Tuesday Toss: Atlanta's New Empire

July 27, 2021
By Evan Lepler

From battles for first place to crazy comebacks to unprecedented statistical performances, Week 8 featured buckets of excitement. As usual, there were a few quirky developments too. 

Atlanta and Dallas both earned massively important triumphs, while, bizarrely, no other U.S. home teams won. Chicago never trailed on a windy evening in Minnesota, reclaiming control of the Central, and San Diego overcame a five-goal deficit in Austin to split their Texas two-step and remain comfortably atop the West. Furthermore, north of the border, the Ottawa Outlaws enjoyed their greatest weekend in franchise history, buoyed by a throwing display from Nick Boucher that still does not seem real.

While the entertaining weekend did provide plenty of clarifying answers, much uncertainty still remains. With four weeks left in the AUDL’s regular season, no postseason spots are completely secure, a fact that could change in Week 9. 

After their marquee result against New York, the Atlanta Hustle could officially clinch a playoff spot this weekend with just a home victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday night. One day earlier, Chicago could also lock up a postseason berth with a road win at Madison on Friday. 

Those are the only two teams that can guarantee their playoff reservations without additional help this weekend, ensuring that the playoff picture will remain foggy heading into August and the last three weeks of the regular season. 

The championship won’t be won until September, but for whoever survives the gauntlet and hoists the trophy inside Audi Field, their Week 8 result might be looked back upon as a critically important step on the journey. For no team is this more true than the Atlanta Hustle, who improved to 7-1 by edging the reigning champs, elevating both their perception and reality heading down the suspenseful stretch.

The Full Field Layout

When they were 4-0, with their marquee wins being an ugly OT opening night nail biter vs. Raleigh and a second half collapse from the Boston Glory, it was reasonable to doubt the Hustle as a true contender. Even when they rose to the top spot in the power rankings, spectators were skeptical how long they would remain in the highest tier. And when they got smacked by DC at home for their first loss, the critics could make an easy case that Atlanta was good, but not quite ready to be great. 

Two weeks later, after convincing road wins over Philadelphia and DC and a statement result vs. New York, let there be no further equivocation: the Atlanta Hustle are absolutely a championship contender. 

It was not necessarily the fact that they beat the Empire, but how they beat them. And yes, they really should have won by more. The Hustle were up by three with four and half minutes left and up by two with the disc with just over a minute remaining before almost giving it all away. But New York’s frantic comeback fell one completion short, as Kelvin Williams denied Ben Katz’s floating backhand toward John Lithio at the buzzer, and the Hustle prevailed 22-21 in a riveting showcase in front of a great Atlanta crowd.

“The level of play on the field was really, really high this past weekend,” said Hustle Head Coach Miranda Knowles, who knows a thing or two about high-level play having won several gold medals at international championship events in her playing days. “New York matches up against our zones better than other teams, but we were still able to get the disc. Their defense is crafty and athletic, probably as good as DC, but our O finally leveled up and is playing closer to our potential.”

The Empire actually led 12-11 at halftime, in large part thanks to gigantic buzzer beating grabs from Jeff Babbitt and Ben Jagt at the end of the first and second quarters, respectively. But Atlanta registered two breaks in the third and another on the first point of the fourth, building an 18-15 lead with 10 minutes to play. 

“We already knew we could beat this team defensively,” said Antoine Davis, who unquestionably delivered his best game as a member of the Hustle, with six goals and three assists. “It was a matter of if our offense/I could show up to the table. After some good discussions and adjustments during the week, our offense and I played at the highest level we have played this season. But we are not even close to reaching our potential yet.”

The only time New York broke Atlanta’s O-line in the second half came with about four minutes left, when the Empire dropped the pull on their own goal line, forcing the Hustle to scurry 80 yards and then work from the sideline. Jagt and Marques Brownlee set a towering double-team mark, and Brownlee deflected John Stubbs’ hammer. Still, Matt Smith’s soaring layout block regained possession for the Hustle, only to see Austin Taylor’s huck ping off the hands of the leaping Karl Ekwurtzel, who otherwise played a brilliant game for the Atlanta offense. Shortly thereafter, Lithio scored his fifth goal of the night, and the Empire were back within one. 

