July 11, 2023
By Evan Lepler
Week 11 was an exciting, bizarre, and quirky experience.
There were 11 games, but only 15 different teams took the field because Austin, Boston, Chicago, Madison, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Portland all played twice. Among those seven teams, though, only the Glory and Nitro had true road doubleheaders; the other five each had one apiece at home and on the road.
Furthermore, the weekend began with half of the 12 postseason tickets already punched, but four of those six playoff teams—Atlanta, Carolina, Colorado, and New York—were completely idle. Heck, you could argue that Salt Lake and Oakland basically enjoyed bye weeks too.
Beyond the strange schedule, however, we still witnessed our fair share of consequential ultimate. A couple uncharacteristically confident teams, Philly and Indy, both were dealt serious disappointments. Meanwhile, Austin and Minnesota, both trying to rise above widespread skepticism and prove their stature as contenders, each went 2-0, but with varying degrees of style points. Weirdly, the biggest winners of the weekend might have been Boston and Chicago, who both went 1-1.
Overall, we’ve got two weeks and 25 regular season games remaining, with seven teams still battling for four available playoff spots, and Championship Weekend exactly 45 days away. The undefeated New York Empire are about to embark on an absolutely tantalizing trek through Mountain Time, and the Flyers and Hustle are set for a multi-week home-and-home, with the South Division title hanging in the balance.
It sure is fun when no one knows what’s gonna happen next.
The Full Field Layout
Back in mid-May, when Philly traveled to Boston, the Philadelphia Phoenix led 10-3 midway through the second quarter, before a disastrous collapse saw the Glory win 19-16 in the biggest comeback in the AUDL all season. So when Boston built a 13-7 lead this past Friday night in Philly, I was fully bracing for a symmetrical situation, where the Glory would let their sizable advantage slip away and the Hotbirds would be loudly and proudly chirping about their sixth consecutive win.
That almost happened.
The Phoenix clawed within three by the end of the third and inched within one with just over two minutes left, but the Glory O-line kept its cool, and time expired with Boston euphorically storming the field following their 21-20 road win.
“Just ran out of time,” said Philly’s Paul Owens. “Had we gone another few minutes, or into OT, I think we would’ve pulled it out.”
While Philadelphia was clearly angry about certain calls and heartbroken by the result, the Boston Glory also deserved credit for playing perhaps their best game ever. The Glory had just three turnovers in the first half, only nine for the game, and converted 6-of-7 break chances on the night. Boston also completed 12-of-14 hucks and converted on 13-of-15 red zone chances.
“At halftime, I felt like we were running away with it,” said Boston Head Coach Sam Rosenthal. “But Philly fought. They played a lot better in the second half.”
Indeed, the Phoenix finished with their smallest turnover total of any game in their past seven seasons, with just 12 giveaways across four quarters—and just three after halftime—but it was still one too many.
“The difference between the first and second half was that we started playing for each other instead of with each other,” said Philly’s James Pollard. “In that first half, we had seven guys on the field all trying to make that big play or dominate their matchup. Especially myself with two inexcusable throwaways early. That’s not how we had been playing when we played well.”
The Glory’s mindset also shifted a bit at halftime, where they led by five following CJ Colichio’s buzzer beater as the second quarter concluded.
“In the first half, we played to win,” said Boston’s Cole Davis-Brand. “In the second half, we played not to lose.”
It almost cost the Glory dearly, but Colin Sunde, who completed all 30 of his throws, including three hucks, bombed a gutsy 52-yard shot to Tyler Chan to put Boston up 21-19 with 98 seconds left. The Phoenix made it a one-goal game again with 37 ticks remaining, but could not force one more pivotal turnover in the closing seconds, as Caelan McSweeney, Ben Sadok, and the rest of the Boston offense converted the necessary completions to run out the clock.
The Phoenix were visibly frustrated by multiple calls down the stretch, and I thought the officials lost control over the game by letting some contact go uncalled, but I also think that the refs did not decide the outcome. Hard as it may be for Philly fans to hear, Boston, by an admittedly small margin, was the better team on Friday night.
“I felt there were some missed calls that happened at inopportune times,” said Owens, “And yes, I feel like [the officials] lost control of the game. Albeit, Boston outplayed us in the first half, and we couldn’t quite strike all the way back before the clock hit zero. I’m looking forward to this weekend against DC, and next season against Boston.”
Boston’s one-goal win brought the Glory to the brink of the playoffs, and they had a chance to clinch one day later in DC. But it was the Breeze that had the legs, poise, and late-game success, outscoring the Glory 7-1 over the final 12 minutes (and one second). Rowan McDonnell’s hammer for Christian Boxley in the waning moments of the third quarter gave DC a 16-14 edge, and the Breeze D-line dominated in the fourth.
“One thing that Rowan’s been saying throughout, in our huddles in practices and in games, it’s all heart for us,” said DC’s Jonny Malks. “And that really showed for the D-line there in the fourth. We have total faith in them, and we can’t wait to see what they do going forward. They’re the best players on our team.”
“Captain [David] Bloodgood talked to us [before the fourth quarter], and he was like, ‘we gotta keep ramping it up’ and that’s been a goal of the D-line to just keep ramping it up each quarter,” said Merrill. “I feel like we kept that person defense early in the fourth quarter, and we tired them out so later on we could start doing some zone and really make them think, and you don’t wanna do that when you’re tired. I really think that contributed to it.”
