May 16, 2023
By Evan Lepler
From the standpoint of intensity, drama, and fierce, elite competition, Saturday’s 30th all-time meeting between New York and DC was about as good as regular season ultimate can get. Even when reason and odds both strongly suggest that the most important Empire-Breeze matchup this year will come in the playoffs, the Week 3 appetizer was unbelievably delicious, just like most every recent battle between these two star-studded franchises.
“This is always a treat to come to DC, [and] when they come to us,” said New York’s Jeff Babbitt, steam still radiating from his body during a postgame interview on Saturday night. “What a rivalry we have. The number of overtime, double overtime, one-point games we play them is unreal. It’s always tense, it’s always high-level, and I always love it.”
Following the Empire’s latest wild and gritty 18-17 overtime victory, New York and DC have seen five of their last eight matchups decided by one goal. There’s no question that the reigning champs hold a mental edge, but the Breeze continue to raise their game and serve as a fascinating foil to the league’s most talented team.
“That’s the best game we’ve played so far,” said DC’s AJ Merriman, reflecting on the team’s first defeat of the season with a smile. “We had to get those new guys that close loss to New York, so it’ll mean more later in the playoffs.”
Over the past 48 hours, I’ve repeatedly found myself thinking about how this particular game was a near-perfect balance between tantalizing offensive wizardry and relentlessly excellent defense. It was low-scoring, but it was not ugly. In fact, over the course of the 53 exhilarating minutes, there were many moments of majesty and brilliance. There were picturesque hucks and vicious hand-blocks. New players made their mark on the rivalry for the first time, while established stars added to their legacies. The conditions were conducive for smooth disc movement, yet the stylistic desires and familiar individual battles produced possessions that gradually crescendoed toward a pivotal throw, catch, or block, giving viewers a bevy of back and forth sequences where every action felt critical. A combination of physicality and chatter also amplified the intensity, as both teams gave absolutely everything they got.
“We’re just competing,” said New York’s Ryan Osgar, describing an interaction with DC’s Jasper Tom that led to one of the several unsportsmanlike calls in the game. “We’re getting physical. Jasper’s a very physical defender, and I’m not gonna let him push me around, so I’m gonna fight back and give him some words here and there. He gives me words too. At the end of the day, we both respect each other and understand, at the highest level, people get fiery, people get competitive, and it just make it more fun, honestly. But we’re on good terms.”
Don’t mistake a few 20-yard unsportsmanlike penalties as a suggestion that these two teams crossed the line from intense to dirty. Without a doubt, this was a healthy and spirited competition. There were also several noteworthy integrity calls, even in the game’s most important moments down the stretch.
Speaking of that crunch time drama, the Empire were seemingly in solid control with a three-goal lead early in the fourth, but a couple uncharacteristic errors from Jack Williams opened the door to a DC comeback, and the Breeze boldly claimed a 16-15 lead with 93 seconds left in regulation.
Unfortunately for the home underdog, that was their final highlight of the night. Ben Jagt’s sensational sky early in the overtime gave the Empire a massive break, and Babbitt’s third and final block of the night denied Jonny Malks’ deep prayer looking for Rowan McDonnell in the game’s final 30 seconds.
“I gotta give so much credit to the D-line and Ben Jagt for an unbelievable play to take a break to start the overtime,” said Babbitt. “We knew we could win this game, but that gave us so much energy.”
Saturday’s win was New York’s 18th straight, dating back to their last loss in the 2021 title game. Going back even further, the Empire are 48-4 in their last 52, including 9-1 against the Breeze. You might think that DC would be mighty demoralized to be on the other side of this domination, yet the Breeze, while for sure being disappointed in another narrow loss, still exuded contagious positive energy after the game.
“I think it shows that we can not play our best game and come back and make it a game,” said Merriman. “I think it shows us what we need to do better, give us a lot of good film.”
The Empire and Breeze meet again on June 30 in New York. Regardless of what happens, they’ll almost certainly collide one more time for the East Division crown at some point in mid-August.
“We want to win a championship,” said Osgar, when asked about the team’s current winning streak. “If we lose a game this season, that’s fine with us. As long as we win the championship, we’re cool with that. It’s all about winning championships for us. But keeping the streak going is cool; we’ll do it as much as we can.”
The Full Field Layout
Out West, Salt Lake and Oakland matched wits, hucks, and highlights in a wildly entertaining shootout.
