By Bailey Saul
Friday, June 4, 2021
PHILADELPHIA - South Philadelphia welcomed the Philadelphia Phoenix to their new venue at The South Philly Super Site as the newest team to call the neighborhood home. In front of easily their largest crowd ever, they opened their 2021 AUDL season Friday night on a nice turf field at the stadium on 10th just north of Packer Ave. The crowd gave them all the love and support they needed, welcoming Pro Ultimate back after almost 2 years with a gutsy game.
While much of the cast has changed on both teams since 2019, some familiar names on each side had large impacts on the game as the Phoenix made up a one goal deficit at half to come back for the win, 21-16.
As the game started it was evident there had been a long layoff, as players and refs all took a few series to shake off the rust and get their game legs and heads in sync with the pace of a pro ultimate game. The Phoenix applied good defensive pressure off the pull and Tampa should have turned it over on their third throw but a sideline overthrow was scooped up by Adam Vinson for the Cannons 15 yards farther down field with his toes at the line, and they scored their first goal two throws later with a nice cross field flick in under 30 seconds.
The Phoenix barely missed answering with a Sean Mott huck from midfield to three receivers only to see it D’d up by the lone defender, Unmil Patel of the Cannons. Sands, Martin and 19 year old Pitt rookie Scott Heyman were all in the area but came up empty. But Tampa turned it back over after quickly getting to the Phoenix 20, with a high hammer to the end zone that allowed Philly’s D to knock the disc down and head back the other way. New handler and deep threat Alex Thorne, a two time college Nationals Champion Pitt alum I’ve had the pleasure of watching since (full disclosure) he and my youngest son Isaac played on those 2012 and ‘13 Pitt teams that won Nationals, and Mott, Phoenix assist leader the last three years of his now six with the team, directed the offense to midfield where second year Phoenix player (and fellow Pennsbury High alum of Mott’s) Marc Sands, threw an almost identical deep flick to the first Tampa goal, hitting wide open veteran Eric Martin in stride for an easy Phoenix score that only took 25 seconds.
As a quick personal note, it was about here I got that little thrill at seeing the art of a great play by a guy I’ve watched since high school, that reminded me how long it had been since I’d even been with my ultimate homies, much less at a high quality game, and I must confess, I got a wee bit choked up. I have little doubt that my fellow players in the Phoenix record 750-plus turnout felt much the same way at some point in the evening, as did Dusty Rhodes doing the call of the game on AUDL.TV.
After Colin Masino got the first of his three blocks, an unforced error by Charles gave it right back and, after a foul by the thrower on the Cannon’s 40, as he hucked it for the goal, it was brought back. On the second trip down Ryan Chard of the Cannons made a diving save on a long throw to keep the point alive and Tampa scored two throws later to get to 2-1.
Philadelphia’s Dustin Damiano threw it out the sideline when his receiver hesitated for a moment, and a goal line foul by the Phoenix put the disc on the goal line in the middle, which allowed Tampa to get the first break and go up 3-1 on a short dump from Cohen to Plunkett, but Mike Arcata answered after a quick trip down field with a high, just-in-time 25 yard backhand floater to Eric Witmer that looked more risky than it turned out to be on the far sideline for the first of his team leading four assists on the night. Sean Mott also had four on a Phoenix offense that just got better as the game went on.
Tampa then came back even more quickly with an almost identical scoring pass to Adam Vinson, but for 50 yards, to the far corner. Then the Phoenix’s rookie Max Charles turfed a short throw at their own 42 and Stephen Poulos of the Cannons immediately converted it with an open shot to space for the goal to Patel and a 5-2 lead. In the past this could have been a time to get frustrated and distracted but the Philly veterans took the next possession in quickly as Mott took the pull and birthday boy Damiano broke a hard double team to find Owens in the middle, Pastor on the sideline and eventually Nardelli put the hockey assist to Arcata, who got his second assist to second year man Witmer for his second goal, 5-3.
The Phoenix defense had a long four minute, five turnover point to wind down the first quarter, as neither they nor the Seuntjens and Hiser-led Tampa offense seemed able to score. First, Tampa threw it away OB near the goal line and defensive stalwart James Pollard threw a risky flick almost 50 yards that Masino skied his defender to grab, only to throw it away with a too-high, 50-50 floater to second year AUDL player and Phoenix rookie Matt Ellis, who made a maximum effort to get through a double team but was overthrown by inches.
Tampa tried a deep throw on Pollard, who just stole it from two receivers and then ran the return point only to watch his long flick stall over an open Nick DiGiorgio and get D’d up. After a time out by Tampa that saw Nardelli, Mott, Arcata and Sands come in, Tampa returned the favor after Pollard limped off, going to the turf with no contact, when Eric Nardelli got a layout D at the Philly 43 that he jumped up and threw to Sands who gave it back and watched as Nard threw a perfect laser flick to Mike Arcata for a great catch on a well defended score for Philadelphia’s first break.
