July 31, 2018
By Evan Lepler
All around the league, the contrasts of emotions were striking, a tribute to both the thrill and cruelty of high stakes, single-elimination competition.
In Canada, the New York Empire pulled off the upset of the weekend—and maybe of the entire season—stunning and dethroning the Toronto Rush in the East. As New York euphorically stormed the field, relieved and overjoyed, Toronto stewed in disbelief, wondering how it had all gone wrong.
In Texas, the Dallas Roughnecks looked outmatched and overwhelmed for the first 26 minutes against the Raleigh Flyers, who resembled the likely league-wide final four favorite as they seized a 12-6 lead early in the third quarter. Then, shockingly, if not suddenly, the Flyers were in free-fall, as the Roughnecks rose from the dead by closing on a 14-7 rally, igniting a delirious celebration that prolonged Dallas’ South Division reign and rendered Raleigh completely and utterly devastated.
The contentious weekend, which also witnessed the Madison Radicals earn the right to host a semifinal game a week from Saturday, will leave a legacy that will ripple long beyond the AUDL’s upcoming seventh Championship Weekend. After all, the semifinals are now set, and one could make a reasonable argument that the league’s two most talented teams are not among the remaining quartet. Talent does not guarantee anything, of course, but both Toronto and Raleigh will wonder for a long time what might have happened if only they had made it to Madison.
While the Rush and Flyers are left to regroup and recover for 2019, the Empire, Roughnecks, and Radicals have joined the Los Angeles Aviators in what appears to be as wide open of a final four as the AUDL has ever seen. Unlike past seasons where one or two rosters felt vastly superior, we now are left with four franchises that arguably are all equally explosive and exciting.
Dallas, Madison, and Los Angeles all were consistent winners throughout the year, combining to go 36-6 in the regular season. Meanwhile, New York, while possessing an oft-uninspiring 8-6 record through the main campaign, has unquestionably peaked at the right time, riding some legit starpower and the mojo of one perennial AUDL champion to a pair of road playoff victories that position the franchise closer to a title than it has ever been before.
On Saturday, August 11, we will watch a twin-bill that’s as good of an ultimate ticket as there has ever been. At 5:00 PM/ET (4:00 PM/CT Madison local time), Dallas meets New York, and at 8:00 PM/ET (7:00 PM/CT), Madison hosts Los Angeles. The winners will clash for a championship and the $20,000 payday on Sunday at 1:00 PM/ET (12:00 PM/CT).
There will be plenty to dissect and discuss leading up to the marquee slate, but first it’s imperative to try and unpack some of the shocking drama we just observed. A few days later, what we saw is still hard to believe.
The Full Field Layout
Considering they were 0-17 all-time against Toronto, many members of the New York Empire were still surprisingly confident. They also understood why most outsiders thought they had little chance.
“Everyone assumed we’d lose again, and I don’t blame anyone—if I was on the outside, I would have thought the same thing,” explained Ryan Drost, who joined the Empire in 2014. “We mostly didn’t care or pay attention to any of that, but there definitely was one quote that we saw and all internalized, from one of their players who said the game was ‘meaningless’ and that winning was tiring. Not that any of us thought about that during the game, but in looking back, I think there was an element of that. There was no doubt how much the game meant to us, and I’m not sure you could say the same about them.”
With a deep desire and purpose to change the trend against Toronto, the New York side embraced a defensive strategy of trying to make the game ugly.
“The pace was controlled,” remarked Beau Kittredge, when discussing the game’s flow. “I wanted it to be as ugly as possible. There’s no way we could win a beautiful game against them. They’re a better team, so we just had to make it a grind-out and grueling, ugly match.”
Despite getting broken on the third point of the game, the Empire indeed controlled the tempo for most of the first half, building a 10-7 lead thanks to a slew of break opportunities and only a few O-line mistakes. Simultaneously, the Rush O-line struggled immensely to find its rhythm, beginning the game with a throwaway from anchor Thomson McKnight that set an ominous tone.
“Our O-line simply missed open guys and had a couple uncharacteristic drops,” said Rush Head Coach Sachin Raina.”You don’t have to look any further than the first throw of the game. To their credit, the O-line fought to get the disc back, but it’s never a good sign when the O-line gets more turns than the D-line.”
