UNC Wilmington won their third straight tournament in the team's first ever trip to Austin for Centex.
March 16, 2015 by Charlie Eisenhood in News, Recap with 1 comments
AUSTIN — Strong offensive line defense and consistent deep pressure led UNC Wilmington to a 15-10 victory over Texas A&M in the Centex final and the team’s third straight tournament victory.
Three first half breaks opened up an 8-5 lead for UNCW that ballooned to a five point advantage in the second half. Handler Xavier Maxstadt was Wilmington’s biggest offensive weapon, finishing with four assists and even more pinpoint hucks that led quickly to scores.
“We haven’t won a major tournament since Easterns in 2008,” said UNCW coach Greg Vassar. “This is a good step for us.”
Close throughout most of a wildly entertaining first half, the game was cracked open at 4-4 with a 3-0 Wilmington run. Texas A&M had an opportunity to break, but turned it over on a deep look to the end zone. Luke Hancock walked to the disc, picked it up in the middle of the endzone, and immediately ripped an 80 yard huck to Grayson Sanner for the offensive hold.
Matt Bennett, Texas A&M’s center handler, had a break side scoober blocked on the following point, leading to a Cale Ward break score. Ward got an excellent deep D on the next A&M possession. Maxstadt walked to the disc and again Wilmington had an unmarked huck from the middle of the endzone. He connected with Jack Williams deep, which culminated in a Wilkin Hanaway scoober to Maxstadt for the 7-4 lead.
Despite giving up the breaks, A&M continued to fight and put on a show for the A&M-heavy crowd. Bennett, college’s most creative handler, was unbelievable in the final. He opened the game with a jaw-dropping 40 yard scoober that played the S-curve to a break side deep cutter, but it got called back on a pick. A few throws later, he had another amazing scoober. Travel. So he did it again, hitting Ben Lewis for the score.
He had Texas A&M’s first eight assists, often on amazing throws ranging from outside-in blading flicks to low release lefty backhands. A&M’s ninth score was a Bennett hockey assist, after he roasted his mark twice with super quick break backhands that floated into space for a striking David Smith. On the second, Smith had a wide open break side to continue for the Casey Aldridge score.
“That guy is crazy good,” said Vassar. “He’s really good and really fun to watch. Beyond his throws, his field vision is amazing. He sees things that nobody else does.”
But Bennett’s brilliance was not enough to overcome his turnovers, including a costly inside flick throwaway on the goal line on a possession that could have tied the game at 9-9. It didn’t help Bennett’s efficiency that A&M was playing without Dalton Smith, the other primary O line handler, who was out with a nagging injury. A&M coach Jose Cespedes said that Smith is a key balance for Bennett and makes the offense run smoother.
“They’re roommates, they know each other really well, and they’re not afraid to tell each other if one is doing too much,” he said.
A&M looked fatigued by the end of the game and struggled to keep up with UNC Wilmington. One late D point saw UNCW’s offense go up the open sideline in three throws for the score.
“We had a few chances to convert breaks but we had turns on the goal line,” said Cespedes. “Our legs were there to run on offense, but once the turn happened, UNCW was in shape and able to huck it and score or work it up the field and score.”
After the Bennett turnover and UNCW offensive hold to make it 9-7, Wilmington got a break after a poor foul call by Jake Gallagher against Bennett that retained possession of a disc that was sailing out the back of the endzone. Gallagher called Bennett on body contact as both players jumped, but the contact was clearly incidental and the disc was not catchable.
Gallagher caught a pass a few throws later and connected with Ward on a hammer. Hanaway got a spectacular reset block on the next point and Ward scored again to give Wilmington an insurmountable 11-7 lead.
Wilmington made it a five point lead as A&M’s fatigue really caught up with them. A swing pass turnover gave UNCW’s Rick Hennighausen a wide open deep cut and A&M was too gassed to catch up. Charlie Lian ran to the disc as an A&M player stood over the disc, intentionally impeding Lian’s ability to pick it up. Lian finally picked it up and, undeterred, launched a hammer to Hennighausen for the break.
During an ensuing timeout, both coaches barked at their players for the chippy play and Bennett could be heard yelling, “We don’t do this! We are the good guys! We play our game, not theirs!”
Texas A&M started loosening up their lines at that point and Wilmington cruised to the win.
“We had a ton of turns but their o line was great at defense,” Bennett reflected after the game. “On the other side our O line just didn’t have the legs. We played good offense, but in the instance that we did turn it we were too tired to play d and prevent the break. It was a great game and I really look forward to playing them later in the year.”
Despite the wide margin of victory, it was not a flawless win for Wilmington, who went down a break early before jumping ahead. “Offense was not as efficient as we need to be,” said Vassar. “We had too many multi-possession points. We were able to get the disc back a lot, but we’ve got to get better.”
UNC Wilmington is now on a 23 game winning streak, but they haven’t faced a top five team since #1 Pittsburgh at Carolina Kickoff in January, where they lost 13-9. Texas A&M became the second team to beat UNC in a semifinal, then fall to UNC Wilmington in a final after Massachusetts did the same back at Queen City Tune Up in early February.
Texas A&M won’t play again until the Series. UNC Wilmington will take the field again at their home tournament, Easterns, in two weeks.