June 21, 2022
By Evan Lepler
This reality made me wonder: Could we possibly see all three of these powerhouse programs stay perfect into the postseason? Furthermore, might the road to Championship Weekend in Madison include three teams that are a combined 39-0?
We’re not yet at the point where I’d say this is likely, but it’s definitely possible. In fact, I’d say there’s probably a 20-25 percent chance that it happens. And if it did, just imagine that Friday night semifinal doubleheader at Breese Stevens Field on August 26.
For most, it would quickly and easily become the most anticipated evening in the history of professional ultimate.
At 5:00 PM, two undefeated teams would meet at Championship Weekend for the first time. That would be a thrilling opener, and it would also be just the undercard to the main event. That’s because at 8:00 PM we’d likely see a rematch of last year’s title game, with perhaps 12-1 Carolina and 13-0 New York meeting for another epic showdown. Can you fathom the Flyers and Empire competing in an exhilarating and intense semifinal with an undefeated 14-0 Colorado or Chicago team awaiting the winner?
This scenario feels too legendary to be true, but it’s also reasonable enough to contemplate here as we survey the landscape after eight regular season weeks. As a reminder, Championship Weekend seeding is determined by regular season record among the four teams that qualify, with point-differential serving as the tiebreaker. Consequently, it’s likely that New York, with their 7.3 goal per game margin of victory, would be the top overall seed if all three were to remain perfect. And in the event of three unblemished division champs, the South’s survivor—regardless whether it’s Carolina, Atlanta, or Austin—would be the fourth seed and face the top-seeded Empire in the semis.
Alright, let’s all take a quick deep breath.
There’s a long way to go. This conversation might feel especially foolish if the Summit stumble against San Diego this weekend or if the Union slip up against Minnesota in 10 days. Heck, I barely trust Chicago to handle their business without any unnecessary drama at Indianapolis this weekend.
But goodness, just thinking about this possibility gives me goosebumps. We could have two undefeated teams in the final. We could have the Flyers needing to defeat two undefeated teams to win their second straight title.
There’s something special brewing right now across the league, though it must also be acknowledged that many of the teams aiming to deny this perfection are mighty capable contenders too. Could DC, Minnesota, or Salt Lake knock off an undefeated opponent in the postseason? Absolutely, it could happen.
Enough fantasizing, though. Back to reality, and a reminder that visions of cathartic victory can be altered in just one throw with the clock winding down.
The Full Field Layout
Buzzer-beaters were the top story in Week 8.
Boston and San Diego both earned wild walk-off wins, scoring with no time left to edge Ottawa and Los Angeles, respectively. Austin didn’t wait for the buzzer, but the Sol’s score with three seconds remaining was the difference in their Saturday struggle in Madison. There was also Seattle converting a 60-yard shot as time expired in regulation to force overtime against Oakland, but the Cascades could not replicate the last-second heroics in OT, as the Spiders escaped by one, earning their first win of the season.
Those four results were all exciting and meaningful, though arguably it was another marquee matchup that ended up not being quite as close that was the most significant development of the weekend.
The South Division’s two one-loss teams were tied 14-all late in the third, only for Carolina to hit Atlanta with a backbreaking 5-0 blitz that basically decided the game, and likely cemented the Flyers’ first-place stature heading toward the postseason. The Hustle actually produced more break chances in the game, but were woefully inefficient in capitalizing on their opportunities. Contrastingly, the Flyers were nearly flawless at converting turns into scores.
“Going 2-for-10 on break chances is pretty deflating,” said Atlanta’s Matt Smith. “Failing to score on [those situations] can actually be worse for momentum than not getting a block at all… It certainly wasn’t all on the defense. [Our] offense only giving up eight turnovers is pretty good; letting Carolina convert on 7-of-8 [break chances] is totally unacceptable.”
Seth Weaver’s skying buzzer-beater as time expired in the third gave the Flyers their first multi-goal lead of the game, and Carolina added three more scores to open the fourth, creating their five-goal advantage with 7:37 left. Notably, Dylan Hawkins hauled in hucks from Eric Taylor and Player Pierce on consecutive points to register back-to-back breaks, and the Hustle only earned one break chance over the rest of the game. As was the case most often on Friday night, Atlanta failed to convert, with Matt Gouchoe-Hanas’ first block of the year earning the disc back.
