July 13, 2021
By Evan Lepler
The long awaited 2021 AUDL journey began with 114 regular season games on the schedule.
We’ve seen 58 so far, with 56 remaining. And genuine anticipation coupled with consequences ooze from almost all of them.
No one in the world would have ever predicted that DC, Minnesota, and San Diego would be our three division leaders at the midway point. All together, those three franchises have competed in 19 AUDL seasons, in which they have just three all-time postseason wins, the Breeze with two, the Growlers with one, and the Wind Chill with none.
But now all three are in a brilliant position to be just one home playoff game away from the Championship Weekend. Of course, they all still have plenty of business to take care of over the next six weeks.
It was a great weekend for all three of these franchises, even with the Growlers idle.
DC confidently traveled to Atlanta and walloped the previously undefeated Hustle, showcasing the brilliant offense and feisty defense that the Breeze have been about all season long. Enough with the chatter about DC potentially peaking too early; quite simply, this is who they are. With uncommon depth, unique throwing prowess, underrated athleticism, and a clear and obvious collective buy-in that ranks among the best in league history, the Breeze are 5-1, winners of five straight, with their only loss coming by one at the buzzer on the road against the defending champs.
Minnesota also sits at 5-1 after becoming just the second team in the league this season to win two road games in a single weekend. The Wind Chill played pristine offense at Indy on Saturday, but their season-shifting result came on Sunday in Chicago, when Minnesota opportunistically surged to an early lead against the Union and avenged the 23-18 loss they suffered back in June. Whereas Chicago was probably expecting to de facto clinch the Central Division this past weekend, the Union now find themselves a game back following losses to Madison and Minnesota, putting the Wind Chill firmly in the driver’s seat heading down the stretch.
And even without taking the field, San Diego increased its lead out West, as the two second-place Texas teams split a pair of wild one-goal games in Dallas, the Roughnecks and Sol both finishing Week 6 at 4-3. Meanwhile, the Growlers, 4-1 with seven games still to play, retake the field this weekend against Austin knowing that a 5-2 finish very likely gives them homefield in the divisional final.
The first six weeks have been frantic, exciting, and meaningful, but only matter so much if the current leaders cannot maintain their high level over the course of the next two months. We are exactly 60 days away from the 2021 AUDL Championship Game, and there are obviously many more than just these three teams still realistically dreaming of participating as one of the final two at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. on that September Saturday night.
The Full Field Layout
“We knew it was going to be the toughest weekend of the regular season for us, but I figured we would have walked away with at least one win,” said Chicago’s Ross Barker. “It’s always hard playing at Madison. Always. It’s such a great, hostile atmosphere, but that’s what makes sports so much fun.”
Chicago quickly fell behind 2-0 on Saturday night in Madison, but rebounded to lead 8-6 with four and a half minutes left in the second quarter. The Union possessed an unbeaten 5-0 record and knew they could virtually clinch the top spot in the Central and smash Madison’s faint playoff hopes by taking care of business in Week 6. Of course, neither the Radicals nor their fans were all that intimidated by Chicago’s mystique.
“Our fans are always great, but they really came out in force on Saturday,” said Madison cutter Sterling Knoche. “They were loud and boisterous and we really fed off of that.”
The Radicals gave their spectators plenty of reason to keep cheering with a massively important 3-0 run to close the first half, giving Madison a 9-8 lead at the break. The Rads’ offense was actually broken again on the first point of the second half, but Madison countered with another 4-1 burst to lead 13-10 and never were broken again, reshaping the Central Division race with their 19-16 victory.
The goal that made it 13-10 was especially exhilarating.
“Nico Ranabhat skied Paul Arters, who everyone knows is a world class ultimate player,” said Radicals’ handler Victor Luo. “Absolute mayhem on the sideline, and just added another energy booster for our defense.”
Ranabhat’s huge snag was probably the top highlight of the day, but Luo’s disc distributing wizardry was a steady and ever-present force throughout the four quarters. The crafty lefty completed all 51 of his throws, led Madison with 385 total yards, and generally orchestrated the Radicals patient but purposed attack. Chicago’s Pawel Janas completed all 42 of his throws for a game-high 300 passing yards, but the Radicals’ defense limited him to just two assists as the Union offense scored a season-low 16 goals.
