July 12, 2022
By Evan Lepler
Amidst everything else going on in the wide world of sports, the AUDL’s late-season suspense continues to deliver compelling drama each and every week. Indeed, the most recent extended weekend of ultimate might have been the most action-packed of the year, considering all the meaningful and exhilarating results that we witnessed.
The Tuesday Toss’s only bye week of the season prevented detailed deep dives into Chicago’s first loss, DC’s thrilling win at Philly, and the rest of the Week 10 scores, but we’ll catch up on all the significance in conjunction with the Week 11 events, which included more than its fair share of highlights, lead changes, and all-around wackiness.
Across 101 minutes of intense 100-degree ultimate in Texas, the Atlanta Hustle experienced an insane roller-coaster of emotions. Road underdogs like Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Detroit all enjoyed early leads that would eventually evaporate, leading to various levels of disappointment and devastation. New York and Carolina continued to dominate their overmatched opposition, while Minnesota’s stay in first place atop the Central turned out to be just a momentary thing, though the Wind Chill can quickly reframe the conversation again this coming Saturday.
All in all, Week 11 was a wild adventure, featuring a tantalizing mix of frustration and elation, depending on one’s particular perspective.
The Full Field Layout
The most extreme contrast of emotions unfolded in Austin, where Atlanta built a 5-2 lead in the first, led by as many as five late in the third, and still held a 16-12 edge with less than seven minutes left in the fourth. With the winner of the game poised to seize control of the South’s second and final playoff spot, the Hustle were exactly where they wanted to be, on the verge of sweeping a Texas doubleheader weekend despite the tormenting triple-digit degree heat.
Did the Sol seriously believe they could come all the way back? Depends on who you ask.
“At all moments in the game, I believed that we were going to pull it off,” said Austin Head Coach Steven Naji.
But not everyone wearing Sol gear was quite so confident.
“I have no idea how we pulled it out, to be honest,” said Austin’s Kyle Henke. “It felt nothing short of a God-ordained miracle that we were able to put together a 7-2 quarter in the fourth. Two guys I know who never gave up were Coach Naji and Coach Bruno (Josh Brunelli); those guys never let off the gas emotionally, even when defeat felt imminent.”
Three straight scores inched the Sol within one by the four-minute mark, but hope remained bleak when Atlanta scored to go ahead 17-15 with 2:30 left. And yet, the Sol surge continued.
Ethan Pollack caught the second of his two fourth-quarter goals with 1:56 left, and following an errant Atlanta reset, Jake Reinhardt successfully skied for Elliott Moore’s 71-yard huck before dishing to a sprinting, sliding Mark Henke for the equalizer, tying the game at 17-all with 1:04 remaining.
When another Atlanta throwaway actually gave the Sol a chance to win in regulation, Naji took a timeout right as Moore launched a cross-field hammer, which Kyle Henke caught in the end zone, only to realize the timeout had been granted and the goal would not count.
“No disrespect to Elliott,” said Naji. “Last week, we ended the Dallas game with an approximately three minute possession at the end of regulation, specifically as practice for scenarios like we saw at the end of of the Atlanta game. I told them postgame that it was one of the possessions of the year, even with the double-digit margin of victory.”
After the timeout, the plan was to work the clock and not give the Hustle another possession; either win the game in regulation or go to overtime. But then Mark Evans hit Kyle Henke on his first throw, giving Henke the feeling of catching the go-ahead score for the second time in the sequence.
“Those five minutes were an emotional roller-coaster,” said Kyle Henke, who finished the game with five scores and 475 total yards.
The Hustle had one more chance to tie in the closing seconds, but Bobby Ley’s forehand to the side of the end zone floated over an outstretched arm and landed incomplete, and the Sol sideline erupted onto the field to commence the euphoric celebration.
“Our eighth man, both on the sidelines and in the stands, played an incredible role in holding the momentum for those six final minutes,” added Henke. “It was an incredible showing for Sol Nation, and I’m hopeful that an experience like that game will deepen our roots as a prominent spectacle in Austin.”
Evan Swiatek paced the Sol with four goals, four assists, and 563 total yards, while the Sol D-line converted 6-of-11 break opportunities, exactly one more than the Hustle, who went 5-for-11 on break chances, making one too many late mistakes.
After this latest thriller, eight of the 12 all-time meetings between the Hustle and Sol have been decided by one or in overtime. And as a result of the most recent heart-stopper, the Sol can clinch a trip to Carolina for the South Division final if they can earn home wins against Dallas and Tampa Bay, two teams that are a combined 0-16 on the season, over the next three weeks.
While the weekend ended in sour fashion for the Hustle, their Friday night ended with a mix of excitement and relief. The Dallas Legion held a late lead, but Atlanta evened the low-scoring affair at 13-all with just 18 seconds left, forcing an overtime period where the Hustle began with a 4-0 run, ultimately prevailing 17-14 in the sweltering conditions.