Gouchoe-Hanas completed all 82 of his throws—the most of any player in a single game this season—to help anchor the Flyers attack, while 11 different Flyers, including MGH, finished with at least one block. Carolina concluded the night with only 13 turnovers, the 24th consecutive game they’ve been under 20 giveaways.
“The first half we kept it close cause we were kinda, I don’t wanna say shaky, but we were a little tense and tight,” Flyers veteran Terrence Mitchell said postgame on the team’s Instagram. “But once we got everything rolling and loosened up it just became another day at the office.”
Indeed, the Flyers cohesiveness was well on display, while the Hustle’s errors often boiled down to miscommunications or lack of execution. Atlanta’s O-line included Max Thorne and Hayden Austin-Knab, two tremendous players, but both making their season debuts on Friday evening. Consequently, the contrast in chemistry was quite noticeable.
“New personnel was definitely a factor,” said Smith. “Carolina probably has the best chemistry in the league. They’ve played for years together and frequently get reps in together throughout the week. We just don’t have that same structure, and I think our lack of chemistry was apparent, especially on offense and defensive offense…Main takeaway is that we’re not that great of a team right now, but our ceiling is still quite high. Hopefully with more reps, on and off the field, that growth will come. Main positive takeaway is that Max Thorne is very good at ultimate and Hayden is still a beast at the pro level.”
With their win, the Flyers rose to 7-1 and clinched the season series against Atlanta, while the Hustle dipped to 4-2 with the loss. Idle this coming weekend, the Hustle will almost certainly need to win either at Carolina on July 2 or at Austin on July 9, possibly both, to stay in the second spot in the South Division.
The Sol remained in the thick of the playoff race by splitting their Central Division doubleheader through Chicago and Madison. At 4-3, Austin has four of its final five games at home and won’t leave Texas again this regular season.
It sure was an exhilarating weekend for the Sol, who coughed up a four-goal lead in Chicago before surviving by one in Madison. It’s possible that Friday night’s result was more about the Union, who showed their D-line teeth during a 9-2 second-half run that transformed the game.
“Obviously, it was not the cleanest or prettiest game for either team,” said Chicago Head Coach Dave Woods. “Before the game, I sent a message to our team saying that we are pretty evenly matched with Austin and that since neither team had played each other before, it was going to come down to whichever team executed their team strategy the best. I think that we made some key adjustments on defense that Austin struggled against because our players were ready to execute together. After we finally got some momentum, the Union players reached another gear together that, individually, the very fast, very well-conditioned Austin players couldn’t match.”
Trailing 12-10 at halftime, the Union offense was broken back-to-back points to begin the second half, and the lead would have ballooned to five if Jake Reinhardt’s backhand huck had just floated for another second. But from that point on, the game completely flipped. Jace Bruner got the first block for Chicago’s surge, Asher Lantz got the next one, and Nate Goff’s bookends gave the Union their first lead of the game at 16-15 with 55 seconds left in the third quarter. Two more breaks in the opening three minutes of the fourth basically put the game away, considering Chicago’s O-line also found its form and went unbroken in the final frame.
“We played 43.5 minutes of high level ultimate, and we played 4.5 minutes of not our best,” said Austin Coach Steven Naji. “Chicago was able to take advantage of those 4.5 minutes.”
Eli Artemakis scored seven goals, Pawel Janas produced 630 yards and six assists, and Jeff Weis churned for 558 yards and was involved in seven scores, but it was truly Chicago’s D-line, specifically Bruner, Lantz, and Goff that swung the game in the second half.
“Jace Bruner has been a great pickup for us this year, as he excels at guarding handlers and cutters,” said Woods. “So we can put him nearly anywhere. He fits pretty seamlessly into the Union style of defense and gets frustrated by letting off even a single open cut.”
Woods also had praise for Lantz, who was playing in just his second AUDL game after making his debut in Week 7 against Madison.
