost to Boston at the start of this season, but we have made some key changes since then and they are going to be playing a much different team when they come to Toronto.”
- Atlanta clinches playoff spot
For just the third time in franchise history, the Atlanta Hustle are headed back to the playoffs. After missing the dance despite their 8-4 record a year ago, the Hustle sit atop the South hierarchy at 8-2 following their two-game sweep through Texas, leaving little doubt in a pair of dominant victories over Houston and Dallas. Atlanta outscored the Havoc and Legion by a combined total of 46-26, an achievement that everyone on the Hustle, particularly the team’s veterans, were especially proud of. “It was really special for our program to clinch a playoff spot and sweep Texas all in the same weekend,” said Christian Olsen, one of the four individuals who’s been on every Hustle team since 2015. “Especially fighting through the adversity that was the abnormal heat and an 11:30 pm start time after three delayed warmups in Houston.” Indeed, the Hustle and Havoc battled well past midnight local time after a considerable storm postponed the start of the game. Tied through the first 12 points, Atlanta closed the first half on a 5-0 run and led the rest of the way, prevailing 23-14.
One night later—or, more accurately, later that day after wrapping up the Havoc win in the wee hours—the Hustle led 7-3 after one, 14-7 at halftime, and 19-9 through three, on the way to a 23-12 triumph over the Legion. Justin Burnett and Tanner Robinson each registered three blocks apiece, while Austin Taylor matched his season-high with five assists. The Legion D-line had six chances to break Atlanta’s O-line, but failed to convert every time. Now, the Hustle can enjoy their first-place perch and their first ever Texas sweep for a couple weeks, as Atlanta does not play again until Week 12 at Carolina. “At the same time, the job isn’t done,” said Olsen. “We’re gonna take a quick mental break this week and then we’re right onto the playoff push as a team. We’re about to kick it into high gear in a way we haven’t yet this season.”
- Chicago stomps Detroit twice
The Union felt a mixture of relief and satisfaction after conquering the increasingly tricky task that is the Detroit Mechanix, prevailing on back-to-back nights in two different locations. On Friday in Chicago, the Union dominated early, building a 7-1 lead after the opening quarter. But even though Chicago rolled to a 25-20 victory, the Mechanix outscored the Union 7-3 in the fourth, building some belief heading into Saturday’s rematch.
“I think they went into Saturday with a bit of ‘we can do this’ mentality,” said Chicago Captain Sam Kaminsky. “But we still got it done.” After the two teams were tied at 7-all late in the second quarter, Chicago’s 5-0 run created separation, as the Union cruised from their to an 18-12 win. “I want to shout-out Tyler Mitchuson,” said Kaminsky. “Jake Steslicki and Andrew Sjogren get the praise of former Detroit Mechanix—as they should—but I want to send some praise for Tyler Mitchuson, also an ex-Mechanix player. He played so well this weekend, culminating up to a Callahan in our Saturday game.” Mitchuson’s first career Callahan came as a part of the Union’s 5-0 run, while Steslicki and Sjogren earned Honor Roll status for their steady performances throughout the weekend against their former team. “It was a bit of a homecoming of sorts for Shrew (Andrew Sjogren) with the long career he had for DMX,” said Steslicki. “We wanted to recognize that and make sure we put him in position to impact the games. I’ve known Shrew since my days at Michigan and his at [Michigan State], and it’s always great to have the chance to watch him play or cleat up alongside him. He’s a relentless worker, and during long weekends like this one, it especially shows.” The Union improved to 5-3, while the Mechanix dropped to 0-7, as their six-plus year losing streak ignominiously reached 69 consecutive games. They’ve made some positive strides in recent weeks, but regardless, the streak still lives on. “Detroit can end the streak,” said Kaminsky. “We all know it. But if they want to do it against Chicago, they’ll have to wait for another chance in 2024.”
- What happened to all the close games?
After we enjoyed five different one-goal games in Week 8, we had far fewer going down to the wire this past weekend. Among the 10 tilts on the Week 9 slate, only one was decided by three or fewer, Indy’s 23-22 win at Madison. Sixty percent of the games had final margins of six or greater. Through the first 98 games of the season, close calls are down a smidge from past years. In 2021, including the playoffs, 44.8 percent of games were decided by three or less. In 2022, it was 42.5 percent. This year, 36.8 percent (36-of-98 games) have been decided by these small margins.
- Catching up on the Callahan count
After four more Callahans this past weekend, we’re now up to 25 on the season, the most in any campaign in AUDL history. Previously, the most Callahans in any year was 22 during the 2018 season. If we maintain the current pace through the end of the playoffs, there will be 39 or 40 Callahans in the AUDL this year. It’s an astonishing increase, though one that is certainly attributable to the rule change that moved pulls 20 yards forward prior to the start of the 2023 journey. Presently, 132 players in AUDL history have caught a Callahan, but only 15 players have two, and no one has three. Ten of those individuals with multiple Callahans are still active, so I’m curious if anyone can separate themselves and become the league’s preeminent Callahan King heading into 2024.
At this point, we know the three playoff teams in the South.
Similarly, the three Central playoff spots also feel somewhat set, with Minnesota, Indianapolis, and Chicago, in some order.
(Can 3-4 Pittsburgh beat Chicago or Indy two times each? Color me skeptical.)
But in the East, while New York and DC are locks, the race for the three-spot is wide open.
Likewise, Salt Lake is comfortably ahead out West, but three teams jostling for two postseason berths is arguably the most interesting regular season storyline as we head down the stretch.
Before we wrap up today’s Toss, here’s a closer look at these two intriguing playoff pursuits.
The Race For The East's Third Spot
Presently, Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto are all 4-4 with four games left.
Here are their respective remaining schedules:
Boston: at Toronto (4-4), at Philadelphia (4-4), at DC (6-2), vs. Montreal (0-9)
Philadelphia: at Montreal (0-9), vs. Boston (4-4), vs. DC (6-2), vs. Toronto (4-4)
Toronto: vs. Boston (4-4), at Detroit (0-7), at DC (6-2), at Philadelphia (4-4)
Philadelphia, riding a four-game winning streak, has three of its final four at home, while Boston and Toronto are both on the road for three of their remaining four. Interestingly, all three of these teams will play against each other, DC, and another team that’s winless through nine weeks.
The Race To Avoid Fourth In The West
After Week 9 victories, Colorado and Los Angeles are 6-3, while Oakland, who was off this past weekend and doesn’t play again until July 8, is 5-3.
Here are their remaining schedules:
Colorado: at Portland (0-7), at Seattle (2-7), vs. New York (8-0)
Los Angeles: vs. Salt Lake (8-0), at Oakland (5-3), vs. Oakland (5-3)
Oakland: vs. Portland (0-7), vs. Los Angeles (6-3), at Los Angeles (6-3), at San Diego (2-6)
Here’s the bottom line: with two games matching LA and Oakland head-to-head during the season’s final two weeks, either side getting swept in those two contests would very likely be the end of the road for the team that went 0-2. But if the Aviators and Spiders split those two matchups, then the Spiders likely have the edge, unless LA can upset undefeated Salt Lake at home this Friday night. In that event, the pressure will be on the Spiders to run up the score against Portland and San Diego.
Meanwhile, as long as the Summit don’t slip up in the Pacific Northwest this weekend, Colorado will be in the playoffs. But if the Summit do stumble in one of these two road games—more likely than you might think considering how the Cascades have played lately—then they could be in the precarious position of potentially needing the Aviators or the Spiders to sweep the other in their two-game series.