DC Current Dominate Vancouver Nighthawks To Take Home 2014 MLU Title

No Alan Kolick? No problem. The DC Current dominated the Vancouver Nighthawks 23-17 in the 2014 MLU Championship game.

The 2014 DC Current with the MLU trophy.
Photo by Sean Carpenter — UltiPhotos.com

“I think if we play how we’ve played for the last eight games, we are going to roll this team,” the DC Current’s Rob Dulabon said on his way into the tunnel for the final time before the pull. “We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing all season.”

A statement like that minutes prior to the Major League Ultimate championship game seemed a bit bold.

Vancouver had the Western Conference defensive player of the year, Morgan Hibbert. They had the scoring champ, Brendan Wong. The Current were without arguably their best offensive weapon, Alan Kolick. This contest had to be tight. Didn’t it?

So the game then moved from paper projections and speculation to the turf at PPL Park outside of Philadelphia. What the nearly 2,500 fans in attendance at PPL Park on Saturday was an absolute drubbing as DC took the second ever MLU title from Vancouver, 23-17.

The First Half

When the Nighthawks turned it, DC made them pay. It’s really that simple.

The Current converted the first six Vancouver turnovers into breaks. Even when the Nighthawks offense was able to hold, the DC defense was still there. The first score for the Canadian squad came when Morgan Hibbert hung a lefty flick to the end zone that stayed in the air long enough to watch a Vine or two that Gagandeep Chatha was able to sky a crowd of Current defenders. A spectacular play by Chatha. That made it 2-1 with Vancouver already down two breaks – but that didn’t stop the bleeding. You got the feeling that it was going to take more plays like that for the Nighthawks to get over on the Current.

The first quarter scoring chart is pretty ugly. 1-0… 2-0… 2-1… 6-1… then 8-2 in favor of DC.

The Current receive to start the second quarter. There haven’t been many chances to look at this DC offense without handler Alan Kolick, so this point should give a good idea of what they’re able to do in his absence.

DC centers it. Then they get it to Sean Keegan on an in cut near the sideline who rips a screaming backhand huck to Jeff Wodatch who is wide open. The point lasted around 12 seconds. The DC offense hadn’t missed a beat.

At 9-2 the Current’s D line gave Vancouver’s offense the disc back for the first time, on what was the first multiple turnover point of the game. The Nighthawks give it right back so Current head coach Keven Moldenhauer puts his foot on the gas and calls time out to trot out the O line, who eventually puts it in.

When a team is down early in the game like that there’s a tendency to try to get it all back at once. There’s no two point line. You can’t get all your breaks back by making one iffy throw. Vancouver tried to do that at times in the first half. They had some questionable hammer turnovers. Some covered deep shots. A couple of nervous doinks off the hands. When you’re in that mindset of ‘one throw can get us back in the game’ before you know it the hole is twice as deep.

With the score way out of hand at halftime, 13-4, the championship game is looking like a real snoozer. DC is, in fact, rolling like Dulabon predicted.

The Second Half

For Nighthawks head coach Andrew Lugsdin this was the doomsday scenario. His O line had faltered at times earlier in the season but was able to battle through or be bailed out by their stingy D line. In the first half, neither of those things happened.

“The big thing is our O line hasn’t got the job done so we haven’t got our D line on the field very often,” Lugsdin said before the start of the third quarter. “The O line’s got to play better and we need to get a couple breaks and build from that.”

To some extent, that happened. A more lively, looser Vancouver Nighthawks that jogged out of the tunnel in the second half. This was more the Western Conference team everyone expected to see.

DC is still bringing tons of pressure with tight handler defense and marks that challenge the deep shots. But now Vancouver is at least able to trade points. With 5:46 left in the third quarter the Nighthawks defense gets a break. Their bench erupts like they blew up the second Death Star, the first real sign of life since Chatha skied to make it 2-1.

Vancouver starts clawing back and narrows the gap to four points at 16-12, then again at 17-13 on a huck with five seconds left that goes over a crowd and is cleaned up by Nighthawks captain Kevin Underhill to end the third quarter.

Down by four and with the Current defense adjusting to give deep help, after a few minutes ticked off the clock in the fourth it became clear that there wasn’t enough time for a real comeback.

Vancouver didn’t roll over. Kevin Greer had himself a nice game with 6 points. Morgan Hibbert gave us a Morgan Hibbert layout D at 20-16 with the game out of reach. The Nighthawks played it hard to the wire and showed a lot of pride.