“Similar to Drew Swanson a few years back, Asher Lantz is a tall, raw athlete that we are hoping will start to have a big impact,” said Woods. “His closing speed is incredible, and he isn’t afraid to throw his body around.”
As for Goff, who’ll represent Team USA as one of the seven men on the nation’s World Games roster this July, his momentum swinging blocks and disc distribution after turns were probably the biggest key for Chicago.
“He is a tall superhuman who makes superhuman plays,” said Woods, talking about Goff. “What goes unnoticed is the impact he has on the other players on our defensive line. He is the embodiment of a team captain, always helping his fellow players learn and improve.”
While Chicago basked in the glory of their satisfying comeback, one of the Union leaders voiced a message to their team while they were all stretching after the game.
“Make sure Austin players don’t drink tonight,” said one veteran Chicago player. “We want them to beat Madison tomorrow.”
Indeed, the Sol looked fresh enough on Saturday night, but neither team could gain much of an edge. In fact, each team scored four goals in the first quarter, and both teams scored five goals apiece in the third and fourth quarters. Turns out the difference in the game was Austin’s 5-4 edge in the second, a byproduct of Reese Bowman’s dramatic buzzer-beater off a deflection as time expired in the first half. And maybe the Union’s postgame prohibition from Friday made Bowman just a tad thirstier on Saturday.
Apparently, Bowman was chirping with the fans in the beer garden just before the throw went up, and when he snagged the tiebreaking score, he ran over to that fan, took the half cup of suds that had presumably been wagered, and chugged it quickly in celebration of the Sol’s slim halftime lead.
Meanwhile, Madison’s achilles heel, which lately has been end of quarter situations, continued to bite the Radicals. With the score tied 18-all late in the fourth, the Sol calmly worked the disc around before Kyle Henke’s hammer found Zach Slayton with three seconds left.
“We just tried to play our offense,” said Henke, about the Sol’s final offensive possession. “We wanted to swing the disc. The quicker we moved it, especially horizontally, was gonna give us the best chance to have a good look. Glad to see the blade hammer work out.”
For the Radicals, it was their second straight game that they produced one more break than their opponent only to still lose by one goal as a result of the stinging end-of-quarter moments. Just like their Chicago game in Week 7, the Radicals failed to score the last goal in a quarter in all four periods in Week 8 against Austin.
While Madison fell into 4-3 and fourth place in the Central, the Radicals remain the frontrunner for the division’s playoff spot, though that status is certainly tenuous considering the team’s shortcomings over the past two weeks. As for Austin, the win over Madison lifted the Sol to 4-3 and just a half-game behind Atlanta, who they will host on July 9 in a matchup that’ll certainly carry significant playoff implications.
“We know it’s do or die every game from here on out,” said Henke. “There’s definitely another level of intensity that we’ve got. I think everyone knows the stakes, so I’m excited to see how our team responds to that knowing that we can’t lose another one.”
The 29th all-time meeting between San Diego and Los Angeles might have been the most competitive battle in the history of the rivalry, which dates back to 2015. When Sam Cook snagged Brandon Van Deusen’s huck to tie it up 19-all with 49 seconds remaining, it was the 18th tie of the game. But it turns out the Aviators left the Growlers too much time.
“Our offense in the fourth quarter felt as good as it has been all season,” said San Diego’s Travis Dunn. “We were clean, we were on the same page, and we were just clicking."
Indeed, the Aviators played their hearts out, especially on the game’s final point, but there was only so much they could do. As time expired, Goose Helton’s forehand shot found Dunn in the end zone, and the Growlers had the euphoric 20-19 walk-off win.
“I felt like we had enough time to really get into a flow on that last point rather than just having to take a quick shot,” said Dunn. “And honestly, I was trying to work the intermediate space all the way until just before the throw went off. I was trying to keep the disc moving through the middle of the field, but when I didn’t get it, I turned up field to clear and saw some space in the corner.
