By: Louis Zatzman
Two thrilling double-game point semifinals ended with New York and San Francisco on top. The two heavyweights will clash in the finals, but it will be a third game between the two teams this year. They’ve both won one game, but New York’s thrilling win over Revolver took place in the finals of the Pro Championships. The finals of the National Championships await.
(3) New York PoNY – 12
(2) Seattle Sockeye – 11
After winning two games by only two in pool play, followed by a double-game point win against Chicago Machine in quarters, New York was ready for a close one against Sockeye. Despite falling behind early in a physical game full of heated conversations, PoNY climbed back into the game and won – again – on double-game point, this time to clinch their spot in the finals.
After getting nerves out of the way on the second point – which featured a Matt Rehder drop and a Beau Kittredge double-helix hammer out of bounds – the level of play was incredibly high the rest of the way. Defenses were stiff, forcing a fair number of turns, but offenses played incredible defense of their own. New York held early on offense as Jimmy Mickle bombed hucks to Chris Kocher or flipped goals to Sean Keegan.
Seattle’s offense was equally effective, as Jacob Janin milked a huck into the end zone, and rookie Xander Cuizon Tice scooted deep umarked. Despite being a terrific defender for New York, Dylan Freechild broke Conrad Schloer’s ankles with a juke deep for an undefended huck to tie the game at threes.
PoNY coach Bryan Jones kept Schloer on Freechild, comfortable that any defender who could shut down Mickle or Kocher in practice, or Kurt Gibson in quarters, could hold his own against Freechild. Schloer’s success later in the game, taking away easy gainers, was a huge advantage for New York.
In the first half, New York’s offense was glacial, taking forever to score against speedy Sockeye defenders. Seattle, meanwhile, held quickly. Eventually, Seattle was able to convert that momentum to the scoreboard.
The first break of the day didn’t come until midway through the first half, when Sam Little threw the disc away on a swing. Sockeye patiently dumped and swung the disc all the way down the field to take the lead 5-4.
In the second half, New York’s defense eventually wore on Seattle.
“We’re a defensively oriented team. That’s been since last year. One of our core values, and really our primary goal, is to be the best defensive team in the country,” said handler Harper Garvey. “My favorite part of this team is watching the D line play defense.”
Garvey even made an incredible defensive play of his own. After a Mickle huck with no one cutting, Seattle sent the disc back the other way on a deep shot. Garvey caught up to the play and blocked the shot as a help defender. The ensuing New York hold brought the game to a 7-7 tie.
Seattle took half on an incredible play as Trent Dillon threw a full-field huck to Rehder. Despite a clear foul from an out-of-position Kittredge (who earned a PMF for his trouble), Rehder held on to the disc to keep Sockeye in the driver’s seat.
New York roared out of half with a break of their own, patiently swinging the disc around the end zone before Kittredge flipped in a goal to Ben Katz. They broke again on the next point as a Freechild huck sailed out of bounds. A Ben Jagt flick to Tyler Haskell gave New York the lead 9-8. They wouldn’t look back.
Both team’s stars managed key offensive holds over the next several points. Rehder dominated in the air for Seattle, while Garvey hucks kept New York ahead. With the game tied 10-10, Jimmy Mickle launched a flick huck to Jagt in double coverage. With Trent Dillon trailing, Jagt leapt earlier than anyone, catching the disc fully outstretched. His waist was above his defenders’ heads.
“That was incredible. We call Ben the spider sometimes, and that’s why. He gets up there, and his arms and legs are all over the place. He’s flipping over people,” said Garvey.
“That’s got to be an iconic catch,” said Sean Keegan. “It reminds me of that still you see of Nord going over someone in college. He’s at a point where no one else has thought about jumping. It’s a game-saving catch, one of the hugest moments in the sport.”
New York earned a chance to win the game with a break on the next point, but Kittredge dished a reset to empty space. Tied at 11, with the game to 12, Seattle played nearly perfect defense. Every reset was pressured, and every cut was marked.
“I think we executed our game plan pretty well on that last point,” said Seattle’s Trent Dillon, who was playing defense on the final point. “You want to bend, don’t break. You want to make them throw a lot of passes, and into tight windows, and that’s what we did. Maybe we try that same style on another point, and we get a turn. Maybe we don’t, but that’s the game plan we subscribe to that got us a lead in the first half. It just didn’t pan out.”
New York was up to the task. They slowly worked the disc down the field before Garvey unexpectedly raced past his man into the end zone.
“I’m getting emotional thinking about it,” said Keegan of Garvey’s final play. “All year, Harper’s taken on significantly less than he’s had to for other teams. He’s talked all year about how he hasn’t felt he’s had to do much, taken a back seat to guys like Jimmy, Kocher, and even me at times. When I saw the disc go up, and him open with the space, just the feeling of elation, and pride and joy and relief that we had won. I couldn’t be happier.”
(1) San Francisco Revolver – 15
(2) Raleigh Ring of Fire – 14
Another scare, another close game, but Saturday evening eventually yielded another Revolver victory. The third time in three years that Revolver has faced Ring of Fire in the semifinals of National Championships yielded the same result, as Revolver won on a thrilling double-game point layout from Simon Higgins. He was the only one in the stadium who called it gratuitous.
“It was going to be one of those awkward clap catches on your knees kind of things, where you look ugly, so I decided to…not,” laughed Higgins.
