By: Tony Leonardo
“It was like toe to toe with a fighter you know,” spoke Johnny Bravo coach Jim Schoettler after his team’s big loss to Austin Doublewide, 15-9. “They punched us first, and we never got up.”
“Our offense wasn’t connecting all year,” continued Schoettler. “Hoping it comes together means you’re behind the eight ball already. We needed to pick a system, and a lot of that is my fault. I wasn’t able to get our guys pointed in the same direction.”
And with that, last year’s semifinalists and the overall five seed bowed out.
“There were match ups we wanted to use,” cited Doublewide coach Steven Darroh, the D-line coordinator. “100 percent, this is the best we’ve played with up-wind plays on the D line. For D against Bravo, for every pull play, we had a guy either in the lane or placed over to sag.”
The game was close at 6-5 Doublewide before two straight breaks took Doublewide to half, 8-5. Next up: an intriguing match with Florida United.
“We know what to expect with Florida’s four-man cup,” Darroh continued. “And our O is really clicking. I think we will be able to score every time downwind.”
Also, it should be noted in the narrative themes of this return to Sarasota that Florida’s Chris Gibson and Cole Sullivan and Coach Van Auken face off against the team they won Nationals with here in 2012. On that Doublewide team, Dalton Smith, Jeff Loskorn and Rory Orloff were among the champs.
“They are the most familiar team here with what they think is the way to beat our zone,” credited Van Auken. “Dalton and [Jeff] Loskorn are going to be able to put it up into the wind. This team is going to play the same way we are.”
And welcome to quarters, New York PoNY! It’s been some years, some many years since PoNY formed in 2002 and never have they made it this far. Quarters doesn’t seem all that impressive, does it? But it is – and now they face the big dogs in San Francisco Revolver. I haven’t even mentioned Revolver as they’ve cruised through their pool as the overall number one and are positioned perfectly for another run to the finals.
“I guess we’ll see if junk works,” PoNY co-coach Bryan Jones said, half-jokingly. The knock on Revolver has been that their O has been inconsistent this season and that sag, clam, junk, funky zone defenses have been able to create turnovers from the SF O line.
“We’ll put [Chris] Kocher on [Grant] Lindsley. I watched all of the footage. We’re going to give this a shot,” Jones said. For the record, Kocher and Lindsley were World Games teammates who won gold in Poland this summer for the U.S. National Team.
Let me backtrack – PoNY had the big late lead in their pre-quarterfinal, up two, and they had THREE chances to move the disc downfield to ice this game away against regional rival Toronto GOAT. Then a drop at midfield on a dump. An easy overthrow short field with a third of the field, and a laser turn from the goal line pretty much handed GOAT the up-wind score, which they dutifully converted, and then the downwind, and next thing you know, all the pressure was back on New York at 12 all, double-game point; they have the disc to score and…turn it. Ben Jagt makes a monster layout block to get it back, and they move into the end zone; too far for Keegan? Or he got clipped on the hand? Foul call, disc goes back, PoNY works it around, Kocher finds Mike Brenner, and the game is over.
“The monkey is off our back!” says New York.
As a tall man myself, I ask 6’6” Ben Jagt about laying out. “It’s true, I don’t layout often, but it’s universe point, so I had to.”
GOAT Coach Sachin Raina, for his part, was disappointed and thought the end zone call was the wrong call. But he also said they had the disc to score to win and didn’t convert. “This is the better location, Sarasota. It’s great for our guys to be down here, to play this level of competition and really, this is where this tournament should be.”
GOAT moves down, PoNY moves up and on.
In other games, you might have seen the livestream of Ring of Fire versus Chicago Machine. Simply put, Raleigh ran away with this game. Up 8-3 at half, they never looked back, Chicago never got in sync. Ring wins 15-7. No surprise there.
Truck Stop back and forth game against High Five. Their D was very good, cites Ultiworld’s Pat Stegmoeller, referring to D.C. There was a five-goal Truck Stop run and a three-goal High Five run, but at the end, the turning point came after High Five’s Michael Meilstrup beautiful backhand upwind huck would have gave them a big break and brought the game to one, down 11-12 BUT – a drop. Truck goes back the other way for the hold, 13-10 to D.C., and the game was sealed.