“That was a heck of a throw by Goose. I honestly don’t think he could have place it any better. I knew my guy was trailing, and I could see the other two guys coming from the center of the end zone, but I knew pretty quickly that they weren’t going to have a play on it. It was just too good of a throw, so at that point, I knew it was just on me to secure it and keep a foot in bounds.”
Both offenses were tough to stop all night. The teams combined to go 13-for-14 on hucks, and each O-line was broken just twice. But the Growlers had the last chance, and ultimately, that was the difference.”
“As far as the last point goes, 44 seconds is a brutal amount of time left to prioritize defense,” said LA’s Aaron Weaver. “You can’t just emphasize not getting beat deep; otherwise their offense will be able to flow upfield with uncontested cutters. Both teams are arguably the most tired that they’ve been at any point in the game. Both sidelines are fully engaged and shouting help where they can. The crowd is chanting as hard as they can. It’s not an environment that you can just get reps at practice with. And our D-line performed admirably! Getting beat by a Goose huck to the front cone with an away Travis Dunn cut while we had help coming from the backside, I mean, we got beat by the Growlers’ best players when it mattered most.”
The thrilling road result was San Diego’s fifth straight victory, a streak that will certainly be tested this coming weekend when the Growlers travel to 4-2 Salt Lake and 7-0 Colorado. Remember, the Growlers only loss came against the Shred back in late April, when Salt Lake stunned San Diego 24-22 on the first night of the season.
“This weekend will be huge for us,” said Dunn. “Everyone is well aware of that, and we definitely want to avenge that Week 1 loss. Colorado looks tough, so we know we have to have our A-game on back-to-back nights [...] We know we haven’t played our best game yet, so hopefully we can keep on the upward trajectory.”
Unlike last week, when five Friday night games graced the AUDL schedule, the stage and spotlight will exclusively belong to San Diego and Salt Lake this Friday night in Utah. Then, on Saturday, the FOX Sports Game of the Week will showcase the Growlers and Summit’s first ever meeting in Denver.
It could very well be a season-defining weekend for San Diego.
Seven On The Line
- The first walk-off buzzer-beater of the weekend actually belonged to Boston, as Tannor Johnson’s backhand connected with Jeff Graham as time expired to lift the Glory to victory on Friday over Ottawa, 19-18. It was another game that was tight throughout; in fact, the scoreline sorta mimicked the Austin-Madison contest. Boston led 5-4 after one and 10-9 at half, but Ottawa tied it up 14-all heading into the fourth, where the Outlaws received first and held on its first three O-points of the period, each team leading by one.
But Brendan McCann’s only goal of the night gave the Glory the break and the lead with 1:25 left, and after Ottawa’s equalizer with 38 seconds remaining, Boston answered with a nine-throw final possession, culminating with Graham’s game-winner. Graham finished with four goals, while Johnson led Boston with four goals, four assists, and 567 total yards. Ben Sadok also produced 643 yards, with six assists and only one throwaway in 38 tosses. At 3-5, the Glory face a virtual must-win road game this coming weekend in order to maintain their playoff hopes. Although they are winless in four road games so far this season, they will be traveling to Toronto, whom they defeated 23-13 at home on May 20.
- As for the Outlaws, their disappointment over Friday’s finish in Boston did not diminish their effort on Saturday at New York. Sizable underdogs against the undefeated Empire, Ottawa actually led 2-0 in the opening minutes and held a 9-8 edge at halftime. “We have embraced the underdog mentality in these games and want to be the team that wins with our legs,” said Ottawa’s Jeremy Hill. “What we lack in experience, we will make up in work ethic. Going into half up one, I couldn’t have asked the team for much more. We had contributions from the whole team, including players like Cameron Kennedy, who stepped into the O-line this weekend with only six career AUDL games and looked like a seasoned vet.