The Hustle regained their two-goal lead with a smooth 10-pass possession that should have closed it out, especially when Stubbs intercepted Katz’ blading flick with 1:23 remaining. But 20 seconds later, Jack Williams’ deflected Michael Fairley’s hammer, infusing New York with new life. Lithio found the end zone for the sixth time, and the Empire were back within one with 47 seconds left. 

Next possession: another double-team, another hammer, and another potentially catastrophic throwaway, as Babbitt picked off Player Pierce’s overly floaty cross-field shot. New York took a timeout, with plenty of time left to work it down the field and tie the game. 

“We’ll definitely be talking about how to get out of double teams in our film session [this week],” said Knowles.

From there, the Empire quickly worked it within 15 yards of the end zone with 30 seconds left, and the equalizer felt inevitable, only for the Hustle’s zone defense to slow New York’s push, deny the easy open look, and compel a last second prayer.

“I remember Jack Williams being on my side of the zone for most of the end of that possession, so he was my primary concern,” explained Kelvin Williams, recounting his recollections of the final sequence. “I wanted to try and shade his way to at least deter the disc from going up to him. Similarly, as we got under 10 seconds, Brett [Hulsmeyer] zeroed in on Ben Jagt, who was presenting himself on that same side of the zone; that left a decent whole in the back of the zone where Lithio was. 

"I can only guess that Katz wanted to hit either Williams or Jagt, but a combination of Fairley’s mark, my and Brett’s shading, and the boundary forced the last second default floater to the middle of the end zone,” Williams continued. “Once I saw Katz turn back to the middle, I knew I had a little bit of ground to make up, but thankfully the disc floated and allowed time to get there. I didn’t know exactly where Lithio was as I tried to get a position, but knew I had to try and high point the disc as early as possible. Thankfully, I was able to pop it from underneath as he was about to make the catch.”

What a finish, and what a game. The first ever AUDL matchup between New York and Atlanta, with first place at stake, immediately entered the pantheon of great regular season moments in the history of the league.

“It’s probably the biggest Hustle win ever outside of our lone playoff win in 2016, and definitely one I’ll always remember,” said Matt Smith, who’s been on the team since the franchise joined the league in 2015. “Overall, it was just a real treat to be a part of this game. The New York guys were gracious in defeat and didn’t try to make up any excuses about travel, refs, or whatever, it was just a great game under the lights with some of the best in the world out there on the field. It feels amazing that we ended on top and that we were able to share that with our fans.”

The Empire offense still scored more goals against Atlanta than anyone has this season, with Elliott Chartock, Jagt, Williams, Lithio, and Ryan Osgar all having massive statistical performances. In particular, Chartock threw for 688 yards and five assists, while Jagt and Osgar registered 502 and 496 receiving yards, respectively, two of the five highest single-game receiving totals for the entire season. But the Hustle offense only turned the disc over 14 times, their second-lowest total of the season, and Atlanta completed nine of their 12 hucks on the night.

“Even though we’ve had success this year, we still feel like we have much to prove,” said Kelvin Williams. “Not only to ourselves, but to the many naysayers. This team is hungry and is on a mission to be the best team we can be this year; knocking off the fully rostered defending champs was another stepping stone for us realizing our potential to be the best team in the league.”


As Atlanta seized control of the Atlantic in dramatic fashion, the Chicago Union did not require comparable late-game heroics to ascend back atop the Central. Instead, the Union won each of the first three quarters and never trailed in their 20-16 triumph over the Wind Chill. 

“Definitely an upwind-downwind kind of game,” said Pawel Janas, who led the Union with 474 yards and recorded five assists, one goal, and one block. “It was a nice cool breeze, which helped a lot with the oppressively high 93-degree temperature. I would say the conditions played a factor in Minnesota’s uncharacteristic and unforced mistakes, but chalking up the win to only the conditions is unfair. I think we made some small adjustments to our game plan on defense that played a role as well. Internally, we were more focused and mentally better than the last time we played them.”