“We know they have a world class O-line,” said Luo. “However, committed marks and punishing weaker throwers would be able to generate turns for us, especially given the weird crosswind at Breese…We came into the game knowing that winning out was the only way we control our destiny. That ‘back to the wall’ energy really drove us all game.”
Knoche, who led the Radicals with six goals, remembered the postgame huddle for its concise, profane two-word message.
“For a lot of guys, this is their first big AUDL win, either on the team or actively playing,” he said. “After thanking the fans, I looked around and just yelled ‘F*** Yes!’ and was met with a cacophony of yells. But I think everyone also realizes that this isn’t the end, it is just a stepping stone to what we want to accomplish this season.”
Madison’s euphoric feeling after taking down Chicago was matched by Minnesota’s enthusiastic joy following the Wind Chill’s magnificent weekend. The Wind Chill calmly dispatched Indianapolis by completing 393 out of their 398 throws on Saturday—a 98.7 percent completion rate in a 25-18 triumph—and then traveled to Chicago to meet the Union, who were coming off their first loss less than 20 hours earlier.
Chicago had a chance to break the Minnesota O-line on the game’s very first point, but Rocco Linehan’s block regained possession before Tony Poletto found Andrew Roy for the opening goal. The Wind Chill offense played turnover-free ultimate the rest of the first quarter and Chicago only had two additional breaks chances in the second, converting none of them, as Minnesota built a 12-8 halftime lead.
“The first half of the Chicago game felt very similar to Indy: high energy, grind them down, don’t take risky shots on offense and just play a bit more efficiently than them,” explained Roy.
In the final minute of the second and third quarters, Chicago had the disc with a chance to inch within two. In both sequences, however, the Wind Chill forced a turn and scored the final goal of the period to increase their lead to four.
“The end of the [third quarter] was a big momentum shift, as we turned it over and they looked poised to punch it in and cut our lead to [two],” said Roy. “We got a turn with 30 seconds left, called a timeout, and just barely managed to move the disc through the middle of the field with quick throws and scored at the buzzer as I overthrew [Josh] Klane, [Nick] Vogt caught it and threw it with the momentum of the disc to the open space in the end zone [where Linehan caught it as time expired].”
The Union made a run in the fourth quarter, inching within one at 19-18 with 96 seconds left, but Chicago never touched the disc with a chance to tie in the final minute, as Brett Matzuka’s hammer to Bret Bergmeier was the exclamation point score at the buzzer. The Wind Chill won all four end-of-quarter situations in their 20-18 win.
“I do want to give props to [Chicago’s] Drew Swanson,” said Minnesota Captain Bryan Vohnoutka. “He almost brought them back singlehandedly with six blocks. It seemed like anytime he was near the disc he was getting it. I think Klane said ‘stop throwing the disc to Drew’ at one point.”
Swanson’s six blocks on Sunday along with his two blocks on Saturday pushed his full-season total to 17, passing Madison’s Kevin Pettit-Scantling for the league lead through six weeks. Chicago actually had 13 break chances in the Wind Chill game, compared to Minnesota’s seven, but the Wind Chill capitalized at a much greater rate and both teams managed five breaks, with the end-of-quarter situations proving to be the critical difference in the final score.
“Still digesting the main adjustments we need to make, but—super cliché warning—the main lesson is to learn something and not repeat our mistakes in two and three weeks,” said Chicago’s Pawel Janas.
Indeed, Chicago’s regular season fate now largely depends on its ability to recalibrate and get road wins at Minnesota on July 24 and Madison on July 30, presuming the Union does not overlook struggling Indianapolis at home this weekend.
“I think we panicked a little bit this weekend and tried to play hero ball when things weren’t going our way instead of sticking to our schemes and systems that had given us so much success in the first five games,” said Barker. “As much as I hate losing, this weekend was a good ego check for us.”
Heading into the season, many if not most outside of the Twin Cities believed that Chicago was a heavy favorite to emerge out of the Central, but suddenly it’s the Wind Chill that’s firmly in control of their destiny. To be clear, the Union can still run the table and finish in first place too, but that would require multiple tough road wins. The Wind Chill have four of their last six games at home, with the lone road matchups against winless Detroit and 2-6 Indy.
“Right now, we just need to take care of business in the next couple weeks, particularly as Chicago and Indy will come to play us at home in two and three weeks,” said Roy. “We will be completely locked in on winning those two games, and if we execute that we will be in great shape to host a very exciting playoff game.”