“Honestly, the only thing I remember was how hot it was,” said Dallas’ Carson Wilder. “I believe it was 108 during warmups and 106 at game time, and I don’t think it ever went under 100 [...] OT was kind of a blur. I think it boils down to Atlanta winning the toss, coming out swinging with energy, and we just didn’t. After the clock wound down a bit, our O started taking shots to score quickly, which is exactly what their defense wants, and it didn’t quite pan out.”
While the Hustle only managed two breaks in regulation, the three consecutive breaks in overtime were enough to escape with the win. But their late-game magic ran out in their ninth period of the weekend.
“We need to handle business in our last two games,” said Naji, “but I feel for [Atlanta] as the three-seed; I think they’re capable of beating every playoff team other than New York.”
Atlanta’s fourth quarter collapse in Austin was certainly shocking, but the Hustle had company in the misery department. The Philadelphia Phoenix and DC Breeze were close all night long, but the Phoenix were firmly in control in the closing minutes…until they weren’t.
A third quarter buzzer-beater and an O-line hold to open the fourth created Philly’s two-goal lead at 19-17, as large an advantage as either side had all night. DC promptly tied it up 19-all, Philly answered to surge in front 21-19, and then DC responded again, making it 21-all with just under seven minutes left.
“Philly played very well throughout, and their D-line showed the ability to possess the disc and reliably punch in breaks, but Jeff Wodatch had a huge block late in the fourth quarter to secure a much-needed hold, which I thought was the play of the game,” said DC’s Jacques Nissen.
The Phoenix had many more chances to create separation down the stretch, only to suffer a slew of costly execution errors that prevented the Phoenix from securing their biggest win of the season.
Like Austin, DC went from just trying to tie it up and force overtime to having a stunning opportunity to seal the deal in the final minute. Then, with two seconds left, Joe Richards bobbled, lunged for, and barely caught the game-winning goal, giving the Breeze their only lead of the fourth, 25-24.
“It bobbled off my hands, but I knew it was still up so I dove to get underneath it as best as I could,” said Richards. “There were a few four-letter words going through my mind at this point. Pretty sure I caught it with my thumb on top of the disc, and when my elbows hit the ground, I was just trying to hold on for dear life.
“At this point, my mind went to just really hoping the refs saw that I had control and the tit didn’t hit the ground because the front end of the disc was super close to touching the turf. I knew I caught it, and looked over at the ref for confirmation, but before I knew it, I was tackled to the ground by Row[an McDonnell]. I was laying there being swarmed by my teammates. In this moment, my mind went to pure elation. And relief.”
Jeremy Hess intercepted Philly’s last-second shot shy of the end zone, and the one-goal Breeze victory became official, virtually clinching a home playoff game in DC. The Phoenix, meanwhile, absorbed their fourth one-goal loss of the season, and their second straight heartbreaker against the Breeze, dropping to 4-5.
“[Phoenix Coaches] Roger [Chu] and Tom [Glass] were proud of the team after the game,” said James Pollard, who missed about five minutes in the fourth quarter dealing with leg cramps. “The difference between a win and loss wasn’t one big glaring problem, but a couple mistakes here and there. Many of us on the team aren’t used to being in this close of games week after week.”
With a trio of 4-7 teams behind them in the standings, the Phoenix can guarantee a postseason berth by winning two of their final three games. Even winning one out of three, assuming they avoid getting blown out at Toronto, should be enough to get Philadelphia back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“We really want that third game against DC in the playoffs,” said Pollard. “But we have to get there first.”
If you needed a reminder how things can flip from one week to the next, take note about the Minnesota Wind Chill's recent run. On Friday, July 1, the Chill ended Chicago’s perfect season and earned their seventh consecutive win, rising into first place in the Central Division. Nine days later, however, they found themselves behind 4-0 at Madison and never recovered, ultimately falling 21-18 on Sunday evening at Breese Stevens Field to the Radicals.
“I think we approached the Madison game knowing that we needed to take it seriously and that it could go either way, but also with the confidence that we felt this was a game we expected to win,” said Minnesota’s Andrew Roy. “Not sure exactly what went wrong at the start of the game. We had a couple odd execution errors, and they came out with a very different defensive game plan than they’ve used in our previous games. It took a few points to adjust.”
Minnesota scratched and clawed their way back, but Madison buzzer-beaters—both caught by Sterling Knoche in the closing seconds of the second and third quarters—were key momentum-swinging moments. Knoche finished with a career-high eight goals, and Minnesota’s late-push was thwarted by a key drop, enabling Madison to basically run out the clock on a potential Wind Chill comeback.