Jeff Weis, who played parts of three seasons for Chicago but was not on the 2021 roster until signing in the middle of last week, led the Union with five goals in his season debut, also accumulating a team-high 224 receiving yards. Ross Barker and Jack Shanahan had solid games too, with three goals and an assist apiece.

“I only played O-points and I didn’t want to disrupt the chemistry, so I stayed in the cutter space and focused on stretching the field with legs rather than throws,” said Weis. “I think this mindset helped me battle some of the nerves too of getting pulled in for such a big game. Keep it loose, focus on churning yards, and let the playmakers do the important stuff. Stats can be deceiving—have I been talking to Pawel too much?—and while I scored a few goals, I think other cutters had more impactful games than I did. Eli [Artemakis], Danny Miller, Jeremy [Burril], and the other O players were locked in, both with their throws and their spacing. It’s really important in this league to hold and vacate the right spaces, and the Union O made it really easy for the new guy to fit it.”

Defensively, without Kurt Gibson and Peter Graffy, several other Union players also stepped up. 

Sam Kaminsky and Sam Tagle each had upwind flick hucks to convert defensive break opportunities, which was big in the absence of Kurt and Peter,” said Chicago’s Nate Goff. “Sam K has been a workhorse for this team all year and to see him have a big game in front of his hometown crowd was special. Jeff Robinson’s downwind pulls were massively impactful. He also hit a beautiful downwind shot to Charlie Furse for break conversion.”

Minnesota has prided itself on its tremendous completion rate throughout the season, always ranked among the highest in the league, but the Wind Chill completed a season-low 91.8 percent of their throws against Chicago on Saturday, while also doinking a couple discs that could have been upwind scores.

“Not our best performance, to say the least,” said Minnesota Head Coach Ben Feldman. “They handled possession and the wind better than we did the first half. We just couldn’t get any momentum going with the silly drops and mistakes. Chicago had some individuals step up big and perform well with some of their starters missing. Hats off to those individuals.”

The win improved Chicago to 7-2 and even more importantly earned the Union the head-to-head tiebreaker over the 6-2 Wind Chill by virtue of beating Minnesota twice in three matchups.  Both have big games this weekend, though Chicago certainly has the tougher test traveling to Madison, while Minnesota hosts an Indy team that has only earned wins against winless Detroit this season.

“I fully expect this to be an anomaly of a game,” said Wind Chill Captain Brandon Matis. “The ball is still in our court to make this season what we want it to be. We have a Game of the Week again Indy this week at home, and you can bank on us being motivated to pull a 180 from this past week and get a big dub in front of a home crowd and national audience. Hopefully, that gives us some momentum moving into the proverbial fourth quarter of the season’s schedule. We put ourselves in a good position taking two from Madison and one from Chicago in the early season—now we just have to keep growing and finish strong.”


Meanwhile, in the West Division, San Diego significantly boosted its odds of hosting a playoff game by salvaging a split of their Texas weekend, outscoring Austin 19-10 after the Sol jumped out 4-0 and scored seven of the game’s first nine goals. Dallas also made a statement by closing strong against the Growlers on Friday night, though the win for the already injury-ravaged Roughnecks may have come at a steep cost.

Let’s start with Saturday, and the Growlers’ offense getting broken four consecutive times to start the first quarter. The Sol were hot, San Diego was flat, and it sure felt like a rout in the making. 

“Starting with four breaks was exhilarating,” said Austin Captain Evan Swiatek. “Our D-line has shown they can convert break opportunities all season, and that was a perfect example.”

In retrospect, the league-mandated heat timeouts that gave both teams additional rest throughout the game may have been critically important for the Growlers in terms of slowing down the game and enabling San Diego to make adjustments. 

“The feeling when we fell behind was a little bit of shock and a lot of frustration,” said Growlers Head Coach Kevin Stuart. “Luckily, we had those built-in timeouts because of the heat; I think it allowed us to catch our breath a little bit and refocus. We came out sluggish and Austin jumped on us, but believe it or not, we all believed we were going to get back in the game.”

San Diego began its comeback midway through the second quarter, breaking the Sol offense a couple times to inch back within two. But Connor DeLuna’s highlight-reel snag with 13 seconds left in the half broke the Growlers again, upping Austin’s lead back to four, and it was 11-7 at halftime. 