About 10 minutes after Chicago suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday night, the clock also expired on Atlanta’s undefeated quest.
With another dazzling performance, the DC Breeze transformed our highly anticipated Game of the Week, a battle for the Atlantic Division lead, into a relatively one-sided competition. The Hustle were outmatched early, and despite a late scramble, Atlanta could never seriously threaten DC’s offense consistently enough to change the result in the Breeze’s 19-14 victory.
“I’m really happy with the preparation everyone is putting in,” said DC Captain Rowan McDonnell. “[Head Coach] Darryl [Stanley] and [Assistant Coach Ty [Aderhold] have us ready to go from a tactical standpoint, and each player up and down the roster is doing exactly what is asked of them.”
It was nowhere close to DC’s finest offensive performance of the season, but the Hustle only got three breaks in their eight chances. Conversely, Atlanta’s offense was shaky from the start, and the Breeze D-line registered five breaks in the game’s first 16 minutes, surging DC to an early 8-3 lead. They finished 10-for-15 on break opportunities, their third time this season recording double-digit breaks for a game.
“They were running a lot harder than us,” said Atlanta’s Antoine Davis. “They were bidding all over the place and we were jogging. I have not been challenged like that in awhile. I tip my hat to Ben [Green], AJ [Merriman] and [Jeremy] Hess for working together to limit my game.”
Certainly, Green’s two-block point was the game’s most memorable sequence, with the athletic DC defender laying out to deny Davis a score and then leaving his feet again to block a swing intended for Davis later in the same point. After the second block, Green quickly bolted deep and caught a tumbling score that gave the Breeze their 8-3 lead, as the DC sideline stormed the field to celebrate the unreal effort.
“Every week, it’s someone different,” said McDonnell. “Ben Green had the point of the year. That alone deserved player of the game.”
The Breeze stretched their lead to six in the second half and led 15-9 with 1:19 remaining in the third, but Atlanta mustered a 4-0 spurt in just four minutes of game-time, spanning the quarters, to inch within two. Just as quickly and even more decisively, DC immediately responded with their own 4-zip rally to wipe-out the Hustle’s comeback bid.
“Clearly, our offense wasn’t up to snuff and I’d argue our defense challenged them more than any other team thus far, but couldn’t find ways to punch in crucial breaks,” said Atlanta’s Parker Bray. “We were less than lackluster at conversions out of timeouts as well. I’d say the primary frustration I had over the course of the night with our offense was being undisciplined and lacking the field awareness to recognize their truly team-oriented defense. They’d sit someone over the top to help on deep cuts, sit another guy under to make fills tough, and did a remarkable job of having defenders flash into lanes when our guys were being either inactive or not in dangerous spaces. The fluidity with which they gave help to one another and swarmed the spaces we were trying to attack was remarkable.”
To Bray’s point, the Breeze even created multiple turnovers off John Stubbs’ throws, which had all been caught by Hustle receivers in Stubbs’ two previous games. Bray, Austin Taylor, and Player Pierce also all had multiple throwaways.
On the other side, McDonnell and Jonny Malks each had two throwaways apiece too, but the McDonnell/Malks duo also combined for 125 completions and seven assists. Strong downfield efforts from Jeff Wodatch and Joe Merrill repeatedly hurt the Hustle, as the Atlanta zone was patiently attacked and generally outlasted.
“It was a nice dose of humble pie,” said Bray. “We know we’ve gotta win both of the games this upcoming week to stay in the driver’s seat for hosting a playoff game this fall. Certainly, we feel like there are takeaways from the loss that can be implemented in a week’s time. It starts with myself and the offense eliminating boneheaded turns. Heck, we might even have to take a page out of DC’s book and small-ball teams to death.”
Indeed, the now 4-1 Hustle have a daunting doubleheader road trip ahead, at Philly on Friday night before a rematch in DC on Saturday. The following week, the Hustle will host New York in their only matchup of the season with the Empire.
“We are using this week to lick our wounds, learning how to take a punch, and formulating a response that everyone is going to want to see,” added Davis.
The Breeze, meanwhile, are 5-1 with no more road games against the Atlantic Division’s top four. They still have Atlanta, Philly, and Raleigh at home, with road trips to Philly, Pittsburgh, and Tampa. They have not lost since the opener in New York, and both the numbers and the eye-test suggest that DC is presently playing better than anyone else in the league.