Chris Markowitz and Dusty Rhodes do a great job on the call of the game and were noting the Phoenix’s frustration early on, and the need to get at least one break back at 5-4. It looked like the next goal might be squeezed in too, after Tampa appeared to turn it with a slipped throw and 33 seconds left, but a foul I still have a hard time seeing with the benefit of replay brought it back (the ref was demonstrating it was body contact on the mark by first yea defender Nate Little). After Pennsbury Easterns champ and six year AUDL player Matt Bode threw a quick, routine goal for Tampa, Mott threw into a crowd incomplete to end the quarter at 6-4 Cannons.
Thankfully two rookies, Heyman on the throw and Max Charles with the goal, combined for the first Phoenix goal of the second quarter, (and their first ever AUDL goal and assist respectively) and almost a second after a diving tip by Jake Butrica to save a goal that was then turned back over on a long throw Allan Michel couldn’t get to. But both teams went on a turnover streak as Hiser overthrew his man near the goal line and Nardelli caught his own tip, but then Greg Martin overthrew a diving Arcata by inches, followed by Poulos throwing it away for the Cannons until finally, old Pennsbury alums Bode and Mott battled each other for a disc Mott won but was called for a foul on. Your humble reporter thought it was at least a 50-50, one of those where both guys were pushing and boxing out that seemed a clear no-call to me. This ended the first second quarter turnover fest as Tampa jumped on a still talking Phoenix team for the easy goal and a 7-5 lead.
Mott answered with a bomb to Owens who dropped it to Pastor for the next goal and got Philly back to 7-6. After another several turns by each team, Tampa got back up by two and then Arcata found A. Thorne for his first Phoenix goal to get to 8-7 Cannons. Then a nice thing happened for the Phoenix. After they invoked the integrity rule on a foul that had just been called, giving the disc back to Tampa Bay, the Cannons threw it away immediately across the end zone and Mott popped a 2 yard baby scoober to Sands for the goal to make it 9-8 at half.
The second half opened under the lights with a turn in the end zone by Tampa and then rookie Nate Little’s first goal, despite not catching it, on a foul in the end zone off Michel’s throw for the second Philly break to tie it at 9’s. Then Mott skyed a Tampa huck for the D and the Phoenix went back quickly with an Owens bomb to an open Pollard for their first lead of the game at 10-9.
The good times continued when Masino got a D-to-assist bookends, intercepting a bad pass and, a few throws later, off a nice 35 yarder from Nardelli, putting a 30 yard shot to Arcata for his second goal, an 11-9 lead and their third break in a row. After a drop at the pylon, Tampa got a Callahan for their easiest goal of the night to stop the streak and get back within one at 11-10. But a pretty, softly lofted lefty flick by Mott to Martin got it back very quickly. 12-10 Phoenix. After being down three they continued to appreciate and defend their lead with some notable vigor and great defense as the crowd got louder and louder.
After a sideline throwaway by Hiser for Tampa at about the Phoenix 25, Nate Little had an unbelievable sky of a bomb from Ellis to the 5, and a soft goal to Pastor, but the refs caused a brief delay of game as they sorted out whether there was a foul on the catch. The crowd voiced its rightful displeasure, as the play looked clean to them. Even on replay all I can think is the ref, who’s view from the end zone was partly blocked by Little himself, didn’t see the defender basically crash into him as he went up and made the catch anyway, but saw Little’s arm in the vicinity of the defender’s chest and may have assumed a shove to ward him off, when there was none. From the side, (ie bleachers) this was obvious.
In a stroke of game karma that really got the crowd invested full throttle, the disc went back to Philly’s 5 and they took a few throws to get it back down field, then Little made a high, diving catch of a cross field, almost interception for the goal anyway, and was love-mobbed by his team and pushed around excitedly until the 21 year old finally cracked a smile at his first career goal for the Phoenix. 13-10.
After Pollard returned to the game with a great pull, he and Allan Michel defended the next deep shot by Tampa, as James jumped a hair early in pursuit and watched the disc go just over his swat, but Michel, 2 steps ahead of him after poaching from the sideline cut he was covering, made the D anyway and the Phoenix came back up field. It took just two throws to find Mike Arcata on the sideline for a toes in catch at the Philly 39 and he ripped a laser flick to a streaking Sean Mott that passed him at the 25 and looked like it might get away, but Mott, flipping on the afterburners, ran it down and clap-caught it waist high, running out the back of the end zone all the way to the fence, where he posed briefly, arms and legs crossed, as the crowd jumped to its feet and roared. This was Phoenix Ultimate as we all wanted to see it! And with under four minutes left in the third quarter they were up 14-10 with the crowd really into it now.
After a workmanlike point up the field, Tampa Bay finally broke through with a Vinson catch for 14-11. But Damiano, Mott, Boyle and 4th year Bloomsburg stalwart Greg Martin worked the point back and Martin came down with a beautiful midfield flick from Dustin Damiano to get the lead back to four, 15-11.
Tampa responded again with a quick trip up field and a one toe in catch for 15-12, as both teams seemed to be finding their mid-season form and some rhythm in the game. Max Charles appeared to reel in another hot flick to the back of the end zone from Sands but a late travel call brought it back. The Phoenix worked it back as Mott and Thorne directed the point, leading to a whistle just as Thorne released a score to Sands, and it too was brought back. Finally, after a few swings, Mott found Boyle for the 16-12 lead with 15 seconds left in the third.
