June 26, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
Though the conclusion of the the second consecutive game between the New York Empire and Montreal Royal may have been the same as the first – both ended in a Royal victory – this game was dramatically different from last week’s lopsided Montreal victory. In one of the most physical and animated AUDL games I’ve seen, Montreal was down 20-17 entering the final quarter. They won 23-22 after a thrilling comeback victory. Here are my 10 observations from the game.
1. Matt Weintraub
Matt Weintraub was incredible for New York. He was angry after New York’s 0-2 road trip, showing visible frustration in Toronto after the game. Weintraub responded by translating that emotion into his work.
As a D-Line handler defender, Weintraub was the first player down the field after every pull, disallowing easy Montreal centering passes that began their string plays. He was only credited for one block on the day, but his energy stymied or slowed Montreal’s offense on countless occasions.
When Weintraub was on the field, New York was a far better team. He led the team in defensive efficiency, but he was also impressive when his line took possession of the disc. When he was on the field, the Empire converted 71 percent of their scoring opportunities without a turn of their own. That number was a far-lower 54 percent team-wide. He also led the D-Line with three assists. He was integrally involved in the defensive offense. His legs and throws were a huge boon for New York.
2. Jagt Party
Ben Jagt, once again, was the Empire’s best and most effective player. He has proven to be virtually unguardable. He’s such a threat deep that teams force him under. Early on, Montreal was so afraid of Jagt’s deep cuts that he caught free short passes all day. He distributed incredibly well from the initiating cutting position, finishing with 34 completions; he dished several perfect assists into tight windows, including this floating backhand to Jeff Babbitt that opened the game with a break for New York.
Jagt’s throwing has improved dramatically on the season, after only finishing with 21 assists in 2017 for New York. He leads the Empire in assists this year, with 26, and his throws have become as dangerous as his legs. When Montreal decided to take away his under cuts later in the game, he twice burned his defenders deep. He finished with five assists and two goals on the day. While New York was far less efficient when star Babbitt played offense, Jagt was able to massively help the defense when he switched sides. Jagt added two blocks in addition to his scoring stats. Whenever New York decided to play Jagt on the defensive side, he was a huge boon.
During Jagt’s seven points played with the defense, only three ended up in scores for Montreal. Two were goals for New York, and two resulted in the clock running out on a quarter, and no goal for either side. That’s elite defense, with New York scoring nearly as many as Montreal during Jagt’s time on the defensive side. Jagt is the type of player that New York wants to play on every point, and he nearly got there. He finished with 29 points played, which is near Andrew Roney’s league-leading 31.3 points played per game. Jagt is a monster, and New York was in a position to top Montreal in large part due to his play.
3. Lucky Bounces
While Montreal won the game solely by virtue of their play, lucky bounces were certainly a boon. Montreal twice caught goals off of New York tips. On one play, an Empire defender was perfectly positioned for a huck, with another defender speeding in behind the play to clean up, in case of a mistake. Kevin Quinlan was sandwiched in between the two. Quinlan went up with his right hand, but when the first Empire defender made contact on the tip, the disc slowed down enough for Quinlan to shoot out his left to snag the disc just ahead of the defender behind him.
On another play to end the third quarter, Babbitt had perfect position to defend the Hail Mary, and he easily knocked it out of the sky. However, Montreal swooped in and would have caught the ricochet had Babbitt not leaped into the receiver. The foul gave Montreal another fluky goal. Those two unlikely moments proved to be the difference in a one-goal game.
4. The French Connection
Stève Bonneau and Quentin Bonnaud were magnificent, as always, for Montreal’s offense. Neither is as tall as New York’s most threatening defenders, such as Babbitt or Marques Brownlee. However, both were consistently able to attack the disc at its highest point and make catches over much larger defenders. Bonnaud in particular skied over Empire defenders with impunity.
Bonnaud wasn’t even running in that second clip before the thrower wound up! He still caught up to it, snatching it without great position. Though Bonneau is a handler, he was able to make a similarly impressive catch at the highest point off of this hammer from Bonnaud.
Both French players combine athleticism and talent. They have incredible chemistry on the field, and their ability to dominate any defender opens up space for Quinlan and other Montreal stars. Montreal’s offense has strung together three positive games in a row after a disappointing start to the season. Though Quinlan has dominated the statistics, Bonneau and Bonnaud have proven that their contributions cannot be overshadowed.
5. Montreal's Defensive Offense
Montreal’s defensive offense was a tale of two games. In the first three quarters, Montreal had only six break opportunities. Three were converted, but dig deeper; two of those were because Royal Head Coach Caroline Cadotte called a timeout and put her offense on the field. The defensive line itself only converted once in four chances; that 25 percent mark has been relatively consistent during their poor showing thus far in 2018.
Montreal manufactures a number of break chances, but they have had trouble converting. Over the first three quarters, they were manufacturing few opportunities and having trouble converting; that’s the main reason why Montreal was down 20-17 heading into the final quarter. Take away those few lucky bounces, and they could easily have been down by 5 points or more.
In the fourth quarter, the tables flipped completely. Montreal created five opportunities, and they converted on four of those. Cadotte only used a timeout to put the offense on the field once, and that was the one time that Montreal did not make good on their break opportunity; the D-Line itself had a perfect, 100 percent conversion rate. What changed in the fourth quarter?