“Sometimes it’s good to lose an early game, and apparently our opening loss at New York put us on a positive trajectory,” said McDonnell. “Now we need to make sure we don’t get complacent with our small winning streak.”
After 101 minutes of exhilarating, exhausting, and at times ugly ultimate over the span of about 27 hours, the Sol and Roughnecks finished their wild weekend right where they started, tied-for-second in the West behind San Diego. If nothing else, Austin certainly proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that their opening win against Dallas was not a fluke. Far from it, the Sol looked back at Week 6 as a massive missed opportunity to basically seize complete control in the rivalry.
After sneaking away with a one-goal win on Friday—more on this suspenseful showdown in a minute—Austin outscored Dallas 9-5 in the second quarter on Saturday to lead 13-9 at halftime. The Sol stretched the lead as large as five and had numerous chances to put the game away in the second half, but the Roughnecks, recognizing their season was hanging in the balance, willed themselves back in the game.
“I don’t know if I would have gotten out of bed Sunday if we lost,” said Dallas’s Kyle Henke, who played both games despite a cast on his left hand protecting a fractured scaphoid that he suffered against San Diego two weeks earlier. “Our depth was truly stretched this weekend, but I’m hopeful it pays off in these last five-plus games.”
With 29 seconds left in regulation on Saturday night, Henke managed to snag a deflected disc in the end zone for the dramatic equalizer, a crazy karmic confirmation of just how evenly matched these teams have been throughout their three matchups. Austin had two one-point wins already, and Dallas was on the ropes. Watching from our postgame dinner-table in Atlanta, I honestly expected the AUDL’s first double overtime experience of the season, but the Roughnecks somehow dodged that universe-point climax.
“Energy was great going into OT; I felt confident we weren’t going to blow the second chance to win it,” said Henke. “Our D crushed, O still needs to figure some things out, lots of things.”
Jason Hustad’s huck connected with Mason Wuensch with 1:47 left in overtime, giving Dallas a 21-20 lead, the Roughnecks’ first advantage since the score was 7-6 back in the second quarter. Jon DeAmicis got a block on the next point, after which 10 completions ran out the clock, as the Roughnecks narrowly avoided getting swept at home by their little brother from Austin.
Of course, we should acknowledge loudly the significant shift in the Texas rivalry. If Austin’s still the little brother, it has definitely grown up to the point of redefining its relationship with the Roughnecks, who needed their own young new faces to make some many enormous plays in order to salvage the split as many Dallas veterans remained out with injuries.
“Yea, blowing that lead sucks, but if you had told me we would split the weekend prior to competing, I would have taken it,” said Austin’s Mick Walter, who recorded six blocks in the two games. “A split keeps our playoff hopes alive, gives us the tiebreaker for the time being, and forces what could be the biggest game in Sol-Roughnecks history at the end of the season. If we can continue to fight and win enough games to stay within one game of Daallas, we know we have a good shot with that final game in front of our home fans. Everyone, including Dallas, knows we can compete with them. We’ve managed to change the mentality of the Roughnecks/Sol rivalry, which will only help us in the future.”
Austin’s Evan Swiatek said that he was not quite as satisfied with a split—‘We went into the weekend striving for 2-0, so to come that close and have it slip away was a little bit frustrating’—but let’s not forget that the Roughnecks easily could have won Friday night’s game too. Like Saturday, Friday was a windy, upwind/downwind contest. Like Saturday, the Sol had a solid four-goal lead in the third quarter that disappeared as the Roughnecks rallied.
Unlike Saturday, however, the longest and wildest point of the weekend lasted nearly five minutes. With the Friday night affair even at 16 with 4:58 remaining, the two teams engaged in a turbulent and unpredictable sequence that the Sol somehow survived.
“We went back and forth with multiple blocks and throwaways and managed to call a timeout in the red zone with about 30 seconds left,” remembered Walter. “A kill line was called to punch it in, and John Cecil took over. He opened up the middle with his cuts and finished the point with a quick left to give us the lead.”