“I don’t think there was any doubt from our sideline that we could get back into the Austin game, even after going down four breaks to start,” said San Diego veteran Dom Leggio. “We have a ton of trust in our defense to generate turns, and they stepped to the plate as they have all season long. At halftime when we were down 11-7, Michael Tran told us the break train was coming and it was going to be 11-11 in no time. The fortune teller he is, we made it 11-11 and we were right back in it.”

The third quarter turned out to be just like the first, but the two teams traded roles. Whereas the Growlers’ offense could do little right in the opening period, they began the second half with a 20-second possession, as Lior Givol hucked to Jesse Cohen for the quick strike score. From there, the Growlers’ D-line took over, stunningly matching Austin’s first-quarter spree with four straight breaks of their own. 

Reggie Sung’s huck found Wes Groth with 5:21 left in the third to put San Diego up 12-11, the Growlers’ first lead of the night. They never trailed again.

“Once we got within two in the third quarter, our energy level just shot through the roof,” said Stuart. “I think the heart and character of this team was on full display on Saturday night.”

Indeed, the Growlers’ 21-17 victory in Austin put San Diego in a great position heading into their final four weeks. At 6-2, they’ve got a two game lead in the loss column over Dallas and the Growlers have three home games left along with a short trip to LA. Conversely, a loss would have left the Growlers just narrow percentage points ahead of both the Roughnecks and Sol. Now, San Diego knows a 3-1 finish clinched the top spot and the corresponding honor to host a home playoff game.

“I haven’t thought much about the playoff game yet,” said Leggio. “Our focus is on locking up the division so we have a home playoff game, which would be a huge advantage. We have a ton of respect for Dallas, and if the stars align for a playoff matchup against them, we would feel confident.”

And while the Sol were down after getting outscored 14-6 in the second half on Saturday, they are far from out. With just two games left, Austin still controls its destiny, and the Sol can earn a playoff berth by winning their last two home games against San Jose and Dallas.

Of course, the Roughnecks look to be finally rounding into form too, even though their 19-15 victory over San Diego on Friday came at a price. Chase Cunningham and Jay Froude left the game with injuries, and there’s also the reality that Kyle Henke, despite his Honor Roll-worthy performance, had likely suited up for his final game of the season. 

“It is bittersweet that finally we’re moving in the right direction, but not being able to be a part of it on the field [moving forward] is pretty difficult,” said Henke, who planned to have surgery today to repair a fractured scaphoid bone in his left wrist that was not healing properly.

He suffered the injury in the Roughnecks’ first matchup with San Diego, back on June 26. Ironically, he thought he would be out for four weeks, but then consulted with other medical specialists who decided he could keep playing in the cast. But the possibility of the wrist not healing properly was always lingering and unrelated to his choice to play. And so instead of being back on the field four weeks after the injury, his 2021 swan song was to deliver a typical Henke highlight-reel and help his team get a huge confidence-building victory. 

Henke tallied three goals, three assists, and three blocks in the Roughnecks’ victory, in which they closed on a 9-4 run to create separation after nearly three full quarters of gripping, highly competitive ultimate. The struggling Dallas offense finally found its groove, with Gabe Hernandez initiating most possessions and Kaplan Maurer becoming an important target downfield alongside Henke, Carson Wilder, and Thomas Slack.

Hernandez, in particular, has excelled since shifting over to O-line after the loss in Seattle. He completed 82-of-83 passes in the win at San Jose and then went 67-for-68 against San Diego this past Friday. 

“[Gabe’s] just a mesh guy,” said Henke. “He’s a guy that gets the disc moving and allows our cutters to move the disc side-to-side and ultimately downfield. You gotta move horizontally to move vertically, and we know that, we just hadn’t been able to execute it until Gabe took hold. I think Dalton [Smith] was that guy, but we needed someone else.”

