The championship rematch of Scandal and Fury didn't play the same as last year's, but the end result was the same.
October 21, 2014 by Keith Raynor in News, Recap with 8 comments
While last year’s blowout upset win by Washington D.C. Scandal over San Francisco Fury was a landmark triumph, it did not make for the most exciting Ultimate game ever witnessed. The setup for this season’s title match created plenty of drama: two teams playing the best Ultimate they had all year, coming off distinctly impressive – yet different – semifinals upsets. And the game delivered a very different journey with a very similar destination. Scandal’s late game performance was just enough to edge out Fury.
Just as it was the case for both semifinals, it was clear from the outset that the final would be decided by defense. The Scandal offensive unit was outperforming their opposition early on: a smooth hold started the game for D.C. while Fury’s offense needed four possessions to get a hold of their own. But where the San Francisco offense struggled, their defense supported them, Alden Fletcher landing the first blow to give Fury the 2-1 lead.
The back and forth of the game continued. Opi Payne and Sandy Jorgensen championed the Scandal defense, and Payne hit Kimberly Beach to get the reigning champs their break back. Fury responded with zone looks that generated two breaks, opening a 5-3 lead and assuring that we weren’t going to see another lopsided victory. Scandal got a break back after one of Fury’s many first half deep turnovers, and Payne added another – one of her three assists on the day – with the game tied at 7-7 to take the lead into halftime.
While the final bell and clinching score were some time away, the first few points of the second half held some of the contest’s most critical moments. Fury’s deep game – an anemic 1 for 7 in the first half – struck, with Alex Snyder depositing a shot to VY Chow for a hold. Fellow veteran Liz Duffy came up with her second block of the game to set up a Lakshmi Narayan to Ness Fajardo defensive goal to reclaim the lead, 9-8.
Payne joined the D.C. offense, and rarely left the field after that point. The Scandal leader gave the disc away on a contested throw. Fury brought the disc all the way to the goal line, but couldn’t finish in the red zone. The unforced error gave Payne the chance to redeem herself with a massive backhand bomb to Alicia White for her third goal of the match and a crucial hold that brought it back to 9-9.
Fury’s mistakes in the late game caught up with them. A Lisa Pitcaithley drop set up a gorgeous flick huck to space from Jessie O’Connor to Sandy Jorgensen for a huge Scandal break. San Francisco couldn’t hold on the next possession either, with Chow missing a wide open Maggie Ruden in the end zone. Payne later denied them the hold with an incredible deep D, outrunning Carolyn Finney in a dead sprint. Jorgensen finished the point for a second straight goal, making it 11-9. The soft cap had come on and Fury was running out of time.
The pressure mounted; the championship only a few points away from either squad. Fury desperately needed to collect themselves, and turned to star Anna Nazarov, coming over from the defensive line for most of the second half. Her impact was felt with a possession saving layout catch that helped set up a Narayan goal, 11-10 in a game to 13.
Scandal’s offense again faced a Fury zone that slowed the game down, but not as much as a series of stoppages did. Both calls and injuries unfortunately dragged out the point through hard cap, making it San Francisco’s last stand. A potential throwaway in the red zone looked like it would give hope to the Fury faithful, but Alicia White’s diving catch was instead just contested and sent back. Other turnovers on the point were overridden by calls. A few throws later, White got free in the end zone to lock in a second straight Scandal championship.
“I didn’t think we had it in the bag until the very last catch,” said Payne, who had to be informed they had won before joyously celebrating. “It feels very satisfying and gratifying that we gritted it out every step of the way.”
Payne was instrumental in the victory, tallying three assists and a goal, while rallying back from a five turnover first half. Allison Maddox, who had been planning on taking the year off and was recruited back to the team, also played a key role with her consistent defensive pressure on some of Fury’s best offensive weapons, including Snyder and Nazarov. Anne Mercier was, once again, a rock in the backfield for Scandal, despite playing just the Series with the team. She dependably got resets even in bad situations by cutting intelligently and using her body to shield the lane.
“Whenever you have someone as world class as Anne [Mercier], it’s not that hard to integrate one of the best players into any offense,” said Payne of her traveling teammate. “She brings a kind of calmness to the field. You never get the sense that she’s worried.”
Fury, in their final game under legendary Coach Matty Tsang, felt the sting of a second straight title game loss to D.C.
“It’s definitely disappointing. We had our chances and we just didn’t convert,” said Nazarov, who played a terrific game of her own. “It’s one thing to lose last year and get totally blown out, but to be in it this year, to be playing our game, and playing D like we meant…everything went to plan except for the final score.”
The edge came undoubtedly from the D.C. defense. Nazarov and Fury deep threat Claire Desmond were relegated almost entirely to defense to avoid Payne and Jorgensen; Tsang preferred to have Cree Howard yank Jorgensen out of the deep lanes. Scandal forced Fury’s offense into some lengthy points that may have contributed to their late game miscues. The intensity that powered Scandal’s first title was on full display.
Scandal was so hungry, they went back for a second serving. They leave with photos of themselves biting medals and hoisting a trophy once more. The division better hope they’re full, because an unsatisfied Scandal could build another dynasty.
An earlier version of this article said that Alicia White’s catch was ruled up by the observer. It was not. It was contested between the players and sent back.