The halftime talk was to keep forcing them to make extra throws, stay tight, and we’ll get turns. Our D-line continued to generate some turns, but losing our star handler in Geoff Bevan [to a shoulder injury] a minute into the third quarter changed the dynamic of our O-line. We gave up a few breaks, and couldn’t recover.” While the Outlaws are optimistic that Bevan’s injury won’t be a long-term thing, it was definitely a game-changer on Saturday. Also, the Empire finally found their groove. “I definitely wish we’d come out of the gate with more pressure on D,” said New York’s Ben Jagt. “That being said, we also had a lot to gain from being down in a game with our backs against the wall and actually executing under [pressure] when the stakes are high. Our D also ratcheted up the intensity and got some blocks, which they converted into breaks nicely. There wasn’t exactly a specific moment that changed the fate of the game, but one that sticks out to me is when John Randolph got a poach block under followed by a deep cut and score; felt like we had some breathing room and the game was going to be dictated by our team from then on.” Indeed, those Randolph bookends gave the Empire their first lead of the game at 12-11 with 6:30 left in the third, part of a 9-2 run that transformed the score from 10-8 Ottawa to 17-12 New York. The Empire lead grew to as many as seven before New York wrapped the 21-15 win, which officially clinched their spot in the 2022 AUDL playoffs. The only other team that could possibly lock up their playoff berth this weekend is Carolina, who would do so with a win at Tampa AND an Austin loss against Dallas.
- Elsewhere in the East, the Philadelphia Phoenix moved into sole possession of third place by earning their fourth straight victory on Friday night, an 18-14 triumph over Toronto.
“The story of this game was our defense,” said Philly’s James Pollard. “Our D-lines came out firing early in that first quarter, which gave us a nice lead to play with the rest of the game. We didn’t have the height to match up with them, so we used good team defense to swing the scales in our favor. Toronto is known for having a huck heavy offense, so we forced Toronto to try and work the disc down the field.” Indeed, the Phoenix limited the Rush to a season-low two completed hucks in six attempts. Contrastingly, Philly connected on 11 hucks in 18 tries. Jordan Rhyne and Sean Mott, in particular, combined to go 5-for-5 on their hucks. Defensively, Eric Witmer led the way with four blocks, while Eric Nardelli had three. “Eric Witmer shined in this game,” said Pollard. “He’s typically guarding the other team’s go-to player, so for him to have four blocks on the game is impressive.” The Phoenix will be off this coming weekend, giving them extra time to prepare for their first matchup with the season against the DC Breeze, scheduled for Saturday, July 2.
- The Breeze are still a half-game ahead of Philly in the East Division standings after routing the Rush in the second game of Toronto’s trip this past Saturday. A dozen different Breeze defenders recorded a block in DC’s 26-16 victory.
“Defensively, we stepped up, specifically in marking the thrower,” said Rhys Bergeron, who tallied three Ds in a game for the second time this season. “A combination of tight cutter defense, relentless reset pressure, strong marks, and a little wind made the perfect storm for a block party.” The Breeze were especially hyped when Rowan McDonnell laid out for just his second block of the season, regaining possession for his team shortly after his only throwaway of the game. “When you turn over a push pass, you gotta get it back,” said McDonnell on his Instagram story. Offensively, McDonnell’s one mistake was the only turnovers for the Breeze’s top five completion leaders, as Tyler Monroe, Jonny Malks, Christian Boxley, Steven Wartinbee, and Rowan combined to go 152-for-153, with 14 assists. Boxley also scored five goals, his new season-high.
- The Oakland Spiders snapped their losing streak and earned their first win of the season with a wild 20-19 overtime victory on Friday evening in the East Bay. The Spiders fell behind 2-0 immediately and trailed throughout the first three quarters, but three straight scores to open the fourth propelled Oakland to a 14-13 lead with 7:32 remaining. The two squads then traded back and forth, tying the game at every number from 13 to 19, before Matt Crawford scored the overtime winner with 15 seconds left. Leander Ramirez hauled in Marc Muñoz’s huck as time expired in regulation to compel OT, but Tarik Akyuz’s prayer as overtime expired was blocked by Oakland’s Gavin May. The Spiders can make it two in a row over Seattle when they travel to Memorial Stadium for a rematch against the Cascades this Saturday night.
- The Cascades, who entered their two-game weekend riding a two-game winning streak, saw their regular season record dip to 2-7 after also falling in Colorado on Saturday. The Summit stormed in front 5-1 over the opening eight minutes and led wire-to-wire in their 22-14 victory.
