Auburn went on an inspired run on Sunday in Florida.
March 7, 2016 by Daniel Prentice in Coverage, News, Recap with 5 comments
TALLAHASSEE — In a thriller of a finals match, Auburn topped UNC-Wilmington 14-13 on double game point to win the Tally Classic on Sunday. Auburn’s top players went toe-to-toe with Wilmington’s more recognizable names and won just enough matchups to come out on top, claiming the type of win that can define a team’s season.
The game started as positively as it could have for Wilmington. On the first point, Charlie Lian got big to intercept an under cut and generate UNCW’s second break chance of the point. Lian subsequently found Jake Gallagher for the score and early 1-0 advantage.
On the ensuing point, Auburn continued to cough up the disc with another multi-turn point. But the Aetos O-line played tremendous defense to prevent the Seamen from moving the disc out of their own red zone and they were eventually able to get the hold.
The teams traded holds before Wilmington handler Kevin Mateer threw an interception into Auburn’s poachy lane defense. Quick work by the Auburn D-line turned the possession into a break to get things back on serve at 3-2. Auburn broke again three points later when Garris Bugg stuffed a Willie Stewart throw on Wilmington’s goal line and Martin Newman got horizontal to clean up a macked block in the end zone.
The break gave Auburn a 5-3 advantage, but Wilmington responded well. Both teams traded holds again to 6-5, when Wilmington ramped up the defensive pressure. Erik Esposto, in particular, came up big a number of times, causing turns with good positioning and some nice layouts. Wilmington broke twice on the final four points of the half to go into the break with an 8-7 lead.
The intensity out of half was a bit lacking, and both teams came out with relatively easy holds to 9-8. But a Wilmington misthrow directly off the pull led to a very short field for Auburn to snag an easy upwind break and level the game at nine.
The two squads traded holds again, but the intensity began to noticeably increase. At 10-10, a Stewart throw into the turf led to yet another short field for Auburn. Wilmington’s O-line defense allowed nothing downfield and pushed Auburn back the other way, until Matt Mason got a huge layout block to get the disc back for his offense. Auburn appeared to have earned another break chance, but a contested foul call kept the disc in Wilmington’s possession and they held a few throws later.
With the game winding down, both teams began putting their best players on nearly every point. Jack Williams, Xavier Maxstadt, Austin McGrayne, Lian, and Esposto were the rocks for Wilmington, while Ryan Landry, Evan Boecking, Martin Newman, Blake Galloway, Michael Volz, and Eric Sjostrom were heavily relied on by Auburn.
With UNCW up 11-10, Gallagher got a block in his own end zone to create a crucial break chance. Maxstadt picked up at the goal line and immediately called timeout. Out of the break, Wilmington looked to run a designed huck play, but Landry got a massive hand block to get possession back for his offense and the hold.
An easy point for Wilmington offense followed to set up the biggest point of the game. Auburn got sloppy on offense and a miscommunication led to a throw directly to a Wilmington defender. Maxstadt received the disc at midfield and effortlessly floated a back hand huck to McGrayne into the end zone. Wilmington celebrated the score, before realizing McGrayne had made the catch out of bounds.
On the ensuing possession, again Auburn turned it, dropping a pass a bit behind the intended target. This time it was Williams’ turn to huck it just out the back. Auburn, having twice seen its life flash before its eyes, attacked deep after playing small ball for much of the second half. McGrayne exhibited tremendous acceleration to beat two Auburn cutters to the shot down field, but was only able to mac the disc up into the air. Auburn caught the floating disc and used a three-on-one advantage in the red zone to score and tie it at 12.
Auburn, still needing a break, mixed up their defense, throwing a zone. Aetos missed on a couple of near blocks, but the Seamen worked the disc to beyond midfield, where an inexplicable Mason hammer into coverage resulted in a turn. Auburn patiently worked the disc the length of the field for a massive break to go up 13-12 with the game capped at 14.
UNCW recorded an easy hold to set up double game point. Wilmington played its best downfield defense of the game. Auburn struggled to find any sort of space downfield and eventually had to settle for a high stall, bladey flick to space. Williams, who was relatively quiet for much of the game, layed out at a 45 degree angle to get a chest high block. Maxstadt picked up the disc on his own goal line and again called timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, stellar downfield defense from the Auburn O-line forced Maxstadt to hold the disc into the later seconds of the stall count and, for the second time in the half, Landry came up with a colossal hand block. Auburn quickly picked up and scored for the win.
Though he elected to not give a full interview after the game, Wilmington coach Greg Vassar did offer praise for the Auburn performance in the upset. “They kicked [our] asses,” he said. “Auburn played great.”
Truthfully, both teams did. The game could have gone either way and both teams were evenly matched throughout, but where Auburn excelled was its O-line defense. Aetos did not play many clean points on offense, but when they turned the disc over, they limited Wilmington’s stars and prevented them from ever getting that back-breaking score. “Ryan Landry with two hand blocks on one of the top throwers in the country says a lot,” said Auburn coach Stephen Brandon on his offense’s defensive performance. “Our O-line really played incredible defense when they had to.”
Landry complimented his team’s defensive effort as well. “We were flatting [Maxstadt] because we were aware of his throwing ability,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gotten those hand blocks if the guys downfield weren’t doing their job playing defense as well.” Landry’s hand blocks were arguably the biggest plays of the game, and were the two of the few plays that could have resulted in a Wilmington win had they gone the other way.
As it was, Auburn did pull out the victory in a game that was back-and-forth the entire way.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Brandon. “This team has come a long way…to see this happen is seeing a lot of people’s hard work come to fruition.”
Landry echoed a similar sentiment. “It feels rewarding,” he said. “This team works really hard…It’s nice to see the hard work over the years culminate and it’s nice to be on top of a crop of good teams.”
In past years, a win at Tally Classic would not be described in that way. But against an unusually loaded field, Auburn saved its best for Sunday and more than held their own against one of the best programs in the country in the final.
In an instant classic game, in which both teams made game-winning caliber plays, Auburn came out on top and firmly announced themselves as a team that can not just play with – but beat – the top teams in the country.