Even with Toronto’s defense earning back-to-back breaks to close out the opening half, the disparity in total chances told a story. While the Rush were 3-for-4 in converting breaks when the game was tied 10-all, the Empire were 3-for-11. Obviously, New York missed out on a chance to create an early rout, but the Empire O-line was mostly smooth, while the Rush O-line had very few turnover-free holds.
“We thought coming into the game that New York was going to try to trap us on the sideline and wrap their marks later in the count, so the point was made to get the disc off the line quickly,” recalled Raina. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do this as well as we needed to. We held the disc longer than we should have and that made resets difficult. I think those two things led to the majority of the turnovers.”
It looked like New York surged in front 11-10 in the closing seconds of the first half when Harper Garvey’s majestic cross-field hammer angled perfectly into Ben Jagt’s grasp, but a travel call on the throw nullified the score, and the Empire settled for a 10-10 tie at the intermission. Still, they were pretty pleased by how everything was going.
“We’re better at ugly,” declared New York Head Coach Eileen Murray. “That’s really it. We’re gritty and scrappy. If we make teams have to grind and think and improvise, then we’re gonna be better.”
Things did not get much prettier in the second half, as the first point took about six minutes off the clock. After multiple turnovers and timeouts, the Rush punched in a break to lead 11-10, only to cough up that advantage quickly, with the Empire galloping on a 4-1 run that spanned the quarters to lead 14-12 with 11:06 remaining.
“New York played hard the whole game and made life tough, but we simply shot ourselves in the foot,” said Raina. “We felt pretty good coming out in the fourth quarter, at home, tied, and receiving the disc. But we threw away the centering pass, and then on the next point missed an open huck that led to another break. So next thing you know, we’re down two less than a minute into the quarter. We dug ourselves out of the hole and even took the lead, but then we shot ourselves in the foot a few more times, and by the end of the game we had no toes left.”
Each team made their share of big plays down the stretch, and New York reclaimed the lead when Jagt found Jeff Babbitt with 1:16 left in regulation. Up 18-17, the Empire were back on defense, feeling so close to finishing up an historic victory. They just needed one more stop.
As the clock ticked own, Toronto calmly moved the disc, stringing together 14 straight completions to put it near the Empire end zone with around 20 seconds remaining. Young handler Connor Armstrong, who to that point had successfully executed 36 of his 37 throws on the night, had possession and surveyed the landscape, seeing teammate Cameron Harris with a step on his defender making a move to the front pylon. But Armstrong’s soft backhand throw was a couple steps too far in front of Harris, and in an instant, the Rush’s equalizing opportunity was gone.
“I don’t know if there was a miscommunication between the two of them or if Cam slipped or if Connor rushed his throw, but Connor simply missed Cam,” acknowledged Raina. “I think Cam was going to win the race to the cone, but for whatever reason they couldn’t connect.”
There were less than 10 seconds left as the disc hit the turf, and since it never bounced out of bounds, the clock kept moving. Ben Katz picked it up for the Empire and walked toward the line, but he did not even need to throw. The ref blew the whistle as time expired, and after a momentary pause wondering if the game was actually over, New York’s sideline uproariously raced onto the field in pure joy.
“The game ended, and for about five seconds, none of us were really sure that it ended,” remembered Murray, who soon realized that her Empire team was indeed bound for Championship Weekend in her first year as head coach. “It was kinda this moment of, ‘did this really happen?’ And then one of the ref’s was like ‘that’s game.’
“I knew we could win that game. I knew that it could happen. In the games we played [during the regular season], yes we lost to them. But when we played them in the game at home, we won three of the quarters, and then when we played them [at Toronto,] at halftime it was 8-7, so it wasn’t like we couldn’t play with them. And since we made some adjustments before playing DC and had been practicing with Babbitt on offense, Katz being more of a center handler, Beau being on defense. With those changes, we’ve figured it out.”
Obviously, it was one thing to believe that it could happen, and something different entirely to actually pull it off. When they did, many long-time members of the Empire were overcome with emotion and elation.