Interestingly, the Roughnecks are optimistic that Smith and current Roughnecks Captain Zach Marbach, who combined have played one point this season, both may be ready to return to the field this weekend for Dallas’ penultimate regular season game against the Spiders. On the flip-side, Abe Coffin is expected to miss some time after breaking his wrist against San Jose, and Froude suffered a break in his upper forearm against San Diego, taking him out of the mix for the foreseeable future. Cunningham’s injury, initially thought to be quite serious, might not be as bad as originally feared, though he said he would not know for sure until an appointment this Friday. The fact that maybe Dallas is gaining some playmakers while also losing others did not stop Roughnecks Head Coach Jim Davis from joking postgame that Dallas’s ultimate destiny was to make it to Championship Weekend, but only have 14 healthy bodies available by the time that climactic September experience rolls around. 

It remains to be seen whether the Roughnecks, Growlers, or Sol will emerge from the West, but Week 8 offered optimistic outcomes for two of the three, while Austin does some soul searching to see if they can rise back into the mix in their final games. 

“We have been talking a lot about growing pains, and how uncomfortable those can be,” said Swiatek. “Getting so close to chalking up key wins against strong teams like Dallas and San Diego has been both exciting and validating, but those moments have also siphoned a bit of our focus away from the measures of success that we had decided were important at the beginning of the season. We are a young team, lots of rookies, myself included—of course, there will be opportunities to improve and we expected that coming in. The only way to effectively implement those adjustments is to reinforce our foundations first. This next week will be about realigning to our priorities.”

Seven On The Line

  1. Jeff and Danny Landesman, the first-year Los Angeles Aviators’ head coach and budding 20-year-old star following in Dad’s footsteps, respectively, have had an indescribably tough last 10 days. Shortly before LA’s Week 7 game against Austin, Jeff learned that his father, Bill, had suddenly passed away. “He instilled in me a passion for sports, life, and family,” Jeff wrote in an emotional Facebook post one day after a loss to the Sol that might otherwise have been called a heartbreaker, only for life to excruciatingly put that and any game into perspective for what it is, just another game. Still, less than a week later, the Landesmans led the Aviators up to Seattle and San Jose this past weekend for a doubleheader where the games were simultaneously inconsequential and also the most important things in those particular moments. “At the beginning of our warmup in Seattle, Jeff shared their family’s loss with the team and expressed a lot of gratitude that he was getting to be a part of our team this year,” said Aviators’ Captain Sam Fontaine. “I think that conversation brought us together as a team and showed how much love and support we have for each other. There was a special feeling about the weekend after that.” The Aviators delivered their strongest performance of the season on Friday night against the Cascades, jumping in front 3-1 and never trailing for a second in their 21-16 win. “It was exactly what we needed,” said Jeff, after coaching with a heavy heart. “This is exactly how I knew we could play all season.”

    LA’s offense was only broken once in the first three and half quarters and only twice in the entire game, and while the whole team played well, certainly one individual performance rose above the rest. Quite simply, Danny Landesman dazzled against the Cascades, with five goals, five assists, one block, and no turns, finishing a career-best +11. Then, the 20-year-old scored seven more goals, dished two assists, and added another block on Saturday as the Aviators, who entered the weekend at 1-5, outlasted San Jose on Saturday, 20-18, to sweep the weekend road trip. “[Xavier] Charles giving Jeff the disc after we beat Seattle was an awesome moment,” said Fontaine. “Danny having two breakout games and carrying the offense with his consistent playmaking seemed really fitting. Everything just fell into place and we finally got the consistent 48-minute performances we’ve been building towards all season.”

  2. Of course, the Aviators were not the only team to sweep a doubleheader in Week 8. The Ottawa Outlaws were arguably an even unlikelier candidate to earn two wins this past weekend, but in the first Canadian Cup contests of the summer, the Outlaws, a team that has gone 8-32 in their past three seasons, beat Toronto at home and Montreal on the road, sending shockwaves from Nova Scotia to the Yukon with their expectation shattering victories. Veteran handler Nick Boucher authored a historic video game-esque 888 passing yards as the Outlaws won a shootout over the Rush, 27-24 on Saturday, the franchise’s first every victory over Toronto after 15 previous losses.