Dallas still had 17 seconds and Ben Lewis got a decent look to the end zone from around midfield, but Walter’s fifth block of the game swatted away the Roughnecks’ bid for OT on Friday. Interestingly, Henke, who only had one fully healthy hand, was the closest Roughneck to skying for the equalizer at the end of regulation. He made the wild grab on Saturday to force OT, but came up empty in his similar sequence a day earlier.
What if Henke hadn’t been playing with a cast on his left wrist?
“I’m not sure if I catch that disc at the end of regulation [with two healthy hands],” he said. “I certainly would’ve been more confident going up but the disc was moving quickly out of bounds and may have been out the back of the end zone.”
All things considered, both Texas teams had plenty of reasons to be pleased, relieved, and disappointed, a confusing intersection of emotions to be sure. Dallas, still shorthanded without many of its mainstay contributors, was thankful to escape with one win. Austin, arguably the most surprising contender in the entire league, again showcased its competitive mettle and youthful energy, though the Sol were also mighty fortunate that blown leads in both games resulted in just one excruciating heartbreaker as opposed to two.
“Physical and mental fatigue, a steady wind, and tough defense from Dallas made it tough to consistently punch in those holds going down the stretch [on Saturday],” said Swiatek, who led the Sol with 610 receiving yards in the two games. “I dropped a huck and got hand blocked on key points, which could have cemented our lead. Elliott Moore got a layout D that was called back because the Dallas thrower set up in the wrong spot, [Jake] Worthington tipped a block opportunity that, in hindsight, he wishes he would’ve caught. It’s impossible to point to a single play that enabled Dallas. Most of us have at least one shot, catch, or block opportunity that we would like to do over.
“Driving home, we spoke about using these opportunities as motivation. The entire season, we knew nothing would be given, we would have to scrap and claw for every point. And I think we have a better understanding of how much mental energy and focus it takes to maintain that perspective when you are on an away doubleheader.”
The road ahead remains intriguing and difficult for both Austin and Dallas, as both franchises are back in the pacific time zone for multiple games in Week 7, the Sol at Los Angeles and San Diego and the Roughnecks at Seattle and San Jose.
“Anyone can beat anyone in the West this year,” said Walter. “We have five more chances to show what we have to clinch this playoff run. I’m as excited as ever to see how it plays out.”
Seven On The Line
- As impactful as Chicago and Atlanta’s Saturday night losses were, leaving the AUDL with no remaining undefeated teams, the biggest surprise that evening unfolded in Boston, as the Philadelphia Phoenix again bounced back from a rough Friday night to compete admirably a day later. And while the Phoenix ran out of gas down the stretch in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, Philly made several clutch plays in the fourth against the Glory to escape with a 23-22 victory. “I was most happy with our team’s ability to learn from past mistakes and improve on them,” said Phoenix Coach David Hampson. “In Atlanta and Pittsburgh, we were outscored in the fourth quarter. Going into this weekend, our goal was to finish games in the fourth. Even though we lost to New York, we still outscored them in the fourth and we outscored Boston in the fourth to win by one.” Despite being within one for most of the final period, the Glory only had the disc with a chance to tie one time, as Chris Bartoli’s block gave Boston one final chance with 15 seconds left. Henry Babcock caught Ben Sadok’s throw near midfield and launched a potential game-tying huck toward the end zone, but Philly’s Colin Masino collected his third block of the weekend as time expired, securing the Phoenix win. “This weekend, we showed our spirit, conditioning, and grind,” said Greg Martin, who scored 11 goals on the weekend to move into the league lead with 32 goals for the season. “[Eric] Witmer had some great lockdown D, and Paul Owens is going to be a rising star in the AUDL and leader for us.” Philly’s exuberant joy was contrasted by Boston’s disappointment, as the Glory dipped to 2-4 and fell into sixth place in the Atlantic. Life does not get much easier for the AUDL’s newest franchise, considering the New York Empire make their first trip to New England in Week 7. “It was a tough loss,” said Boston’s Ian Engler. “Their D put pressure on early and importantly converted breaks efficiently, but our O wasn’t as rock solid as we needed to be to start the game…We were clearly disappointed and knew we could have gotten the win if we had upped our game a bit, particularly offensively in the first half. Out captain, Ben Sadok, emphasized that we can’t put too much weight on a single loss or the outcome of games in general. If you take a step back, we’re a first-year team composed of players from a ton of different 2019 club teams. That, amidst the challenges of forming a team during Covid, shows what our team is up against this season. We’re going to keep building for a long time, and we need to understand that and stay committed to that. We have a ton of great pieces, and they’re going to make a very strong team as we come together.”