The Phoenix then put out the Tall Seven, with Martin, Masino, Little, Nardelli, Pollard pulling and Arcata and Mott all in to prevent the anticipated huck from Tampa. But the Tampa receiver stumbled on their third throw and Masino scooped the interception and dumped to Mott at midfield with 7 seconds on the clock and he launched it to the goal with Arcata and Nard deep. But Nardelli had it knocked away just as he got his hands on it to close the third quarter at 16-12.
Or so it seemed. After another long discussion the refs ruled a foul on the catch and awarded the disc to Arcata at the goal line. But a quick backhand to Pollard with two seconds left fell incomplete as his defender crashed into him on the near sideline. Pollard came up limping again and it looked as though another foul would be called, but after some more discussion the quarter was ruled over.
The fourth quarter began with Philadelphia having broken the Cannons 4 times and the crowd feeling good about their prospects. With Thorne and Mott running the point, Charles turfed his second of the game to turn it on a try to Alex Thorne in the end zone. But the Cannons once again were generous and gave it back on their first throw at midfield. After 3 passes, Mott overthrew Sands in the goal, who made a valiant diving stab, actually caught the disc for a moment but had it jarred loose on hitting the ground. Incredibly, Tampa once again turfed their first throw, a bad swing across the end zone, that gave it to Philly on the goal line and this time they accepted the gift to take their largest lead of the game, 17-12 with just over nine and a half minutes to go. But a Q4 turnover fest seemed possible.
And, sure enough, just when you thought things couldn’t get much better Mike Arcata came up with a steal near midfield that ended up quickly in the hands of Nate Little for his third of the night and a six goal lead at 18-12. Tampa almost turned it again, but a foul brought it back to Poulos near midfield and Tampa finally woke back up to get the next goal and make it 18-13 after Owens blocked a pass that literally fell back in Cannon Matt Bode’s lap and allowed Tampa to finish the point.
The Phoenix turned it over quickly on a Boyle turf throw that then allowed Tampa Bay to work it for several throws before Seuntjens hit his receiver, who slipped and fell as the disc once again landed on his chest for the goal at 18-14. After assuring a fellow fan that the game was over with Philadelphia up six, I was wondering if I’d been a little hasty. The next play didn’t help, as Patel snagged a Phoenix huck to the end zone and eventually also threw the goal to get Tampa back within three. Ruh roh..
As Markowitz said on the tape, Tampa was making the Phoenix sweat, and me too! Thankfully, Mott quickly threw a casual, easy backhand to a wide open Marc Sands in the goal to get back up four at 19-15 and some easier breathing by Philly fans. After an interception by di Giorgio at the Tampa 46, Witmer ended up throwing a sideline high ball to the leaping Nate Little for his team leading fourth score and a comfy 5 goal cushion at 20-15 with just over 5 minutes left. Then the Phoenix D seemed to ice the game on a deep overthrow turn by the Cannons and began working the disc to burn some time off the clock.
Philadelphia called a timeout so coach Dave Hampson could sub in some handlers and outline how they wanted to finish. He showed his trust in new guy Alex Thorne (in fairness a 4th year AUDL pro, with a season in DC and two starring in Pittsburgh) to be center handler with Mott and Sands, who then moved the disc up easily and accurately, Alex putting a dime on the sideline to set up a nice give-and-go with Sands and rookie Heyman that ended up as Heyman’s goal from Sands.
After a few turns and 3 more minutes run off the clock, Tampa scored the game’s final goal on a well worked point with just under a minute left, and Philadelphia, after outscoring the Cannons 13-7 in the second half, came away with a decisive win to open their 8th season. It looked like there was a funny trick play tried by Tampa, a short pull they placed on their own goal line for Philadelphia, with the idea that they could start the stall as soon as they placed it, and in fact thought they had gotten a stall, and more discussions ensued, but as the crowd sang Happy Birthday to a waving Dustin Damiano, the home team began celebrating their first game and win of the 2021 season.
The Phoenix were awarded the disc at the goal line after apparently calling a time out, but decided not to go for the rub it in goal despite pretty intense defensive pressure, and Mott, Sands, Thorne and Nardelli just burned the final 45 seconds off the clock with dumps and swings. Having ultimate officially back is fantastic, this was a great game, a great win and I’m looking forward to seeing the defending 2019 Champion New York Empire on Friday and giving them all they want! Same time (7:30) but a new place, a one-off appearance at the Germantown Super Site in Philly's Mount Airy neighborhood! Be there or be square!
Phoenix Team and player stat leaders:
Assists: Mott & Arcata, 4 -- Goals: Little, 4 – Blocks: Masino, 3 Completions: Mott, 41 -- Points Played: Mott, 22 – Plus/Minus: Arcata, 6
Team stats: Philadelphia led in completion percentage 92% to 90%, Offensive productivity 62% to 50%, Blocks 14 to 10 and fewest turnovers 20 to 25.
The Phoenix take on the New York Empire on Friday, June 11h at the Germantown Super Site. Tickets available here.