That said, DC was on fire. There wasn’t an MLU player watching this game from home that wanted any piece of that Current team in the first half. DC was prepared, they were focused, and they were bringing pressure from all sides. The coaching staff had their team fully ready for anything Vancouver could throw at them and, above all else, the players executed.

The DC Defense

“I think that the D line really took on the fact that Alan [Kolick] was hurt and people spent so much time talking about that, as emphasis that ‘we are important to this team too and we can take this team on our back,'” DC Current assistant coach Will Smolinski said after the game.

Well… The Current broke eight times in the first half, flawlessly converted the first six opportunities, and made this game over by halftime. The defense definitely pulled its own weight. Here’s an nine point lead. Let’s go get a Gatorade.

The Current played hard man defense the majority of the time. Tight on the handlers. They stopped quality hucking opportunities with their marks. Vancouver’s stack was often too far away and the dump set was visibly uncomfortable.

“We knew the big thing for them was disrupting their timing,” Current assistant coach Will Smolinski said. “If you disrupt the handler movement and if you take away the deep look, they would give you some short field turns.”

That’s another interesting look DC gave; tons of fast breaking in transition. When there was a Vancouver turn, Current players were running to the disc and getting it moving.

“Towards the end of last season we started really trying to pick it up and play,” Smolinski said. “Still possession oriented but you need to pick it up and kind of see what’s there and see if you can’t score in two throws, especially on those short field turns.”

Pressure gets Ds. Then they put Vancouver’s O line on its heels with fast breaks. A huge performance by the DC defense.

The Current O Line, Sans Kolick

Could the DC offense have done that much better if Kolick had played? What on earth could the score have been?

The Current offense waded through the Nighthawks junk looks and transition. These guys just ran the system.

“Really the only change we tried to make is that the fills had to be more aware that they would probably need to be more active,” O line cutter Jeff Wodatch said. “Downfield we were basically the same. Ran all the same plays.”

It was a cohesive effort but Markham Shofner’s big second half performance earned him Player of the Game honors.

End Game

The 2014 MLU Championship really reminded me of a college football bowl game. Two teams that — though they play the same game — are fairly incomparable while watching video and have no common opponent. Sometimes that can create the right atmosphere for a big, one-sided win.

In its purest form, DC was just the better team and really showcased their depth. They got great performances from tons of different guys. Keegan, Shofner, Tom Doi got it done with the offense, while guys like Eddie Peters, Dan Kantor, Rob Dulabon, and Cody Johnston, among many others, turned in great efforts on defense. Vancouver’s O line didn’t do themselves any favors and relied heavily on their stars but they were too few.

DC also has stars. Lots of them.

The Event Itself

Hats off to the MLU administrators. Everything about the title game — before, during, and after — was top notch.

PPL Park is amazing. The sight lines, the real grass… it’s gorgeous. You could do anything in that place and it would be awesome. You could have an awkward family dinner with your extended family or have really invasive dental surgery at half field and feel okay about it. PPL Park is that nice. It’ll be interesting to see if that becomes a permanent home for the championship.

Before the game the Philadelphia Spinners ran a well attended youth clinic. There was a fan area with contests and giveaways outside before the game. The actual game probably wasn’t as close as fans would have liked but there was the custom lined field. After the game there was a huge party at a local Philly bar. The league really made an effort to make the fan experience memorable.

“It’s all about wrapping up a full day of fun for people. We wanted everyone to be able to come here have some food, have some drinks, and play some games – all before they even get into the stadium,” MLU commissioner Jeff Snader said outside the venue about two hours before the pull. “We wanted it to be all about them.”

The official attendance number for the game on the MLU’s Facebook page is 2,441. With the way the event was run I don’t see why that number can’t grow in 2015.

Notes

– Two national anthems before the championship — Oh, Canada and The Star Spangled Banner. It felt like a hockey game for a second.

– During the pre game festivities there was some kind of game where the object was to hit a pane of glass with a disc causing it to break. It was difficult. This guy in front of me does it and a couple other dudes and myself are cheering. He high fives them. I throw the hand up for the high five. You know, Ultimate solidarity. The high five never happens. I’ve never been left hanging so hard in my life. It was bad enough for other people to comment. There is no worse feeling.

– I semi-narrowly missed the $10,000 disc golf putt at halftime. It’s for the best. I would probably be in jail in Atlantic City right now, drunk and broke. I kept thinking about what would have happened had I made the shot and all that came to mind was that scene in Semi Pro when that dude makes that 10 thousand dollar free throw from the opposite foul line.

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