“It was surreal,” said Ryan Drost. “I can easily say it was the best win I’ve ever been a part of. I remember clearly [how in 2014], we played Toronto in the first game of the season. It was my very first game with the Empire. And [twin-brother] Mike told me beforehand how much he wanted to beat them, how excited he was for that game, because they’d lost to them three times including in the playoffs the previous year. I didn’t appreciate the feeling in the moment, since I hadn’t been a part of it, but you can be sure I felt the same pretty quickly. Multiple that feeling by five and that’s how important this was to those of us who have been here for five-plus years.”
For fellow veteran Matt Auletta, who entered the game contemplating that this may be his last season on New York’s roster, the feeling was similar.
“This was most likely the last time I was ever going to play the Toronto Rush,” Auletta remarked, emotionally. “The thought of never beating them would have haunted me forever. To finally best them and earn a trip to Championship Weekend was one of the most satisfying things I have ever experienced. To do it with Ross [Ward], [Matt] Lemar, [Matt] Stevens, and the Drosts made it all the more satisfying since the six of us have been teammates together since 2014.
“When I saw that last throw going to the ground, it was like time slowed down. Harper, who had a really amazing game, turned to me and smiled. We sort of high-fived [and hugged] and then I was just staring at the clock. There were a few seconds of stillness as the time hit zero, and then our sideline erupted onto the field. I saw everyone running towards the players who made the goal-line stand. I took two steps, stopped, and just started crying. Elly [Ouelette], our team manager and personal friend, gave me a hug and then I joined everyone else. Ryan Drost picked me up and carried me around, and later Mike did the same. After that, the party was on and the boombox didn’t stop until 3:00 AM, and there was much rejoicing.”
Even Kittredge, upon clinching his fifth consecutive trip to Championship Weekend with four different franchises, was uncharacteristically emotional.
“It was kinda funny, I think I celebrated harder or more outside of myself than I ever have,” remarked Kittredge, who saw his personal AUDL postseason record ridiculously rise to 14-0. “I don’t even know why I took my shirt off; I never do that. I think that kinda has to do with the fact that I was truly into the game all the way to the end and not really thinking about winning and just thinking each moment. And when we won—I always make fun of people when they take their shirts off—like, act like you’ve been there before. And then there I was, shirt off. I think I just probably copied [Jagt] is what probably happened.”
While the victory meant so much to so many people, it’s hard to imagine anyone appreciating the moment more than Matt Lemar, who suited up for his 95th consecutive game on Saturday, every single contest in Empire history. The AUDL ironman articulated his emotions on Monday.
“It’s cliché to say it, but it was a bit surreal,” Lemar said. “Playing against the Rush and not being able to earn a win with all the different iterations of Empire has been frustrating, so to come out and win with the stakes what they were was part relief for all the people that have been a part of the team in the past and part exhilaration, knowing that at that moment we had now done it.”
A week from Saturday, the Empire will square off with the Dallas Roughnecks, a team who arguably had just as improbable of a result to find their way back into the final four. Sure, the Roughnecks have a different track record of winning, but compared to New York, whose largest deficit at any point this past weekend was one, Dallas found itself trailing by six in the second half, staring straight into the clenched fist of the Flyers, who appeared poise to deliver the knockout.
“We got off to a little bit of a rocky start,” remarked Roughnecks Head Coach Wes Nemec, with a smile. “I think the wind that blew in 10 minutes before the game started really caught us off guard a little bit. I think we were probably in the mindset of a non-windy game, but then it became windy and our offense just didn’t adjust very well.”
Both teams battled through the vicious crosswind and the score was even at three-all through six hard-fought offensive holds, but Raleigh found its groove and promptly used a 6-1 rally to open up a substantial lead. Despite having played the night before in Austin, the Flyers looked plenty fresh and adapted brilliantly to the conditions, while the Roughnecks struggled mightily.
Down 12-6 after Jonathan Nethercutt found Jack Williams for a goal with 9:57 remaining in the third quarter, however, the Roughnecks would stampede back with an inspired defensive surge over the next 10 minutes.
“We had to make it up on D,” said Nemec. “We were down five breaks and that’s what we talked about in the huddle. We switched up the personnel on D, which involved stacking a lot of D-lines, and I guess working with the wind. We were initially forcing a little bit flatter, and the adjustment in the second half was we tried to push it to the downwind side. But once we got a couple of breaks, our intensity and energy carried us through the second half of the that game.”