Early on, it seemed that Ring of Fire might finally top their nemesis from San Francisco, as Revolver committed turnovers on both of their first two points. While they recovered on their first offensive point, as Antoine Davis skied Jacob Fairfax to reclaim the disc, Ring scored an early break on their next opportunity as Noah Saul was wide open in the end zone. Revolver admitted that their poor play was due to early nerves.
“You always have nerves going into a game. If you don’t, then you’re not aware of the situation you’re in,” said Cassidy Rasmussen.
It took more than settling down for Revolver to fight back into the game. They had to start investing emotionally; early on, Ring of Fire’s passion far outweighed Revolver’s.
“If the guys on the team want to win a game, they’ll figure out at some point that it’s important to them, and they’ll bring some emotion into the equation,” said Revolver coach Mike Payne.
George Stubbs saved Revolver on the fourth point, as a huck to him floated too long; however, Stubbs skied two Ring defenders to secure the desperate hold.
Meanwhile, Ring of Fire was scoring easily on their offensive holds. Henry Fisher struck deep on the first point, easily hauling in a Jack Williams huck. Goose Helton secured a huck from Dillon Lanier on the next Ring offensive point, giving Ring a 4-2 lead. Revolver straits became even more desperate when Ring broke yet again on the following point. Jacob Fairfax beat Grant Lindsley twice on defense to force turns, and David Richardson punched in the goal to Tim McAllister.
Ring of Fire could easily have broken on the following point, as they took possession of the disc but carelessly threw it away in a handler set. Though the ensuing Ring zone was effective, Revolver scored by lobbing a disc just over the giant Mischa Freystaetter’s outstretched arms.
Down 5-3, Revolver regained their focus. A variety of their turns had been unforced – either poorly chosen hucks or swings out of reach of handlers. They stopped making mistakes on offense, while their defense started taking away Ring’s easy deep shots. They flattened their marks, and Eli Kerns took away hucking lanes from Jonathan Nethercutt.
Revolver nearly scored a break on the following point, but Greg Cohen dropped the disc trying to drag his feet in the front of the end zone. It didn’t matter. Revolver still held the next point easily on a Joel Schlachet run, and then Revolver broke twice. Cassidy Rasmussen blocked a deep shot to Jack Williams before Eli Kerns struck deep. The following point saw Nick Stuart swallow a Nethercutt huck to Freystaetter before Byron Liu found himself uncovered in the end zone. Within only a few minutes, Revolver had tied the game at six apiece.
Though Ring eventually righted the ship and took half 8-7, Revolver had survived their best shot. Raleigh failed to win the game when they had the chances early, and it bit them later.
Revolver forced another break a few moments after half, as Helton turfed what should have been an easy goal. Once again, Ring’s offense failed to put up any resistance before Lucas Dallmann caught a goal to put Revolver ahead 9-8. Dallmann showed up, unexpectedly, to play today following the very recent happy birth of twins into his family. A few points later, Raleigh continued trying to force hucks, and their eventual ill-chosen shot sailed out of bounds. Revolver’s deep defenders excelled at taking away any open lanes for Raleigh’s deep cutters. With the reigning champs up 11-9, Ring of Fire was teetering; however, they still had fight in them.
Ring desperately needed a quick offensive hold, and Nethercutt responded with a full-field bomb to Freystaetter. The quick hold gave Ring’s defense life, and their energy was rewarded when Antoine Davis threw the disc behind a cutter. Williams beat Davis to the short cone, and the game was quickly tied at 11.
Grant Lindsley took over for Revolver’s offense on the following point, throwing an inside break with his backhand to open up the field. In general, Revolver players used that inside break a number of times late in the game to effectively break Ring’s zone. Ring desperately needed to hold, and their energy fizzled when Helton tried to pitch the disc to Henry Fisher on a give-go, but Fisher tried to cut deep. The turn allowed Revolver to scoot ahead 13-11.
The teams traded holds until 14-13. Revolver had two offensive chances to score one goal, which is more than enough for a team as disciplined as Revolver.
“I have no memory whatsoever of who said what,” said Lindsley “I kind of blackout in those moments. But I remember the silent feeling of playing in those two points. There wasn’t doubt. I just remember a silent feeling of focus.”
To their credit, Ring made the end of the game thrilling. They scored a break before throwing a zone for the last point. Revolver had trouble moving the disc forward, but eventually Grant Lindsley found the disc with Simon Higgins flying deep. It was a small window and probably too risky a shot, but Lindsley didn’t hesitate.
“From my perspective, it was iffy,” said Lindsley, ironically. “But the past is the past, so I can’t change it.”
“I think it was a good decision, yes,” said Payne. “The guy [Higgins] is a big target.”
Next up for Revolver is PoNY, who is one of the two teams to have beaten San Francisco this year. Revolver thrashed Sub Zero – the only other team to which they’ve lost this year – in pool play, and they’ll get a chance to complete their quest for revenge tomorrow.
Pro Flight Bracket
(12) Minneapolis Sub Zero – 15
(5) Vancouver Furious George – 13
(13) Michigan High Five – 15
(9) Chicago Machine – 13
Kurt Gibson carried Machine for much of the game against High Five. He either caught or assisted on all of Machine’s first eight goals. High Five’s team effort was too much, especially with how cleanly their offense finished. Machine’s defense had trouble creating chances, finishing with zero break goals for the game.
Ryan Osgar was incredibly impressive for Sub Zero, finishing with two goals and six assists. Early in the game, Alex Simmons and Cole Jurek recorded blocks on consecutive break goals for Minneapolis. The two-goal advantage lasted for the remainder of the game.