Montreal’s D-Line offense in the first three quarters consisted purely of hucking into tight coverage. Their D-Line handlers threw a number of deep shots that came out short and low, didn’t reach empty space, and weren’t even to open cutters. In general, New York’s offense was so efficient – finishing with only 15 throwaways in the game, most coming in the final quarter – that they didn’t give Montreal extra chances after those initial missed hucks.
In the fourth quarter, Montreal’s D-Line offense was far better. They played much better small-ball, with cutters moving earlier and with more energy. Notching a single break early in the quarter galvanized the team, and players expended far more energy. André Arsenault recorded an amazing block, and then he leaped through the roof with an even better catch.
That was the turning point, and Montreal played cleaner when given break opportunities for the rest of the quarter.
6. New York's Defensive Offense
New York, on the other hand, was efficient all game long while converting break chances. They scored 6 break goals in the first three quarters, despite only having 10 chances. Their D-Line offense was incredibly efficient, especially when you consider that one of their failed opportunities came in the third quarter when the O-Line failed to convert after a timeout from Empire Head Coach Eileen Murray put them on the field. New York’s 66.7 percent conversion rate when their defense had a chance to score a break goal was a huge reason why they had a lead going into the final quarter.
Brownlee caught five goals playing mostly on the defense, but all of New York’s defenders were efficient with the disc after forcing a turnover. However, in the final quarter, New York had zero opportunities to score a break goal. They were mostly playing offense – as Montreal continued to break them – but New York allowed Montreal’s offense to play a perfect quarter.
7. Beau Kittredge
Beau Kittredge entered the game with intensity. After publicly expressing disappointment in his performance after last weekend’s road trip, he was far more engaged in the offense. He cut more, and harder. He scored three goals in just the first quarter, and it seemed like the Kittredge of old had appeared on the field.
Montreal’s defense tightened up on him, and Kittredge didn’t catch another goal in the game. His throwing actually hurt New York on a few occasions, and he threw a pair of unforced turnovers. One wide-open flick even floated just above his target in the endzone. To his benefit, Kittredge did record one of the throwing highlights of the night with this break flick that magically bent away from the potential help defender, Morgan Hibbert.
8. Lotta Highlights
This game was ridiculous. It featured the rooftop catches already displayed earlier in this piece, but there were far more highlights than can be fit into one article. Both teams played at an incredibly high level, and the climaxes was correspondingly preposterous.
Bonnaud didn’t just show off his hops during the game, but he also recorded this layout to maintain possession on an errant Bonneau backhand huck.
Babbitt didn’t leap out of the stat sheet, but he did leap out of Earth’s orbit with this over-the-shoulder block. There’s a reason teams don’t throw the disc anywhere near Babbitt.
Estéban Ceballos provided incredible pulls and lockdown defense, as always, but his most breathtaking moment came on a pass that should have been quite simple. Ceballos should have had an easy pass just a few yards ahead of him, but he chose to instead throw a popping flick. His windup was bizarrely reminiscent of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook.
9. Josh Alorro and Jibran Mieser
Harper Garvey gets a lot of the attention and accolades from New York’s handling core, but he isn’t the only show in town. Josh Alorro and Jibran Mieser are both talented throwers, athletic leapers, and intelligent decision-makers. Mieser may be more of a hybrid, while Alorro is more of a pure handler, but both are key sources of stability for a thus-far under-performing New York offense.
They combined for seven assists and only two throwaways, three goals compared to zero drops, and 75 completions. They were the life-blood of the Empire’s offense, and both were dynamic on the day. When Alorro was playing, the team converted on offense at a rate of 75 percent. With Mieser, it was an even more impressive 78 percent. On the season, the offense has only converted at a poorly rate of 62 percent, but it has consistently been higher when Alorro and Mieser are on the field.
After Montreal had seized all the momentum of the game and tied it with three break goals in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter, Coach Murray subbed off the entire offensive line except for two players. Only Alorro and Mieser remained on the offense, such rocks that New York couldn’t fathom a clutch offensive hold without its two off-handlers. They may be stabilizing forces, but they weren’t without some highlights between them. Mieser, in particular, impressed with this grab.
10. Playoff Positioning
Montreal now holds the tie-breaker over New York with only a few weeks left in the regular season. The Toronto Rush (10-1) are tied for the best record in the league and have locked up their sixth consecutive East Division regular season crown. At 6-5, following a Sunday loss to Philadelphia, Montreal is in second place in the East. The 6-5-1 DC Breeze are close behind. The Philadelphia Phoenix are in fourth place at 5-5-1, while New York has fallen to fifth in the division with a disappointing record of 4-5.
Riding a three-game losing streak, New York still has five remaining games to reclaim their mojo. The playoffs are still very much in play, as New York has games remaining against Montreal (1), D.C (1), and Philadelphia (2), who are all ahead of New York in the standings. They’ll play Montreal next weekend on the second day of a back-to-back, and they’ll travel to Montreal for the game.
New York can probably afford one more loss on the season and still make the playoffs. If they lose to Montreal next weekend – finishing the season sweep – but beat Ottawa, they will have to finish 3-0 against Philadelphia and DC to even have a chance at the third spot in the playoffs.
Montreal, on the other hand, bought itself slightly more breathing room. Despite their Philadelphia loss, they are 6-5 with two more home games and an away game in Toronto. Beating New York and Ottawa at home should assure them of a playoff spot. Losing two of their remaining three games could allow them to slip out of the playoffs.
Though Saturday’s contest between Montreal and New York was thrilling, next week’s rematch will reveal far more clarity in the East’s murky playoff picture.