    Then, one day later, Ottawa’s defense delivered 15 blocks and the offense sizzled too in a 26-19 triumph over the Royal. “I definitely felt like I was playing well, but I didn’t quite realize how well,” said Boucher, who finished with an insane 1,791 yards across the two games, 1,223 of which came against the Rush on Saturday, when he also had 11 assists. “This [Toronto] game felt like every throw I made just kept working out, and the receivers seemed to win every 60/40 throw that went up. Our cutting lineup was composed entirely of players who like to threaten deep, and with the perfect conditions, it was really a thrower’s dream, and luckily we were able to capitalize on all our hucks. The stats said we were 15-for-15, which seems like a once in a lifetime stat, and was just what we needed to finally take down the Rush.” Sunday in Montreal was much windier, but the Royal D-line never broke Ottawa’s O in 10 chances. Alec Arsenault also enjoyed a huge statistical weekend for the Outlaws, with 10 goals, six assists, and just under 1,000 total yards, but those numbers paled in comparison to Boucher’s, who may have experienced handling nirvana on Saturday against the Rush. Players on Toronto and Montreal were grateful to get back on the field, though they bemoaned the lack of pressure they put on Ottawa’s stars. “Even as an All-Star, Alec is still underrated across the league,” said Rush veteran and fellow 2019 All-Star Cam Harris. “He has all the tools to influence the game, and he did it again Saturday. Boucher has always been a big thrower for the Outlaws, and he really found his rhythm against us early and carried it through the entire game. We gave them both, and the rest of the team, a little too much space to operate offensively and we let them get comfortable.” All three Canadian teams are off in Week 9, with Toronto traveling to Montreal and the Royal venturing to Ottawa as the schedule for Week 10.

  3. While the Outlaws were able to end their long losing streak against Toronto, the Detroit Mechanix’ even longer losing streak still rages on. Although they covered the 6.5 point spread, the Mechanix dropped their 46th consecutive game on Saturday against Indianapolis, falling 18-13 against a shorthanded AlleyCats team that took the field determined not to be the team that lost to Detroit. “We had gotten word that Detroit had done stuff like put up a billboard and was really advertising that this was going to be the game they ended their streak,” said Indy’s Cam Brock. “We didn’t appreciate that, so some guys joked about making shirts that said ‘Keep the Streak’ since Detroit was going to give out shirts to fans when they broke the streak. And thus, the shirts were made…I should clarify that I have no idea if there was actually a billboard put up, but it definitely seemed to us that everyone was hopping on the train of Detroit breaking their losing streak against us.” Without O-line mainstays like Travis Carpenter and Levi Jacobs, Cody Curran and Xavier Payne led the AlleyCats, as Curran finished +8 and Payne threw for 362 yards. Brock scored two goals, the 513th and 514th of his career, as the AlleyCats improved to 3-7. “We’d like to be a little cleaner with the disc, but it was a great to get back in the W column,” added Brock. “Hopefully we can carry that into next weekend in Minnesota with a considerably tougher opponent. Minnesota will be fighting for their playoff lives, so we know we’re in for a tough game.”

  4. And in the highest-scoring game on U.S. soil this past weekend, the Boston Glory got back in the win column with a 26-23 victory in Tampa Bay. As has often been the case for the Glory throughout the season, Ben Sadok and Tanner Halkyard led the offensive attack, with Sadok accumulating 588 yards with six assists while Halkyard contributed six goals, four assists, and three blocks. “I was expecting perfection from our O-line, and it seemed like we were hitting our groove consistently with high caliber decisions,” said Halkyard, who became the first player in the AUDL this season with multiple double-digit plus/minus games. Cannons handler Bobby Ley also had a huge statistical game, throwing 10 assists and accumulating 926 yards, including 639 throwing yards. If not for Boucher’s performance against Toronto, Ley would have set the new season record for total yards in a game.

  5. Frankly, as has already been chronicled but still may be deserving of added emphasis, it was an absolutely absurd weekend statistically. The top three throwing yardage performances of the season and the top three non-Andrew Sjogren receiving yardage performances of the season all occurred on Saturday. The only one that hasn’t already been mentioned in the Toss was Toronto’s Mike Mackenzie finished with 506 receiving yards in the Rush’s loss at Ottawa. That’s four more receiving yards than Jagt had against Atlanta and the most that anyone has had in a game this year, except for Detroit’s Sjogren, who had 542 at indoor Indy and 521 in Minnesota. Although it came in a loss, that did not diminish Mackenzie’s performance in the eyes of his teammates. “Mike is an absolute physical freak of nature,” said Cam Harris. “Regardless of who we play he is going to be able to put up some cartoonish numbers if he stays on our O-line.” Indeed, cartoonish numbers were all but ubiquitous in Week 8.