Tied at 25 after a 48-minute roller-coaster ride, neither side could create any meaningful separation until the Shred broke the Spiders in the second minute of overtime. The final goal of the game, with 3:24 left in the bonus period, made the score 27-25, the only time all game that either team led by multiple goals.
“I was definitely surprised by Oakland,” said Salt Lake’s Jordan Kerr, who made his AUDL debut as a member of the Spiders in 2021. “That team is extremely young, but they don’t play like it. They have really great decision making alongside young, athletic players up and down the roster. Add some nice physicality on top of that and you’ve got a scary team that’s only going to get better throughout the season.”
Indeed, the Spiders appear to have leveled up from a year ago, yet they could not close the deal on what would have been a huge statement home win. Oakland held six different one-goal leads in the fourth, but a few late and costly mistakes necessitated a tumbling, bobbling catch from Gavin May as time expired to even the game at 25. In overtime, the Spiders had four possessions, but failed to score.
“Two weeks in a row, we have put ourselves in strong positions to command a game late in the fourth quarter,” said Oakland Captain Keenan Laurence, referencing the team’s Week 1 overtime victory over Seattle. “We’ve obviously given our fans real bang for their bung, with two OT home games to kick off the season, but we’re continuing to put in the work to keep things a little less exciting against future opponents.”
Ten different players finished the high-scoring contest with multiple goals and multiple assists, while Kerr was the only one who also produced multiple blocks, both of which came in overtime. Jacob Miller, another former Spider, led all participants with 753 total yards for the Shred, becoming the first player in the AUDL this season to register over 300 throwing and 300 receiving yards and win the game.
“I think Miller is one of the most underrated players in the entire league,” said Kerr. “His consistency with the disc and ability to get open often goes overlooked. He used to be more of our O-line release valve, but I love seeing his aggressiveness and confidence on the field, as it makes the rest of the O-line’s jobs even easier. He’s legit and it’s time teams start game-planning around his skillset.”
The youngest Yorgason’s shift to offense was another noteworthy Salt Lake storyline. McKay Yorgason, the 21-year-old brother of Luke (25) and Chad (23), played on the Shred’s O-line for the first time, completing all 46 of his throws while collecting two goals, two assists, and five more hockey assists.
“He’s just finished his freshman year at BYU,” said Kerr, “and the fact that he’s already playing this well in the AUDL bodes really well for us for years to come.”
Combined, the three Yorgason brothers completed 108-of-109 throws against the Spiders on Saturday, producing nearly 1,200 total yards between them. Luke threw for 560 to lead the trio.
As the only team that’s 4-0 through three weeks—including 3-0 on the road—the Shred have clearly established their place amongst the league’s elite. The Spiders, at 1-1, have witnessed breakout debut performances from Walker Frankenburg and Dexter Clyburn in consecutive weeks, along with several other standout efforts to emphatically proclaim their presence as a worthwhile challenger for the West Division playoffs. A huge two-game weekend in the Pacific Northwest beckons.
“Road trips are great opportunities for teams to build on their identity and culture and test their grit and grind,” said Laurence. “Stoked to be doing it with this crew.”
The Atlanta Hustle haven’t won any road games yet, but that’s about the only quasi-negative thing you could say about the Hustle through three weeks. And, of course, they haven’t lost any road games either.
Atlanta improved to 3-0, capping their Indy/Carolina/Austin homestand with another impressive Friday evening performance against the previously unbeaten Sol. Broken on the game’s opening point, the Hustle rallied back to lead 7-3 after one and maintained at least a three-goal lead the rest of the night, ultimately prevailing 21-17.
“Our defense came out hot, without any fear,” said Atlanta’s Christian Olsen. “We trusted our athletes to make plays, and, well, they did. I was happy with how the offense responded late in the game, and our defense picked us up when we needed it. After losing that game last year against Austin, we were happy to come away with a solid win like that.”
Dean Ramsey and Brett Hulsmeyer combined for seven goals, two assists, and two blocks, while Mischa Freystaetter produced 317 total yards in a steady, comfortable Atlanta debut. Billy O’Bryan and JP Burns both had multiple assists anchoring the D-line’s counterattack, while Hayden Austin-Knab tallied two goals and two blocks in his first game of the year.
“The thing I love about our offense is that everyone is willing to make room for others to be great,” said Olsen, who went 31-for-31 and churned for 330 total yards himself. “One night it’s Liam [Haberfield], the next night it’s Dean, then Brett. Who knows who it’ll be next weekend? As long as we win, it really doesn’t matter.”