Dallas got four breaks back on a 6-1 run through the third, relying, as they did all night, on Dalton Smith’s defense and leadership, Dillon Larberg’s decisive distribution, and Kevin Richardson’s downfield striking abilities. Late in the period, Raleigh inched back ahead by two when Mischa Freystaetter found Brett Matzuka with 47 seconds to play, and the Flyers had the disc again after a Roughnecks giveaway with about 20 seconds left.
With time ticking down and the stall count rising, Shane Sisco lofted a backwards reset instead of launching a prayer downfield, which likely would have preserved the Flyers’ two-goal lead. Instead, Dallas’ Jay Froude easily intercepted the pass and quickly tossed a smooth buzzer-beater to Thomas Slack, bringing the Roughnecks within one and refueling the comeback tanks.
It was wow moment, a critical turning point reminiscent of Will Chen’s 80-yard bomb to Matt Russell that closed the third quarter in Seattle’s crazy comeback against Madison from the 2016 Championship Weekend semifinals. Just like that game, the drama would amplify even more during the super intense fourth quarter.
When Dallas held to start the fourth, the game was tied at 14, the first tie since the score had been 3-3. From there, they went back and forth valiantly, trading punches throughout the exhilarating battle. The Roughnecks broke with 7:28 remaining on Smith’s backhand huck to Ben Lewis, making the score 17-16, Dallas’ first lead of the game. But Raleigh scored the next two, as Williams and Freystaetter each caught Jonathan Helton passes for goals to surge Raleigh in front 18-17 with 4:56 left.
Tensions continued to rise as Richardson snagged his game-high seventh goal of the night with 4:33 left, and then Chris LaRocque made his acrobatic, second-effort, toe-tap-in-the-back-of-the-end-zone grab with 3:33 to go, dramatically and heroically giving Dallas the lead again.
The Roughnecks scored a third straight goal with 2:01 remaining, surging ahead 20-18 and putting the Flyers precariously close to edge of the cliff. But just 11 seconds later, Nethercutt’s full-field huck hit Terrence Mitchell in stride, and the Flyers were within one with 1:50 left.
Make no mistake; this was an epic battle.
Up by one, all Dallas had to do was maintain possession, but Raleigh’s defensive pressure dialed in and, with the help of the wind, created a turnover. After Joey Cretella’s interception with 1:21 left, the Flyers completed 12 straight passes, leading to Matzuka having the disc on the doorstep of the goal line with 37 seconds remaining. But Matzuka felt something strange, signaled for an injury, and he limped off the field.
Nethercutt replaced Matzuka, while Smith replaced LaRocque for Dallas, bringing arguably the two top protagonists for their teams back onto the field for the most critical moment. Nethercutt calmly walked to the disc, initiated play near the sideline, and lofted a flick up the line toward Freystaetter.
“I knew I underthrew it as soon as I released it,” said Nethercutt.
Covering Freystaetter in isolation, Smith kept close and saw the disc in his reach. Lunging for it, he smacked it to the ground for the game’s final turnover.
Ironically, when Smith replaced LaRocque after the Matzuka injury, he immediately tried to get the taller Richardson’s attention to see if he wanted to switch onto the big man Freystaetter, but Smith struggled to get his teammate’s attention amidst the intense atmosphere of the moment, so he committed to giving his best defense.
“[Mischa] did a couple jab steps and then he started going up line,” Smith recalled. “I opened up my body to see the throw was coming and it was just there, and I just swatted it down. It was a pretty tight window. I was just hoping it wasn’t going to be super high because I didn’t think I would win that.”
In retrospect, Nethercutt wishes he had put it higher.
“I tried to put enough touch on it where it kinda lifted, but it just didn’t come out [right],” he said. “It’s a tight window. You can’t lead it too far because they have a poach in the back corner, and you can’t undershoot it because Dalton’s playing defense on the under. High pressure situation, they played good iso defense, I’ll always wish I had that one back, but it’ll go into a big basket of 12 other throws from this game that I wish I had back, that one the most, obviously, because of the situation.”
As Smith landed following his climactic block, he felt his leg cramping up. One of his teammates helped him stretch it out, and Dillon Larberg replaced him in the lineup for the final 30 seconds. Remember, if Matzuka had not tweaked something with 37 seconds to go, neither Nethercutt nor Smith or Larberg would have even been in the game in the closing moments.