  6. In perhaps a more meaningful long-term statistical achievement, Atlanta’s Matt Smith scored three goals on Saturday against New York, moving him into second place all-time behind Indy’s Brock on the all-time goal scoring chart. Smith now has 288 in his 89 career games, two goals beyond retired (for the moment, at least) AlleyCat Keenan Plew, who had 286 in his 116 career games. “There’s exactly zero percent chance that I’lll pass Cameron, so it looks like I’ve gotten as high as I’ll get in that count,” said Smith. Indeed, Brock is still 226 goals ahead of Smith, who will forever be intertwined for their longevity, goal-scoring prowess, and for that one time Ultiworld editor Charlie Eisenhood mistook Brock for Smith at 2019 Championship Weekend. Alas, while Brock’s record will stand for the foreseeable future, Atlanta’s all-time leading goal scorer now has 264 goals for the Hustle and also 24 goals for the long-since-defunct Rhode Island Rampage during the AUDL’s inaugural 2012 season.

  7. At the top of the column, I mentioned that Dallas and Atlanta were the only road teams to win this week among U.S. teams. Add in the Canadian contingent and home teams went 3-7 in Week 8, by far the roughest weekend of the season for home squads. I’ve got no brilliant hypothesis for why this is happening, but after home teams went 33-16 in the first five weeks of the season, they have gone just 12-17 over the past three weekends. Something to think about as we spend perhaps too much time hyping home-field advantage down the stretch. Certainly, it matters, but who knows exactly how much? It’s certainly not an insurmountable blockade. In each of the past four postseasons, at least one team earned a playoff victory on the road to qualify for Championship Weekend.

The Hammer

It’s all downhill from here.

I am of course referring to Lepler’s Locks, the arrogantly and alliteratively-named segment where I am now picking games against the spread as a part of the AUDL’s partnership with DraftKings. Throughout much of the season, I have tried to prognosticate the results of various categories in the DraftKings Free-to-Play pool, but the pressure ratchets up to a whole new level when my selections could be construed as actual advice that aspiring sharps may utilize in their financial endeavors.

If only my name was Gary. 

“Gary’s Guesses” sounds far less pompous and irrationally confident than “Lepler’s Locks.” And “Evan’s Estimates” probably would not inspire overwhelming belief in my supposed brilliance either. 

Alas, I will continue to use my knowledge and instincts to make the best suggestions I can, but I fully understand that it’s possible I’ll never again match my initial performance, which was published on DraftKings DK Nation site last Friday. I wish I could say I confidently knew what was going to happen, but I will admit I was super nervous about my Chicago pick upon seeing the final Union roster that was without Graffy, Gibson, Pat Shriwise, Keegan North, Paul Arters, and others. Similarly, I had the shakes riding with the Mechanix, even though that turned out to be a winner too, along with my pick of Dallas over San Diego.

Of course, these “Locks” are just my best guesses, as I’m forbidden from actually wagering on AUDL games myself due to my relationship with the league. Even if I were allowed to gamble, I strongly doubt that I would, as I have never found any joy or excitement in having money on an event that I’m watching. As corny as it sounds, I want to appreciate the game, and if I even have five bucks on a particular outcome, it changes the way I will watch and generally diminish my experience. But that’s just me, and I understand I’m the exception. 

So while I do take a small measure of pride in my 3-0 weekend, I also acknowledge that there’s certainly some beginner’s luck involved here, and I’m just as likely to go 1-for-3 or (gulp) 0-for-3 this coming weekend. Keep that in mind as you take my advice. 
With all that said, if I do go 3-0 again next week, I might just have to put my picks behind paywall.

The only certainty is that it’s almost August, and the last seven weeks of the 2021 AUDL journey will be memorable and fun. My picks may go downhill, but the action on the field will undoubtedly crescendo.