The next phase of Atlanta’s schedule—at Carolina, vs. Houston, at Boston, at New York—is filled with challenges that will certainly add important context and perspective to the Hustle’s status as a contender, but through three weeks, arguably no team in the league has been more consistently dominant.
“Despite the success,” added Olsen, “this crew is hungry to keep finding ways to improve.”
Even though New York-DC deservingly garnered significant attention in the East, there were 11 other games on the Week 3 schedule. Interestingly, all three teams who were making their 2023 debuts—Chicago, Detroit, and Montreal—tasted defeat, while Austin and Oakland also suffered their first losses of the season. Boston looked destined to join the list of losers too, until unleashing one of the most unexpected comebacks in AUDL history.
Seriously, as I watched the first half between the Glory and Phoenix on Saturday afternoon, I contemplated Boston’s inexplicably poor performance, pondering whether the half might be the worst the Glory have ever experienced. They trailed 10-3, and I honestly did not even feel like Philly had played all that well!
“Yea, we were very much struggling in the first half and especially the second quarter,” said Boston’s Cole Davis-Brand. “It was totally on us. The Philly defense was forcing us to throw harder throws, and we were turning them over.”
At the time, Boston’s offense had converted fewer than 20 percent of their opportunities, and while the funky wind was partially to blame, the Glory looked incapable of completing simple strings of passes. It was really, really bad.
Someone had to say something, anything, to try and boomerang Boston back into the game. One of the organization’s newest members, a player who was suiting up in just his second ever AUDL game, took charge.
“Tyler Chan, one of the kindest humans I’ve shared a team with, gave a fiery speech in the huddle that we can still win the game,” remembered Brendan McCann. “It got us all amped. It’s one thing when Gus [Haflin] or myself says something; we are constantly in that intense, fiery state. That’s par for the course with us. It’s a whole different beast when T-Chan comes in fired up.”
Multiple Glory players praised Chan’s tone and message as a crucial turning-point, but no one could have ever anticipated what happened next. With 3:05 left in the first half, after giving up seven straight goals, Boston finally scored its first goal in over 13 minutes of game action. But they were still down 10-4.
Would you believe that 55 seconds later, the score was 10-7?
It was truly bonkers.
Three straight breaks in less than a minute, aided by two immediate Philly miscues and one sensational Turner Allen block, and suddenly, improbably, the Glory had life.
“Once we got those [breaks], it felt like the floodgates opened,” said McCann. “All we had to do was stop giving Philly the disc. It’s a pretty simple game when you boil it down.”
Still trailing 12-8 early in the third, Boston stunningly ran off six consecutive goals to take the lead, maintaining the advantage the rest of the way in their turbulent 19-16 win. Despite all the chatter about New York and DC being on a collision course in the East, the Glory’s also 2-0 heading into a Week 4 road trip to Montreal, and the team feels their depth is ultimately the reason for their early success.
“We don’t have the star power of a New York,” said Haflin, “but what we do have is reliable depth. For a point of reference, the man who played the fewest points for us on Saturday, Phil Joyce, led our team in plus/minus; plus-five on eight points played, all D-line points. Additionally, all 20 rostered players had at least three completions; I regularly see members of other teams’ O-lines who record fewer than that. I know that the league likes to laud big names, but Boston is a team that relies on every man to make a play, and every one is capable of making it.”
Meanwhile, this crazy comeback—Boston outscored Philly 16-6 after trailing 10-3—underscores the razor thin margins between finishing each game feeling content or devastated.
“Success in this league balances on a thread, especially in our division,” said Haflin. “The way Philly has played the last two weeks proves that. Phoenix could easily be 2-1 instead of 0-3, and we could be staring at a much tougher road ahead if we had succumbed to the pressure they built at Hormel [Stadium] on Saturday.”
The Phoenix have no choice but to try and maintain the belief that they can progress from 0-3 to the postseason for the second straight year. They still have all six of their home games left, but of course, the undefeated New York Empire juggernaut is the opponent gracing Philly’s home opener this Saturday night.
For the Glory, if they can win in Montreal for the first time in franchise history this Saturday, they would then head into June unbeaten, with a pair of massive home games against New York and Atlanta looming with a chance to prove they are for real.
Coming up later today in “Seven on the Line”, Indy shocks Chicago, Colorado keeps cruising, Houston’s first AUDL victory, and more.