But eight completions later, half of which involved Larberg, the game was over, and the Roughnecks justifiably went nuts while the Flyers looked on in disbelief. It was Dallas’ third straight South Division title and improved the Roughnecks to 44-5 all-time between the regular season and the playoffs, but it was also an extraordinary result against a Raleigh team that certainly had earned their respect.
“This was just a helluva win and a ton of fun,” remarked Dillon Larberg, one of the seven Roughnecks who played on Saturday who had been part of all three Championship Weekend clinchers. “I think it just proves how much grit we have as a team. We’ve come a long way since three years ago when the odds were definitely in our favor. And now, showing up with a lot of nameless people who crushed it today and came out played really hard.”
Larberg was referring to the fact that over the past couple years, the Roughnecks have had and lost superstar standouts like Kittredge, Cassidy Rasmussen, Jimmy Mickle, Dylan Freechild, Kurt Gibson, Chris Mazur, Jeremy Langdon, Ben Lohre, Stanley Peterson, and others, yet somehow they keep finding a way. They also changed coaches from last year to this year, but Nemec picked up right where Patrick Eberle left off for this franchise that wants to keep on winning.
“Tonight, we showed that we have more in the tank,” remarked Nemec. “We had a discussion before the game started, talked about several things about our season, but talked about the long travel weekends we’ve had, the heat, down personnel, whatever the case may be, and we would still pull those games out, and it showed that we have more in the tank. We always have more, and that was our mantra for tonight. We started rallying off some breaks, and we showed that we have more. This team always has more, and we showed it tonight, which was awesome.”
Meanwhile, as the Roughnecks treasured the victorious aftermath, the Flyers were forced to deal with the brutal reality that they had once again fallen short of their ultimate goal.
“We just got tight,” said Raleigh Head Coach Mike DeNardis. “There’s nothing else to say about it. Everyone just started crowding the disc and everyone forgot about spacing and they were thinking about the game situation and we lost the tenets that make us a great team. That’s just super difficult to deal with as a coach when you watch it. It’s adjustments we should make as individuals and the realization that those are the things that get us through the tough times. It’s a simple fact. We had multiple breaks, we had all the momentum, and we lost it because we got tight. Maybe a little tired because we had two games; I don’t think it was physical, but mental fatigue. This is probably the worst loss that many of these players have sustained. Gut punch level, like, 10. You have the world in the palm of your hand, and you give it away.”
Many of the Flyers sat on their sideline long after the game was over. Some stared into space; others chatted with one another solemnly. Collectively, they were stunned, pondering how it had happened.
“It sucks,” Nethercutt said flatly, when initially asked his thoughts on the game. “Wish I had that last one back. Clearly, that’s the one that, in terms of iconically, is the one that kept us from having a chance to win the game or theoretically lost the game. But we had lots of turns, several of them mine. Another situation, similar to Worlds, a game we should have won. I think, for most of the game, a large percentage of, even within the scheme of the point, we played better. And then would have a turnover or a miscue and hats off to them, they took advantage of it and made plays also. It sucks, but that’s sometimes the way it goes.”
Nethercutt finished with a game-high five assists, but also registered a game-high five turnovers, his highest total since dishing eight throwaways in miserable conditions against Dallas in Raleigh when the Flyers fell to the Roughnecks 17-14 back on April 7, a frigid, rainy, windy night.
“I told him, that’s a mistake in a litany of mistakes,” said DeNardis, about the game-ending error. “I never will blame somebody at the end of the game for throwing the disc away. I think there were so many situations where we could have put the game away that that one moment doesn’t matter to me. I would like to trust that person to do the right thing, and a lot of times he does. So it’s one moment that happened to be at the end of the game. There’s plenty of moments we could have had there to capitalize.”
At the end of the night, Nethercutt introspectively put the result in perspective, commenting that the history of North Carolina ultimate, even before the Flyers joined the AUDL, has long been characterized by fiery, talented teams that often fall short in the end, a legacy that he and others are hoping to change in the seasons ahead.