Colorado’s eight-goal margin was their largest of the season. Interestingly, it was a very balanced effort across the Summit’s roster; no one on the team accumulated more than 250 throwing yards or 235 receiving yards, but all 20 players who saw the field contributed at least one goal, assist, or block. Matt Jackson’s three goals, three assists, and 24-for-24 passing stood out, as did Nick Snuszka’s three blocks. One day before his own wedding, Cody Spicer added three assists, two blocks, and one goal to the Colorado cause. “It feels great being 7-0,” said Jackson, “especially because I don’t think we’ve actualized our full potential yet. We’re still tightening our offensive bolts, and the defense continues to grow their on-field chemistry. Everybody is still hungry to improve.” The Summit will play four of their final regular season games against the two SoCal teams, starting this Saturday against San Diego.
- Meanwhile, while New York, Colorado, Chicago, San Diego, and Philadelphia all currently possess winning streaks of at least four games, the league’s most infamous streak also remains intact. Detroit actually only lost one of the four quarters at Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Mechanix won the first 5-4, the third 8-6, and played to a 6-6 draw in the fourth. But the Thunderbirds dominated the second 12 minutes to the tune of 8-2, giving them enough cushion to hang on for the 24-21 triumph. The Thunderbirds improved to 3-5, while the Mechanix dipped to 0-7 and suffered their 57th consecutive loss dating back to April of 2017. “It can be both encouraging and discouraging to come close, yet not be able to finish the job,” acknowledged Detroit’s Andrew Sjogren, who caught seven goals in the game. “We believe in ourselves and what we can do. Winning always seems realistic when we step out on the field. We have played great frisbee in stretches this year, offensively and defensively. There seems to be one run each week where we lose focus a bit and can’t stop the bleeding.” Indeed, the Mechanix outscored Pittsburgh by three over the other three quarters, but Detroit endured 11 turnovers and got broken five times in the second. All game long, though, the Mechanix struggled to slow down Thomas Edmonds, who engineered the highest plus/minus any individual has achieved in a single game this season. Edmonds caught eight goals, threw five assists, and registered three blocks, all while completing 36-of-37 passes and accumulating 569 total yards. His plus-15 surpassed Jay Froude’s plus-14 against Salt Lake on May 28 as the best of the season. He certainly deserved a spot on Monday’s Week 8 "Honor Roll", an honest oversight that I regret, though Edmonds thankfully held no hard feelings. “We got the dub, and that’s all that matters,” he said. “Momentum did swing back and forth, but I do think we kept a handle on it. It didn’t really ever feel like we were in trouble.” If Pittsburgh could steal a win at Indy on July 2, they could very reasonably be 5-5 and in the Central Division playoff mix heading into their last two games. Those contests will both be at home, but they are against Carolina and Chicago, who are currently a combined 12-1 this season.
One quirk of this Austin’s interdivisional road trip this past weekend was the Sol facing both the Union and the Radicals for the first time ever. Traditionally, teams have mostly competed within their own divisions except for special occasions during the regular season or at Championship Weekend. Consequently, it’s interesting to look at how many teams each franchise in the league has gotten to compete against during its tenure.
Perhaps you won’t be too excited to learn that in addition to having the best record in the league in the present, the New York Empire are also first all time in terms of having played against more different teams than anyone else in AUDL history.
The Empire have faced 16 different franchises since 2013: their six current division opponents, Championship Weekend matchups with Dallas, Indianapolis, San Diego, and Carolina, Atlantic Division encounters last year with Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta, a 2014 playoff clash with Chicago, and past collisions with two teams that no longer exist: the New Jersey Hammerheads and the Rochester Dragons.
Madison played against their 14th different opponent in Austin this past weekend, but the Radicals will require a run to Championship Weekend to have a chance to inch closer to New York this year. Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Seattle have also competed against 14 different teams during their time in the AUDL.
There are two more interdivisional games left on the 2022 regular season schedule, but neither will feature a first-time matchup. Carolina played Pittsburgh twice in 2021, while Indianapolis played Atlanta once back in 2019.