Quarters are set: Revolver v. PoNY. Ring of Fire takes on Dig – amazingly Dig won this game on double-game point at the NY Invite a month and a half ago, and they are sporting 1999 championship logo Death or Glory shirts – can they channel DoG, and beat Ring of Fire in the big game?
QUARTERS: RING OF FIRE-DIG / REVOLVER-PONY
It wasn’t like you knew this game was locked up when Dig took a 2-0 lead, 3-2 lead, then 5-2 lead, then 5-3 and they bomb a beautiful disc upwind to a streaking Rocco Linehan, and he has a step and the disc is on a platter, but Ring’s Nate Goff doesn’t give up, and his full 6’4” frame makes the bid and…strip? Foul? Clean? Call is made. Linehan seemed to have been able to get it clean. Observer Mitch Dengler trailing the play, and he can’t see enough of the contact to make a ruling one way or another, so it goes back. Forty-five yards back to be precise, Dig working against the wind and…
Five passes maybe, a turn, Ring scores downwind. They are still down two breaks. Dig turns it over next point, short field; Ring converts upwind. Ring converts the downwind next. Now it’s 6-5, Ring – game is on serve. Dig holds. Ring holds. Ring puts Jon Nethercutt on the D line. They get a turn. Work it up, and Ring scores, Sol Yanuck to Eric Taylor for half, Ring up 8-5.
Coming out of half, Ring breaks by going downwind. Dig hold. Nethecutt laces an amazing inside-out hip swing flick 50 yards into the wind down the seam, and Noah Saul tracks it down and makes the catch and gets his wind knocked out. But they convert after Henry Fisher digs out a low throw for a break and score. Another big Ring of Fire score came from a monster backhand upwind jack from Nethercutt to Bob Liu, and that seemed the back-breaker.
Dig runs off three in a row late – this is what they do – but on Ring’s first downwind hold chance on offense for the game, they make it so – Matt Gouche-Hanas dime balls a back-corner backhand shot over Jeff Babbitt to Goose Helton for the comeback W, and Ring of Fire moves on to the semifinals once again, and once again, they face San Francisco Revolver.
I ask Nethercutt after the game how he’s able to get these throws off with such accuracy, against such wind. “Goose and I, before every game, we throw for 30 minutes. I’m always throwing. You never know which of those throws we practice will come in use during a game, maybe one of 20 we throw.
“They let me throw it a lot in this one [referring to the green light from his coaches], and if you don’t hit it right with this wind, it looks way wrong.”
“He’s the best thrower in the wind in the game,” credited Dig assistant coach Chris Shaikh. “We had different players on him, but he throws those shoulder fakes and…he’s just really good.”
“The magic ran out,” sighed Shaikh at the end.
I spoke with Donovan Award winner Henry Babcock, a great addition to this Dig team and a really smooth young player with power and length – how did he join up?
“After a couple of years not playing elite level, I decided to look at some other opportunities. I played with Noah Backer and Thomas Edmunds together on our YCC mixed team from Maine, Rising Tide, we got third then second at YCC,” related Babcock. “I was excited to find that easygoing, fun camaraderie at this elite level with this Dig team and have been so excited to join them.”
For a young Dig team who had a run there again at the end, it just wasn’t to be against a team in Ring who has been down big before and didn’t panic. The turning point absolutely was the upwind score opportunity that got called back to the thrower – until then, they were playing fearless, fast, efficient, and afterwards just a step behind while Ring of Fire was just getting started.
“Early on, they trapped and poached us on the high side,” related Ring O-line coach David Allison. “We had to adjust, and once we settled down and Nethercutt could see what was available, and we could change the angle of attack, I felt pretty confident.”
“We’ve played in 90-degree heat all season, so our conditioning was good, and [Dig] looked like the heat and humidity might have gotten to them a bit,” said Allison.
Last year, this same Ring of Fire team rode through pre-quarters all the way to semis and up a break or two on Revolver before Revolver took back the lead and then double-game point went to San Francisco: Now we have the chance to see that game again. Round Two: 2017.
“They play really good dump defense,” says Allison. “If they are going to offer us to huck it, we will indulge them.”
I ask him if this year is something different, a strong opportunity, they might be peaking maybe?