“It was a frustrating and disappointing loss,” said Roy. “And this was the first time we’ve lost to a team other than Chicago since pre-Covid, before I was on the team. At the same time, this outcome doesn’t change a ton in terms of playoff picture for us, and it’s a great reminder that you can’t come into any game expecting it to go a certain way. Any time we are riding high, we struggle to bring the intensity, so I think this will help us focus and come out firing against Chicago, which should be a really fun game.”
The Union will arrive in St. Paul this Saturday at 7-1, a half-game ahead of the 7-2 Wind Chill, with both teams knowing that this upcoming result will almost certainly determine who wins the regular season title in the Central Division.
From Chicago’s perspective, they’ll be traveling to the Twin Cities after a 23-15 win over Indianapolis on Saturday. The Union trailed 5-2 late in the first quarter, but regained the lead by the early stages of the second, led 11-9 at halftime, and outscored Indy 12-6 over the final two periods.
“It takes us getting broken a couple times to warm up,” said Pawel Janas, with a mix of sarcasm and truth. “That’s just our identity in 2022. Sorry not sorry. The dogs have to be put in the doghouse before they start barking, you know? The only time we’ve lost this season was when we were playing well to start last week [against Minnesota]. We were even down to Detroit 4-1!”
Highly-touted 2021 free agent signee Joe White finally made his AUDL debut on Saturday for the Union, catching one goal and dishing three others across 21 points, more than three-quarters of which came on the D-line. Still, he produced 451 total yards, second-most on the team and only three yards shy of Janas. Tim Schoch also made his 2022 Union debut with two goals, a block, and 341 total yards, while Dalton Smith played his first game since Week 2, recording two assists and two blocks.
“The last matchup [against Minnesota] was average across the board: average offense, average defense, and average coaching,” said Janas. “We have to be excellent in at least two of those areas to have a shot at winning the game this week.”
Seven On The Line
- With one of their strongest rosters of the season on Friday night in Seattle, the Cascades kept it close with Salt Lake all night long, only to ultimately fall just short against the Shred, 25-24, in a wild and crazy game.
Each team finished with exactly six breaks, but Salt Lake’s end-of-quarter success—the Shred scored the final goal in each of the first three periods—combined with Jordan Kerr’s 11-assist assault stopped Seattle’s upset bid. “Their offense made it look so much easier than it is,” said Seattle’s Jack Brown, commenting on the Shred’s precision and explosiveness. “Jordan still got his, despite our entire goal being limiting his touches. Their defense rotated through looks to keep us on our toes, but they had the overlying theme of sticking to their marks the whole game. When we got open we were either wide open or had a defender touching our hip, no in-between. They were big, fast, and explosive.” Notably, Chad Yorgason’s layout block at the third quarter buzzer was a massive moment, denying what would have been Seattle’s equalizing score. The Cascades were able to tie the game in the fourth, but never could take the lead. After scoring to inch within one at 25-24 with 1:13 left, the Shred cooly completed 14 consecutive passes to run out the clock, sneaking away Seattle at 6-2 on the season.
- One night later, the Shred improved to 7-2 by walloping Portland 28-14 behind an O-line that was only broken once—on the game’s opening point—and a D-line that racked up 15 breaks on the back-end of the Pacific Northwest road trip. With 23 blocks, the Shred matched the season-high for any AUDL team this season (Atlanta also had 23 on June 3 against Tampa Bay). “I could go up and down the D-line roster,” said Kerr, when asked about the defense’s performance after the Portland game. Obviously, you look at Chad [Yorgason], you look at Kyle Weinberg, Garrett [Martin], they were making plays. Ben Ashton had two layout Ds. Those guys are stepping up in every game, and it’s fun to see them make plays and keep our O-line off the field. That’s what you want.” Eight different members of the Shred recorded multiple blocks, led by Weinberg’s five. Porter Oyler added three blocks and four goals, while his cousin, Chad Yorgason, had three blocks and six assists. Offensively, Kerr added seven more assists, giving him 18 on the weekend, while Sean Connole accrued 645 total yards with no turnovers, contributing three goals and three assists. With three games left, the Shred are poised to clinch the second seed out West, with a potential third chance against the still-unbeaten Colorado Summit looming in August. “Obviously, we don’t wanna make any assumptions, but that’s kinda something that’s at the back of our minds,” said Kerr.