- While Philly finished the weekend with the sweet taste of victory, the Phoenix’s Friday tilt in New Rochelle showcased New York’s potential, as the defending champs bounced back from their first loss of the season with a 27-20 performance that checked many of the boxes we’ve been looking for from the Empire.
Ben Jagt made +14 look relatively effortless, snagging 10 goals along with three assists and two blocks, matching Madison’s Kevin Pettit-Scantling for the highest plus/minus in a single-game this season. Ryan Osgar tossed seven assists, while Elliott Chartock passed for 568 more throwing yards, upping his throwing yards-per-game average to 504. No one else in the league is even at 400. Defensively, Marques Brownlee returned from a hamstring injury that kept him out the previous week and delivered two game-changing blocks, while Jeff Babbitt racked up three Ds and snared a thrilling first-quarter buzzer-beating goal that completely shifted the momentum of the game. Seconds earlier, it looked like the Phoenix would tie the score at eight, but Brownlee’s end-zone interception, Jack Williams’ backhand huck just before the clock expired, and Babbitt’s all-too-routine skying of the pack gave New York a 9-7 lead. The Empire increased their advantage to 15-10 at halftime and led by as many as nine in the third, improving to 5-1 on the season heading into a three-game road trip. New York closes July with three separate Saturday excursions to Boston, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay, prior to hosting Raleigh in August.
Speaking of the Flyers, Raleigh continued to pound its overmatched opposition, registering its fourth straight victory and third consecutive double-digit rout. Since Boston’s memorable game-tying Brendan McCann-to-Tanner Halkyard buzzer beating scoober—or ‘scuba’— to close the third quarter against the Flyers on June 19, Raleigh has outscored its adversaries 90-49 over the last 13 quarters. This past Saturday, the Flyers scored a season-high 31 goals in their 31-19 demolition of the Tampa Bay Cannons. “It took a little while for our D to sync up, but eventually we started connecting and our biggest advantage over Tampa is that when we break them once, they have to trust the same line of seven back out there and we can send in fresh bodies to continue ramping up the pressure,” said Sol Yanuck, who led Raleigh with 493 total yards. “After the early hiccups, we were super crisp, got great contributions all around, but especially from Noah [Saul], Zog [Josh Hartzog], Tim [McAllister], and A.D. [Alex Davis].” Anders Juengst led the Flyers with six goals, while Henry Fisher scored five. David Richardson also caught a pair of goals and tallied a game-high three blocks as the Flyers won their fourth straight. “We are happy to be winning games, and our one-point losses are looking better and better by the week,” said Yanuck. “I think the reality is we played nowhere near our potential and probably could’ve/should’ve won those games, so we’re feeling like we’re in a good spot. Focus is on remaining healthy for the stretch run, challenging each other at practice, and executing with attention to detail in the remaining games. Our depth is a great strength of ours, and I think despite missing guys the last few weeks, we’ve been great as a unit, so we’re feeling good about that.”
Was there a cooler moment in Week 6 than Nasser Mbae Vogel’s first touch and throw as a member of the New York Empire? The answer, I believe, is a resounding no, as the almost 42-year-old ultimate vagabond made his 2021 debut unbelievably memorable. It was the first point of the second quarter, just after Babbitt’s thrilling buzzer-beater, and following a Philly throwaway, Vogel caught a short underneath toss from fellow Empire rookie Matt LaBar—not to be confused with New York’s Matt LeMar, who played his 116th consecutive AUDL game on Friday night. Vogel, who’s originally from France, has lived and competed all over Europe, and had just arrived back in the United States this past Thursday, immediately saw Mike Drost sprinting deep and unleashed a picture-perfect forehand huck, the type of floating, majestic throw that exemplifies why we all love this sport. Drost hauled in the score, officially credited as a 55-yard throw-and-catch, and the Empire were all smiles celebrating Vogel’s magnificent moment. That was one of Vogel’s two completions in the game, and the other went for -18 yards, but considering he had only met most of his new teammates a couple hours before the game, it certainly was a very successful re-entry into the AUDL for the veteran who helped lead Montreal to the playoffs back in 2017.