With the win, the Breeze officially clinched a playoff berth for the seventh consecutive season, while the Glory can lock up their first postseason appearance with a home victory against Montreal in 10 days. If DC beats Philly this coming weekend, that would also punch Boston’s ticket to the dance. But the Phoenix are not ready to give up all hope just yet.
“It almost feels like it’s over, but in reality it isn’t,” said Owens. “We have an opportunity to show ourselves and the league that we’re here to compete. If we can come out and beat DC this weekend, we’d have knocked off DC and Carolina and have an OT loss to New York at home and a one point loss to DC on the road. Those are four really good games we’ve played this season. And if we then go and beat Toronto in Week 13, the rest is out of our hands.”
Philly’s early schedule—opening at New York, at DC, at Boston, and vs. New York—was certainly daunting. Winning five straight following an 0-4 start brought them back into the mix, but after getting swept by Boston, even in somewhat controversial fashion, it likely won’t be enough in arguably the league’s toughest division.
I also liked what Philly broadcast Shaggy Shragis wrote in his Week 11 recap, when commenting on how some missed calls might have impacted the result.
“These calls were on the margins of a game that, if Philly played as big as they talked leading up to it, should never have been close,” wrote Shragis.
The craziest game of the weekend was probably Minnesota’s Friday night victory in Madison, in which the Wind Chill trailed 10-5 before stunningly prevailing 15-13. The Radicals won the second quarter 7-1, but only scored six times in the other three periods, enabling the Minnesota D-line to completely take over down the stretch.
“I think the turning point for us in Madison was that grind of a point [trailing 10-6],” said Minnesota’s Bryan Vohnoutka, “where our D-line got a quick hand block and their O-line had to play defense for almost two minutes combined across multiple possessions. The very next point they dropped the pull, which we quickly punched in to bring us back within two…When Tristan [Van de Moortele] caught the huck that Jack [Kelly] tipped just inches from the ground, [giving us a 12-11 lead early in the fourth], I felt like there was no way we were losing the game.”
It was yet another devastating defeat for Madison, who shockingly fell to 1-8 following Friday’s two-game loss. It was an excruciatingly familiar feeling, the sixth time this year that the Radicals have been down by one or two as time expired.
“Friday felt like every single game this season,” said Madison’s Avery Johnson. “We have come into every game knowing that we can win, with the team feeling outwardly confident that this will be the game we show we we really are. Most games we come out and prove that we can hang with any team by going up early, similar to this one. Also, like many games, we begin to lose the lead slowly but surely across the back half of the game [...] Each and every member of the team is highly motivated to do well; it just hasn’t shown in the final results.”
Of course, the Wind Chill’s strong second half in Madison would have only meant so much if not for Sunday’s performance against the AlleyCats.
Minnesota and Indianapolis were both 7-2, and with the top spot in the Central Division hanging in the balance, the Wind Chill left little doubt.
“We just got bested in almost every way,” said Indy’s Travis Carpenter.
Minnesota broke Indy’s O-line on the first two points of the night and led wire-to-wire, storming in front 9-4 after 12 minutes and 15-7 by halftime. The Wind Chill led by as many as nine before Indy scored the final four goals of the game, but Minnesota’s 22-17 not-as-close-as-the-final-score-indicated victory was truly a statement result.
“It’s funny, on the very first point our O-line was huddling and chatting about some of our objectives for the game, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Tanner [Barcus] with a layout D on the first throw!” said Vohnoutka. “We quickly moved it upwind and scored in like 15 seconds. That set the tone for the entire game.”
It was definitely windy, but the Wind Chill handled the elements brilliantly, while the AlleyCats struggled mightily.
“Minnesota was playing in a different stadium than we were,” said Indy Coach Drew Shepherd. “The elements barely affected them.”
Through the first three quarters, the Wind Chill completed 7-of-8 hucks, went 13-for-15 in the red zone, and surrendered zero breaks. The AlleyCats, who suffered their first loss since Minnesota beat them on May 6, were humbled by the lopsided nature of the rematch.
“I don’t know what the adjustments will be yet,” said Carpenter. “So many things went wrong that it is going to take some time to watch film and find all the issues.”
Rick Gross was the only AlleyCat to finish better than plus-3, while five members of the Wind Chill produced plus-4 or better, including Vohnoutka’s game-best plus-10. The play of the day was probably B-Von’s full-extension layout, an exclamation point that capped the dominant first half.
“I think that grab was one of the tougher plays I have made in my career,” he said, “but the moment wasn’t that big; we were up seven goals at that point.”
The Wind Chill only need one win in their last two games to officially lock up the top seed in the Central. They host Chicago, whom they are 1-1 against this season, this Saturday. Even if they lost to the Union, Minnesota’s final game is slated for Sunday, July 23 against Detroit, a team the Wind Chill have beaten in each of their past 22 meetings.
“It felt great to come away with this crucial win and set ourselves up to be just one win away from hosting the Divisional Championship,” said Vohnoutka. “We love playing in front of our fans and are excited about the opportunity to do so with a bid to Championship Weekend on the line.”
Coming up later today in “Seven on the Line”, reaction to the rest of the Week 11 action, including the multi-day duel between Chicago and Pittsburgh, Austin’s 9-3 regular season, and Portland challenging Detroit for the poorest performance of the summer.