The 2019 New York Empire went 12-0 in the regular season, with their dozen wins by a total of 43 goals, a victory margin of about 3.6 goals per game. Quite simply, the current Empire pursuit of perfection has been a far more one-sided journey. On Saturday night against the disappointing Glory, New York won by double digits for the fifth time in their last eight games, rising to 11-0 with a plus-95 goal differential for the season. In their last eight, they’ve outscored opponents by an insane 86 goals, including their most recent 32-18 beatdown over Boston. “We’ve had so many blowouts this year, it feels like we haven’t had a chance to push ourselves in high pressure situations, aside from the DC games,” said New York’s Ryan Osgar. “Going forward, we are looking to simulate the pressure and focus we will need going up against better opponents during our practices…We are an incredibly deep team, and no individual has been carrying this team. The ‘frisbee media’ talks a lot about the ‘stars’ of our team, however, I would argue that the players who never get mentioned are the reason we are dominating this year.” Ok, fair enough. Let’s shout out Matt Johnson, a 24-year-old Colby College alum who contributed four goals and three blocks in his AUDL debut. But the stars also got their stats too, with Jeff Babbitt catching eight goals, Osgar and Ben Jagt combining for 11 assists and over 1,000 yards, and John Lithio finishing with five assists, four goals, 549 total yards, and no turns. Boston only trailed by two after the opening quarter on Saturday, but were down six by halftime, 11 through three, and lost by 14, their largest margin of defeat since joining the AUDL. “As has been a theme in all of our blowouts this year, our depth overwhelmed Boston,” said Osgar.” The Empire will look to complete a perfect regular season for the second time in three years when they travel to Philadelphia on Friday, July 22.
Carolina has not crushed all their opponents quite like New York this season, however the Flyers plus-55 season-long goal-differential actually matches exactly the 2019 Empire’s unblemished margin if you include the playoffs. The 15-0 Empire were plus-55, just like the 10-1 Flyers, who pummeled Tampa Bay 20-11 on Saturday night in Durham. Carolina jumped in front 3-0, 6-1, and 10-2 before cruising to a comfortable nine-goal margin. The game did not start until after a thunder and lightning storm raged through, and Carolina went just 1-for-8 on hucks, but the outcome was never in doubt. Eric Taylor led the Flyers with 332 total yards, while Tim McAllister tallied three blocks. Tampa Bay’s Sean Plunkett produced four assists, one goal, and three blocks, but the Cannons fell to 0-8 this season and lost their 17th straight game in the series against the Flyers.
In a rare Thursday night AUDL showcase, Ottawa went to Montreal and drove home with a 23-20 win, snapping their seven-game losing streak and simultaneously handing the Royal their fourth straight loss. Since starting 3-0, Montreal is now just 1-7 in their last eight games.
The story five days ago was Ottawa’s offense, which completed a season-high 96 percent of its passes and produced a season-low 11 turnovers. Alec Arsenault went 26-for-26 with five goals and four assists, while Nick Boucher threw eight scores and caught two more. Quentin Bonnaud led Montreal with a vintage eight-goal, two-assist, one-block performance, but the Royal gave up back-to-back breaks late in the first and never led again, trailing by as many as five en route to the final three-goal margin. Despite being 2-7, the Outlaws are technically still alive in the race for the East’s final playoff spot. If Ottawa won its next three games to get to 5-7, they could potentially sneak into the playoffs if Philadelphia beats Toronto this weekend.
And then there’s the forever cellar-dwellers, the Detroit Mechanix, who built a 10-6 lead in the second quarter at Pittsburgh on Saturday and held a 10-9 edge at halftime. Of course, just like the previous 58 games they’ve played, the Mechanix had fewer points than their opponent at the end of the night. Including the late first-half surge, Pittsburgh outscored Detroit 16-9 after the early struggles to escape with a 22-19 triumph. As the Thunderbirds rose to 4-6, the Mechanix dropped to 0-9 this year and 0-59 since their last win, exactly 1,900 days ago. “Man, what a painful loss,” said Detroit’s Joe Cubitt. “Halftime we were up 10-9, and I was thinking to myself that this was the one. In the second half, Pitt came out hungry and their coach put together a strong defensive strategy to slow our offense down.” Max Sheppard anchored the Thunderbirds offense with four goals, three assists, one block, and 434 total yards, while Clint McSherry, Jimmy Towle, and Connor Newell joined Sheppard with three assists apiece. Cubitt completed 59-of-60 passes and accumulated a game-high 643 total yards, but still remained winless in his Mechanix career. “We are always hopeful of breaking the streak,” he said. “That’s something great about this team. Everyone might count us out, but as long as we are confident in ourselves, that’s all that matters.” The Mechanix’s dream of getting off the interminable schneid before 2023 now relies upon defeating one of the three top teams in their Division. Their final three games are at home against Madison and at Chicago and Minnesota.
Something random that I was thinking about…After broadcasting the Salt Lake-Portland game on Saturday night, I’ve called games involving 24 of the current 25 franchises in the league. Detroit is the only team I’ve yet to see in person. Overall, I’ve been on site to watch 29 different AUDL teams play since I began broadcasting professional ultimate in 2014, including the Charlotte Express, Nashville NightWatch, Rochester Dragons, San Francisco FlameThrowers, and Vancouver Riptide, five franchises that all have since folded operations.
2022 AUDL Championship Weekend is just 45 days away.
Yes, that’s the hammer. Busy week.
As always, thanks for reading.