Raleigh clicked at just the right time.
September 7, 2021 by Alex Rubin in Recap with 0 comments
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WASHINGTON DC — Exorcising playoff demons of the past, the Raleigh Flyers came back from a four-goal deficit to defeat the DC Breeze 19-16 and advance to Championship Weekend.
The Breeze entered the playoffs as the top seed in the mega-Atlantic division on the strength of impressive victories such as their toppling of New York’s multi-season undefeated run, ending Atlanta’s undefeated start to this season, and securing two one-goal victories against Raleigh.
The Flyers began this season hopeful of returning to Championship Weekend for the first time since 2015. Each year since, the Dallas Roughnecks eliminated the Flyers in the divisional final, but with the Roughnecks moving to the West division as part of 2020’s realignment, optimism was in the air in North Carolina. Even as the Flyers suffered an 0-2 start to the regular season and stumbled to a 1-2 finish, their 7-0 midseason run secured the fourth spot in the Atlantic playoffs and traveled to DC hoping to make a repeat journey the following week.
Despite Raleigh’s enthusiasm, it was the Breeze who held to start and broke early. Jeremy Hess came up with a massive sky to block a huck to Raleigh’s Jacob Fairfax. The Breeze called an early time out for their O-line to come on the field and punch in the score. Throughout the early part of the game, the story was Raleigh’s hucks missing their targets and DC’s more patient offense converting its chances. However, each team managed their holds and DC held a slim lead. As time wound down in the first quarter, Raleigh threw a zone to slow the DC offense and run out the clock. With just a few seconds left on the clock, Rowan McDonnell was forced to throw a hopeful blade to the end zone. Raleigh’s Eric Taylor deflected the disc, but Joe Richards reeled in the tip for DC and the Breeze took a 6-4 lead.
To open the second quarter, Raleigh missed on another away shot and DC earned another chance to break. After another early time out, the DC offense punched it in. On the next point, David Shields blocked an in cut and Quinn Bergeron’s floaty backhand went right past Henry Fisher, who was face guarding down field, to AJ Merriman for an 8-4 lead.
Raleigh held to stop the bleeding and Alex Davis showed off his top end speed to knock down a Malks huck and the Flyers earned their first break of the game. Over the next few points, the Flyers put on a ton of pressure on resets and forced some bad downfield throws from the Breeze. Raleigh reeled off a 5-1 run to tie the game at nine, as the Flyers showed impressive patience through the DC zone defense, especially in the red zone. A one armed David Richardson, playing with a massive cast, tipped the DC quarter-closing attempt away and the game went into halftime tied at 9-9.
“Noah [Saul], before the game — for like the whole week — was like ‘Guys, we’re going to win the game and you need to start believing it and genuinely expecting it. And be so sure that we’re going to win the game that you’ll be devastated and completely shocked if we lose.’’” Flyers’ captain Sol Yanuck recalled after the game. “And so you have the whole week of suspension of disbelief and you’re in your most conscious mindset. Then we go down 8-4. And the edges of your zone start to fray a little bit, but you know we stuck to the plan and the offense really cleaned it up in the second half and the times we didn’t we played really good defense and the [defense] was playing high-pressure defense according to the game plan for the entire game. Definitely our best and most consistent game plan for the entire year.”
Each team held its second half opener, but Raleigh’s Connor Russell blocked an underthrown McDonnell huck and the Raleigh D-line converted the break without a timeout, as Seth Weaver jumped in a dish pass for the Flyers’ first lead of the game at 11-10. The Breeze worked the clock to score last as the game went into the fourth quarter tied at 13-13 with Raleigh set to receive.
As the pressure mounted, each team secured tough holds without turnovers — the first point itself took over two minutes of game time as Raleigh worked through the Breeze zone. With just over five minutes left, Raleigh scored a crucial break to earn the insurance goal and increase their lead to 17-15 after Russell knocked down a low huck in the lane and Anders Juengst found Matt Gouchoe-Hanas. On the ensuing possession, a McDonnell huck went too far for Nissen and Raleigh called a timeout before patiently punching in the break. Elijah Long stood out for making particularly tough throws to steer Raleigh to their biggest lead of the game leading 18-15 with 2:44 left in the game. But that was just enough time for a DC comeback if the Breeze could pull off some magic.
Remember, the Flyers blew a two-goal lead with possession and 36 seconds left in the game against New York last month, but this was Raleigh’s game to win. There were some wild sequences where it looked like DC had a chance.
DC’s Merriman dropped the disc a few inches in front of the goal line as the pull, with his side trailing 18-16. Eric Taylor sprinted down the field, ready to face the double team set to try and force a quick turnover. Taylor picked up the disc and intentionally travelled, sacrificing the yards in an effort to let the offense set up. Despite the set up, a miscommunication between Taylor and Long in the reset space gave DC the turnover they wanted. Kevin Versteeg reeled in the fast break huck, but Fairfax intercepted his cross field blade in the end zone, trailing the play but timing his lane poach perfectly. Raleigh burned some clock before hitting Henry Fischer on a huck to seal the game. DC’s last ditch huck was intercepted and Raleigh ran out the clock to win 19-16. The Flyers will face Chicago at Championship Weekend back in Washington DC.
The Flyers earned their win by throwing just three turnovers in the second half and a season-low ten in the game. Their defensive conversion also stood out — Raleigh went six for eight scoring break opportunities, while DC managed to just score three of their eight opportunities. The Breeze had just four blocks in the game while Russell managed three on his own for Raleigh.
“When you get the payoff of a win like that, when you put yourself in the mindset of being so confident and so locked in, it’s a really great feeling” Yanuck said. “We’ve had such an up and down regular season that its frustrating to lose close games, but its not frustrating to know you have an opportunity to win when it matters.”
Yanuck led the offense for the Flyers, scoring three goals, three assists, and a block on 54/56 throwing while leading the game with 615 total yards. Terrance Mitchell led the Flyers with four goals and an assist.
For DC, Joe Richards tallied four goals to add to his impressive breakout campaign, but the story was the throwing execution errors from the normally stable duo of McDonnell and MVP candidate Jonny Malks. McDonnell managed five assists, but also gave away four turnovers. Malks, who had not thrown a turnover in two tight contests against Raleigh this season, had three in this game to cancel out his three assists and two goals.
“The toughest part about the loss was leaving more moments together as a team on the table,” McDonnell said. “The commitment, work ethic, and energy from the entire organization was incredibly special. I am looking forward to building off that and seeing where we go in 2022.”
“It’s awesome,” Yanuck concluded, reflecting on what the win means to the Flyers franchise. “The biggest success of the season is feeling like we’re one team on the same page. Previous teams have had cliques on the team that I feel play slightly different styles and depending on who is on the field we’re a slightly different team. This season feels like we have an integrated vision and different guys bring different flavors to that vision. And everyone is in agreement on how we’re going to get to the promised land.”