Ben Nelson’s first touch as a member of the Empire was not nearly as exhilarating as Vogel’s, but it was a long time coming for the former Madison Radical who won a championship in 2018 and was eager to make his New York debut. Nelson, who completed over 1,700 passes in his seven seasons in Madison, went 3-for-3 passing on Friday night for the Empire, playing primarily on the D-line. While the almost-33-year-old ultimate veteran should provide some solid and experienced depth for New York, his contributions to the AUDL’s statistical revolution that is still transforming our understanding of the game is basically indescribable. Back in 2019, Nelson helped pioneer and create the new statting software that every team now uses to create the remarkably detailed and advanced box scores that each game produces. Furthermore, he continues to be an invaluable resource in helping to format and organize all of the accumulated information. For example, I asked him if we could easily create a page on the website for team stats listed game-by-game. On Monday in my inbox, voila! No one appreciates this treasure trove of numbers more than me, so I just wanted to give Ben Nelson a big shout-out, thanking him for all his efforts to build our new statistical infrastructure that should dramatically enhance the future presentation of the sport.
One more Ben Nelson creation after a recent request: here’s a list of the top five performances from this season in virtually every statistical category through six weeks: How about Detroit’s Andrew Sjogren with there three highest individual game receiving yardage totals for the season thus far! How bout the fact that the top four total yards performances have come in Indy, where the AlleyCats host inside Grand Park, the league’s only indoor venue. And in case you were wondering, yes, Ben Jagt’s 10 goals on Friday night against Philly were the most in a game this year, but still less than half of the all-time record. We’re actually two days away from the four-year anniversary of Jordan Huston scoring 22 goals in a single game for the Cannons in a 33-24 win over Nashville.
A few more statistical observations/updates for ya: through 58 games this season, there have been 109 300-yard throwing performances, or 1.88 per game. The 300-yard receiving benchmark has occurred considerably less often, just 62 times in 58 games, or 1.07 instances per game. There have only been six 300/300 games, achieved by Travis Carpenter, Parker Bray, Ben Sadok, Pawel Janas, Eric Brodbeck, and Levi Jacobs. Week 6 was the first weekend of the season without a single 300/300 game, though Ben Jagt finished two passing yards shy of 300 in New York’s Friday night win. And while home teams had won more than two-thirds of all games through five weeks, road teams actually went 5-4 in Week 6. Home teams are now 37-21 on the season, with only San Diego and Minnesota winning multiple road games in the same weekend.
We’re onto Week 7, an 11-game slate that should be especially meaningful for three teams with playoff ambitions. Atlanta, Austin, and Dallas all have road doubleheaders this weekend, and I don’t expect any of those six contests resembling anything close to an easy win for the Hustle, Sol, or Roughnecks.
I’m excited to broadcast underneath the Seattle Space Needle on Friday night, and our crew will follow Dallas to the Bay Area on Saturday. Certainly, the Roughnecks have very little margin for error against the Cascades and Spiders, but that margin would have been absolutely nonexistent had they dropped both of their home games against Austin this past weekend.
In that event, they would’ve been two games behind the Sol with just five contests remaining, and Austin would have secured the tiebreaker by beating Dallas three times to make it a de facto three game lead. Instead, by squeaking out the Saturday result in overtime, the Roughnecks could theoretically afford one more non-Austin loss and still make the playoffs by beating the Sol by more than one in their regular season finale.
But let’s forget about that math for a second. More important than anything, we are still trying to discern: who exactly are these Roughnecks?
Generally considered the league-wide preseason favorite to win the title, they are now 4-3, moments away from being 3-4. At the same time, their three losses are all by one goal, leading to an internal belief that they are actually much closer to being 7-0 than they are to being on the outskirts of the league’s foremost contenders.
Yes, they have played almost every game without key personnel, but that excuse starts to ring hollow when it’s a weekly staple. At some point, even if they are enduring a brutal season from an injury standpoint, they are who they are, and who knows when or even if many of the accomplished, banged-up veterans will return as the stars we expect them to be?
This weekend, the Roughnecks will be facing a pair of fiercely determined teams at Seattle and San Jose, and Dallas will need to rediscover something close to its top form to have any chance of winning both. It should be fascinating to watch, and I hope you’ll watch with us.
Six weeks from today, the Tuesday Toss will preview the playoffs. It’s gonna be one heckuva roller coaster ride between now and then.