“This is a program that wants to keep taking steps forward. We want to be a dynasty, we want to be in the mix for the championship every year, contesting to win. Not much different than Revolver. They don’t care that they didn’t win last year, they are focused on the opportunity now.”
Speaking of Revolver, well, that dump defense and their own dynasty is in full form. They defeated New York PoNY 15-4.
What happened, I ask PoNY’s David Vuckovich. “I don’t know.”
“It was crazy. We had trouble resetting the disc, and our hucks weren’t completed.”
He looked…kind of in shock still.
Don’t expect that from Ring of Fire tomorrow. But don’t expect Revolver to be anything less than awesome, either.
QUARTERS: IRONSIDE-TRUCK STOP / FLORIDA UNITED-DOUBLEWIDE
Ghost Ship Ironside has set sail for the tumbling sun – they lost in quarters today, 14-10 to Washington, D.C. Truck Stop. But the carnage won’t end there. The aging core won’t be super likely to return after this disappointment, and the younger studs in the Boston area are playing on another team – Dig. The writing is on the wall. I’m not sure the Ship can take on much more water.
Kurt Gibson is living in Chicago, Josh Markette wants to play again, Will Neff is on the fence, and the stars in their prime – guys like Jay Clark, John Stubbs, Jack Hatchett and Tyler Chan among them – have some hard decisions ahead in the off-season. The team will be theirs if they want it. Or they can see what Dig’s up to, and who knows, maybe Dig wants to make a serious run at Nationals? Maybe not?
Come to think of it, maybe we’ll find out soon – the teams square off for the fifth-place game Saturday and for the top team in Boston 2018. Back to the game.
I ask Will Neff if Truck Stop’s youth exposed Ironside and ran them off the field. Was Ironside weak on depth? “I don’t think that’s who our team is. I think this team is far deeper. We didn’t sub that way in this game.”
Strong words from the player-captain who’s accomplished all in a storied career. “The history of Ironside creates a level of wisdom and a winning DNA. But at the same time, we underperformed in this game. We’ve underperformed in the past too. But going into this off-season, I’d say I have a reflective mindset.”
“It seems like this team might be moving on,” says Markette. It was unclear if he meant the team would abandon the older players and give control to the younger kids or if the team itself would fold.
But right now, this season, belongs to the ascendant Washington, D.C. Truck Stop.
“It just seemed they were close to flawless out there,” credited Ironside’s Kurt Gibson. “They are athletic and smart and took advantage. We missed having [William] Dean (who left yesterday, reason unknown) and Jack Hatchett [out with a meniscus tear from yesterday] on D. And then on O, I didn’t see a lot of movement downfield. The offense was stagnant. You just have to tip your hat to them.”
“We keep trying to find our groove for this tournament,” related Truck Stop coach Darryl Stanley, also in charge of the O. “We want to make small adjustments, fix little things, not change personnel or make big changes.”
Stanley is only in his first year, but the team’s enthusiasm and the depth of the roster – they withstood the loss of Alan Kolick and Joe Freund for this tournament – has clearly been effective. This team just has that kind of ebullient chemistry and youth that, if managed right, can be infectious and world-beating.
At game time, Stanley started his team off with one mantra for Ironside: high tempo. “We wanted every pass to be within two or three seconds. And it worked.”
They went upwind for the game’s first score, 1-0. “Then Will’s [Coach Smolinski]’s D came down and got two breaks [one was a Callahan]. They really brought it.”
So Truck Stop went up 3-0, and turns out, the Truck O line was only broken once all game. Add it up, and maybe they won the game on the first three points. U.S. World Games player Nicky Spiva was a big part.
After several Spiva turns yesterday on a game point that Truck Stop’s O line lost to Dig, I ask him how he recovered the confidence to be such a force out there – Spiva was crackling upwind and downwind bombs from all directions for Truck.
“A lot was about finding my timing in the wind,” said Spiva. “The humidity and heat – I had to calibrate my grip on the disc, and our coaches like me to play with more pace. But most of all, I was able to stay loose. We had so much fight on our O line playing defense that it always felt like we could get a turnover back, and it just allows me to make big throws with confidence.”
Which is precisely what he did, none bigger perhaps than an upwind flick on the same third to Tyler Monroe who was given just enough space by the Ironside D not expecting Spiva to be able to make that one. The goal gave them a 13-9 advantage.