“I think it’s a team and a program that’s still learning how to win as a non-underdog,” he said, “like as someone who’s expected to win or maybe not even expected but no one’s surprised that they should be in the lead. This is another lesson in how to do that. UNC went through the same thing five or six years ago when Mike was coaching. You have to learn how to win, and then you have to learn how to win as someone who should be winning, not just winning games that no one anticipates. So I think this program has 25 years of being the underdog, and 25 years of that takes a little bit of time to change. And over the past few years, I think it’s been getting better and better, but clearly, more work to do.”
Late Saturday night, while contemplating how the championship landscape had evolved, I pondered how so many factors seemed to be breaking in ideal fashion for the Madison Radicals, who not only are set to host Championship Weekend, but no longer have to worry about the deep, athletic rosters of the Rush and Flyers. That is not to say that the Roughnecks, Aviators, and Empire won’t be able to make life difficult for the Radicals, but considering that all team sports are about matchups, a case can be made that, potentially, Madison’s two toughest matchups have already been knocked out.
Compared to the drama in the East and the South, Madison cake-walked through their Midwest title game, combining their improved offense and always-reliable defense into a 27-18 rout over the Indianapolis AlleyCats, the Radicals’ 44th consecutive home win against their divisional brethren.
Heading into the final four, Madison is 45-4 all-time at Breese Stevens Field. Even though three of those losses have come against teams from other divisions and the Radicals are just 1-7 all-time against opponents from outside the Midwest, they still will stroll confidently into their hometown venue, where, for them, winning usually looks natural.
“Our O-line has been playing extremely confident and is downright unstoppable at times,” said Madison’s Peter Graffy, who led the Radicals with six assists while completing all 24 of his passes on Saturday against the AlleyCats. “It’s incredible stepping on that line with KB [Kevin Brown], Colin [Camp], Pat [Shriwise], Tom [Annen], and everyone else because we feed off of the mutual excitement to play with each other. So the key to our team is just keep getting the D-line out there, which we did well against Indy. When you give guys like Sterling [Knoche], KPS [Kevin Pettit-Scantling], Kyle [Weigand], and Chase [Marty] many chances to get blocks and make plays, it will only go well for you. Our O-line never really got broken the entire game, which meant that our D-line could chip away and get breaks here and there. We slowly bled Indy to death by wearing them down with relentless defensive pressure.”
In fact, the Radicals O-line was only broken one time, late in the first quarter to get the AlleyCats back within two at 7-5. Madison converted the ensuing point to lead 8-5 after one, and soon it was 14-10 at the half and 20-14 through three, as the Radicals won all four quarters to surpass Indianapolis for the 18th time in 19 all-time meetings.
“I definitely think we shot ourselves in the foot on offense,” remarked Indy’s Travis Carpenter. “Radicals played tight defense, but we definitely had plenty of open looks and we just struggled to execute. I think the pressure got to some people, and I think Madison came ready to execute. They have been in that situation enough times before that they know exactly what kind of decision making and execution is necessary, and we simply did not.”
Over the course of the game, 17 different Radicals found the end zone, while 12 different Madison players finished with at least one assist. Defensively, Knoche tallied up five blocks, including ‘a huge D on a hammer in the zone in the fourth quarter that basically sealed the game,’ according to Graffy.
“We are playing with a confidence we haven’t had in years past, and there’s a feeling of brotherhood and togetherness that we didn’t have before,” remarked Graffy, who has anchored the Madison D-line in previous seasons but now is firmly entrenched on the team’s offensive unit, while still shifting over to play key D points. “This year hasn’t been flawless by any means, but we wouldn’t change any of it. We scrapped out wins and took some losses in some of the hardest situations and became closer and mentally tougher because of it. This has been my favorite season to date, and it’s going to end with us holding that trophy.”
Time will tell if Graffy’s assertion proves true. For the moment, all that is clear and obvious is that, once again, the Radicals were heads and shoulders above everyone else in the Midwest. Even Indy, who had a superb season and knocked off Madison for the first time ever back in early June, could not hang with the reigning division champs when it mattered most.
“We are absolutely happy and proud of the season we had,” said AlleyCats Head Coach Eric Leonard. “I don’t feel any shame losing to Madison, especially this late in the season. They are incredibly talented and have a great shot to go all the way. They played better on both sides of the disc [on Saturday], no question. More physical and tighter defense, couple with better possessions offensively. They played a complete game and deserved the win.”
