May 24, 2023
By Shaggy Shragis
What a game! The Philadelphia Phoenix (0-4) fell in overtime to the New York Empire (4-0) in the home opener for the Hotbirds. Philly led for much of the night, and had several opportunities to pull ahead by 2 in the fourth quarter, but the Empire ultimately prevailed in OT. For all the losses Philadelphia has endured this season, this one was not just the closest to a win, but it also felt the best (if a loss can feel good).
For starters, freed from wind and rain, the offense had their best outing of the season, and they did it against the best defense in the league. The Hotbirds matched New York stride for stride offensively, with nearly identical hold and O-line conversion rates. This was one of Philadelphia’s most pristine offensive performances ever, as they converted on 74% of all offensive opportunities, which would lead the league in efficiency.
There were two major factors contributing to the Hotbird’s offensive explosion on Saturday. The first revelation was Kainoa Chun-Moy on offense. A free agent acquisition from the Portland Nitro, Chun-Moy had been putting good work in for the defense this season, but was a huge part of the offense on Saturday, splitting time with Dimitry Suvorov, Jordan Rhyne, and Calvin Trisolini on Philadelphia’s 8-man O-line rotation. Kainoa played a key role as a hybrid: connecting the handlers to James and Greg while stretching the field with his throws and his legs. His one recorded goal was at the end of regulation on a 66 yard bomb from James Pollard to tie the game at 16s.
Speaking of stretching the field, the second contributing factor was the resurgence of Philly’s deep game. The Hotbirds were a perfect 12 for 12 on hucks, and that only counts throws that traveled 40 yards or more vertically. Philly threw at least as many 30-35 yard throws that seemed to stretch the field horizontally by another 20 yards which, if we were using a different stats compiler, could have been considered hucks. It made a fairly low scoring AUDL game one of the most exciting matchups of the season.
Part of that success was thanks to New York. For whatever reason, the Empire went with questionable matchups in the first half that allowed Philadelphia to run roughshod over their opponents. For starters, John Randolph on Greg Martin was a mistake. Randolph is one of the premier defenders in the league, but he’s simply too small to guard Greg, who is the best in the air in the world. Greg Martin exploded for 7 goals, and Mott and Pollard had several 50/50 shots to him that were out of the reach of anyone without G-Mart’s vertical. That shuffled Ben Jagt on to James Pollard, which certainly did not go Jagt’s way.
Pollard was unstoppable as a receiver in the first half, with all four of his goals and nearly 300 of his 403 receiving yards coming in quarters one and two. Pollard looked too fast and too big for Ben to keep up with, a wild sentence to write in the year 2023. When the Empire adjusted the entire defense to contain him, he tortured them with his throws, including the aforementioned beautiful shot to Kainoa to send the game to OT. Mott also feasted on every matchup, and took it to the next level with a perfect 45-45 throwing performance on a gaudy 7.6 yards per completion. Everyone on the offense deserves praise for this performance, but Mott being perfect was a huge reason the game went to overtime.
I also thought the defense played exceptionally. Maybe they fell under the all-time great 44% break rate they had coming into the game, but they repeatedly stymied the best offense in the league, and forced New York to grind out two and even three minute possessions multiple times, something no other team in the league would be able to do. The one thing they could not do was stop Jeff Babbitt, who had 9 goals and two massive blocks to win the disc back for New York when Philly was driving.
The defense also squandered a chance to put the game away. Up 14-13, the Hotbird D-Line put together a spectacular 6 minute marathon point that resulted in 3 blocks and a forced turn, and had the disc on the goal line with the chance to go up by two with two minutes left. Unfortunately, an Austin Lillis blade to Justin Keller hung in the air too long, and allowed Solomon Rueschemeyer-Bailey to slap it out of the air. There was a lot of controversy surrounding this point, so let’s air it all out.
First of all, spectacular job by the defense to be in that position, and ultimately it was a decent look by Lillis. However, that throw needs to either be a scoober over the top, or that blade needs to have a ton of velocity to get through the muck that was New York's end zone defense. No fault to Lillis for taking a good shot not quite fast enough. Secondly, there was some consternation amongst the fans that there was no time out called. I agree with the coaching staff on this decision. The offense had slowed down considerably, and subbing on the O-line and having them be scored on would be a disaster. The defense had several opportunities to score, and leaving them out there exhausted the New York O-line. Had that break been successful, and it almost was, it would have ended the game with a Phoenix victory. A substitution would have given the New York offense guaranteed rest. It was a controversial—but correct—no call.
This was a huge game for the Hotbirds, even if it resulted in a loss. Too many players had standout performances to count, but let's end the recap with some quick shoutouts to people who haven’t been mentioned yet:
Nate Little came back with a vengeance, 3 blocks this game in some big moments.
Paul Owens and Max Trifillis played 19 points on defense, an exhausting amount of defending, especially with how long they forced New York to hold the disc. Owens covered the legendary Jack Williams, who had some really nice things to say about #88 afterwards. (Paul is) “consistently one of the toughest matchups to face every year. It’s a matchup I always look forward to and also dread.”
Jordan Rhyne had a good performance (finally!): 350 yards and two big blocks to get possession back. There is no quit in Jordan.
Everyone tasked with defending Solomon Rueschemeyer-Bailey and Elliot Chartock (Brandon Pastor, Mark Sands, Justin Keller and Eric Witmer to name a few). With Osgar out, SRB and Chartock were the fulcrums of the Empire offense, and the reason it took them so long to score was tenacious defense constantly forcing them backwards, or forcing them to make second or third cuts to get open.
The Hotbirds return home to Philly on June 3rd to take on the 2021 AUDL champion Carolina Flyers. You can purchase tickets here.