What’s next for Truck Stop? This is a team with a serious youth surge and guys you’ve never heard of if you don’t live in the Mid-Atlantic. Maryland college players, 18-year old Jonny Frisbee (Jonny Malks) and Nate Prior, David Shields, Ryan Swift and they all played minutes. Up and down the roster, the elders delivered: Markham Shofner, Spiva, Eric “Astro” Miner, Jeff Wodatch, Nate Castine, Jonathan Neeley, Chuck Cantone. Rowan McDonnell has turned himself into a two-way universe-line player with a very well-rounded game. He gets up. He has throws. He’s close to 100 percent, and he can get blocks. This guy is a big sleeper pick for an all-star: He just makes winning plays with an extremely high rate of consistency.
Truck Stop rolls on with cheers of “Truck it up!” which plays off the Dinotrux hero action theme song that goes something like this, “Let’s trux it up! Dinotrux! Let’s go!”
Truck Stop now becomes the first men’s team from Washington, D.C. since 1994’s Chesapeake to reach the semifinals at Nationals. Don’t think it’s not a huge accomplishment already, but you feel that this team has more to give.
Maybe 10 minutes after this game wrapped, the long slog of Florida United-Doublewide finally came to an end. Maybe it wasn’t so pretty. I’ll relate what I know.
The game starts when Cole Sullivan leans in and rips it deep. The disc is tipped, and someone from Florida in the end zone scrum comes down with the disc, 1-0, United over Doublewide. Doublewide moves down the field and scores on their downwind O opportunity. Then Florida’s Sullivan again gets it and bombs it. Tipped disc, score – but it comes back on a questionable and unnecessary travel call. And thus it began.
From this point on, Florida and Doublewide, two teams that, let’s just say, know how each other are going to play, go tit for tat. The crowd loves every minute, in that heckling sort of way. “Play more ultimate! Travel! Foul!” and well, it just kept going with the fans in the stands for this stadium showdown. Many walk out. There’s a 15-20 minute long discussion off and on about maybe a travel call from Florida in retaliation? Jay Froude zips one through the four-man cup for a goal, or does he? Discussion, some TMFs, honestly I kind of lose track. Florida seems to be unspirited, but that travel call on Sullivan wasn’t a very good one, but not everyone sees all this when you just watch a bunch of super tall guys wearing Dolphins colors surround a thrower in what looks like a flash mob. Was this a 10-yard-width zone? No. Did crashers come in and make it legal? Yes. Often? No. There was a line there somewhere. The TMFs start to add up. Finally, at 4-4, the observers have had enough and instruct both teams to huddle up for reflection and spirit talks.
And the observers deliver the ultimatum: you can make calls, stop doing this or that, but if any other player argues or discusses a call when they aren’t in that play, they are getting a blue card.
So the silliness stops. But it might have been too late. For the first five or six points of the game, Florida was still using the huck-and-play-zone-D strategy going downwind. Which was not good at all – this was stadium wind. Which means only a swirly force in the end zones, much more stable mid-field. Doublewide was absolutely going to march one of those punts up for a break and convert the downwinder if they played hard D. And they did. And then Florida switched it up and worked the unders on offense going downwind, but they had already given up the break advantage, and half came at 8-6 Doublewide. Doublewide received to start the second, scored to go up 9-6, and the Ironside game beckoned, so I left.
It’s 11-11. Florida made a comeback, but Doublewide still had the break advantage and soft cap was on, game to 13. Doublewide comes downwind on O and drops one in the end zone, Brandon “Muffin” Malecek tries to relate to me what happened next, “So Dalton lays out on the goal line and Ds it with his chest when he could have I don’t know, caught it, but we bring it back, and it’s a bunch of squirrely cut. We drop it back, someone shoots it in after seven passes; it’s silly. Then Matt Bennett pulls one to the deep back corner upwind, and the first Florida pass is dropped, and our guy at the corner bends low and releases a lefty flick at stall nine that goes like a foot, and we win.”
Doublewide, a pure half HIP crew of 10 or so and half Doublewide crew of 10 or so with coaches from both teams, wins and advances to the semifinals to face Truck Stop. Doublewide has been here before, and Truck Stop knocked out the defending champions. It should be a good one.