- The Austin Sol participated in their first postseason game in franchise history this past Friday, falling to the Flyers 26-23 in an entertaining contest that never saw either side lead by more than four.
Unfortunately, the Sol were handicapped by their miserably slow start, as Raleigh took advantage of Austin’s sluggish offense to bolt ahead 5-1 in the opening quarter. Three straight breaks to begin the second quarter brought Austin within one, the first of seven times they would inch within one throughout the rest of the game. All seven times, the Flyers scored the next goal to double their lead and deny the Sol the equalizer that they sought. Terrence Mitchell caught seven goals, Jacob Fairfax added five, and Jonathan Nethercutt finished with 10 assists to carry the Flyers into Saturday’s grudge match with Dallas. “I think the better team won,” admitted Austin’s Mike Natenberg, shortly after the game. “When you look at the margins of like our completed hucks to theirs, our margins were all tighter, and theirs were a lot larger. They were more athletic tonight.”
- It will be interesting to see what happens to the Sol going forward. They have a tantalizing array of talent, blending young and old, and a strong regional ultimate community to keep them rising. It’s unclear how long the handful of mid-30s vets will keep playing, but multiple members of the 2018 roster commented about how much they enjoyed being a part of the squad this past season. “Our young guys are all very eager to learn and the ‘old guys’ are guys with a lot of strong work ethics,” said Jeff Loskorn, who probably represents the younger end of the ‘old guy’ generation, considering he just turned 31 in July. “Tank [Natenberg], Max [Cook], Jerrod [Wolfe], they’re guys who are in the gym every morning. They’re running the tracks. They’re pushing people. They’re not just coming in being the old handler that tries to throw too many bad throws. That’s good, because they are just good role models. And that was a cool thing to see from some of the younger guys, always wanting to learn more from them.”
- As I mentioned on the Stadium broadcast on Saturday night, it has been somewhat bizarre how impactful the weather has been the past couple weeks. Everyone expects their early season games in April to be significantly affected by unpredictable wind or rain or cold, but come July, one might think that heat would be the only issue. Obviously, after the relentless downpour in DC and the powerful crosswind in Dallas, it’s a reminder that extreme weather can arise anytime during the calendar, and adapting to the elements quickly can be the difference between advancing to Championship Weekend and going home. While Raleigh managed the wind better in the first half, the Roughnecks adjusted their way to victory with a few crucial tweaks down the stretch. “They switched their trap zone look a little bit,” said Nethercutt. “I had hit two or three cross-field hammers to Jack in the first half, and in the second half they switched to pinch the weak-side wing on to Jack. We didn’t do a great job as a team realizing that opened up a new space, a little deeper. We just didn’t recognize that adjustment quick enough. They also changed their strategy on me as well. They just put someone on me to face guard me and front me everywhere. And I moved downfield probably in a situation where I should have stayed behind the disc.”
- Unfortunately, it was a tough weekend for the refs. While not something to overly dwell on or the singular reason that swung any particular result, it certainly left the officiating crews with something to prove in the final four. I spoke to several frustrated players on different teams who were disappointed and dismayed by a variety of calls throughout the weekend. Personally, I was most disgruntled by the referees’ apparent refusal or reluctance to take charge in certain moments. There were instances when whistles needed to be authoritatively blown, and silence ensued. The lack of decisiveness, at times, was noticeable, and it affected the style of play in certain games. Some calls will always be missed, and almost every playoff game in every sport has inevitable controversy over a few decisions that maybe could have gone the other way. The point here, for any referee who may enjoy reading this column, is not to rag or ridicule. It’s mainly to remind that being in control of the game is, in my opinion, the most important part of the job. It’s always said that the best refs are invisible, and the greatest refs maintain that anonymity will still sustaining control. But there are also times when someone needs to take charge and make their presence felt, and in a handful of instances this past weekend, the officials fell short.
The Tuesday Toss is published weekly on theAUDL.com during the season. Got a comment or question about the AUDL or the current state of ultimate? E-mail Evan Lepler at AUDLMailbag@gmail.com. Feedback can also be levied on twitter: @EvanLepler