On the back of an offense that refused to turn over the disc, and a defense that maximized the strengths of all twenty players on the roster, the Raleigh Flyers claimed the 2021 AUDL Championship with a dominant victory over the New York Empire to cap off a celebratory Championship Weekend.
September 13, 2021 by Alex Rubin in Recap with 0 comments
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WASHINGTON, DC—With a masterful offensive performance, the Raleigh Flyers clinched the 2021 AUDL Championship by defeating the New York Empire 19-16. This is Raleigh’s first title in franchise history and the first competitive adult men’s division title for a Raleigh area team.
The Flyers came into the game riding high following their overtime victory over the Chicago Union in Friday night’s semifinal – also their first in franchise history. In each of the past three seasons, Raleigh lost to Dallas in the divisional playoff game. During their sole Championship Weekend appearance in 2015, the Flyers lost to the Madison Radicals 22-19. Many of the Flyers play on the club team Raleigh Ring of Fire, which has lost in the semifinal round at Club Nationals each season since 2016 and has never made the final.
New York had an easier time defeating San Diego in their semifinal on Friday and retained their same rested, healthy active roster. The Empire, of course, began the game as the defending champions, though Raleigh was hoping they would not retain that title for too long.
In their Saturday morning press conferences, each team expressed confidence in their own play and respect for their opponents. The Flyers hoped to force New York’s dominant receivers to make tough throws, while the Empire were focused on slowing down Raleigh’s handler movement.
In front of an energetic crowd at Audi Field, New York threw an early punch when Allan Laviolette’s inside break throw sailed past the reach of his intended receiver. Ben Katz picked up the disc and tossed a blading flick to Ryan Drost for the Empire to score a break on the game’s first point. Sol Yanuck hammered to escape the Empire pressure on the next point, and it was clear from the get go that both teams were prepared for a high-level game. Raleigh came out in a saggy zone look that forced New York to slow down — the third point of the game took nearly five minutes of game time, even though possession changed hands just twice. Each team settled into its offense, but the fireworks weren’t over yet. With 19 seconds left in the first quarter, Eric Taylor launched a spinning outside-in pull that Katz dropped in his own end zone. Jacob Fairfax showed off his fancy footwork to hop a swing pass over the endzone line and the Flyers got their break back and took a 5-4 lead out of the first quarter.
New York held to start the second quarter, narrowly evading a poaching Elijah Long. The Empire threw a zone that flummoxed the Flyers, forcing them to inch their way up the field or complete tough over the tops. Jeff Babbitt knocked down a cross field shot, but, after a time out, McAllister, who joined the team straight from his honeymoon for the final, laid out to block a New York reset intended for Jack Williams and the Flyers held, though not without some worry. Both teams had excellent defensive game plans that forced the other offense out of its preferred style of play, but each offense seemed just as comfortable turning to their Plan B or C or D to get the score.
“Against most teams this year, there has always been the understanding that even if we’re not open downfield, me and Matt [Gouchoe-Hanas] and [An]ders [Juengst] are just going to sort it out in the backfield and we really stuck to that the whole game,” Sol Yanuck said. “There were some tense moments, but I don’t think that they generated a ton of pressure on our dumps.”
Both teams held out the duration of the first half, which ended in a flurry. Raleigh’s Anders Juengst threw to Fairfax on the back line of the end zone with 29 seconds left, hoping to keep their on-serve advantage, but New York zigzagged quickly through the Raleigh zone and the game went into halftime tied at 8-8.
In a game this tight, it seemed like those marginal moments – the zone breaking throws at the end of quarters or the high-spin pull that is tough to catch – would make all the difference.
Each team held twice to open the second half through a variety of looks employed by both defenses. With just over six minutes left in the third quarter, Seth Weaver poached an upline throw for a block and the Flyers called an immediate time out, recognizing the importance of a break. Eric Taylor broke open the Empire defense with a hammer to Mitchell, who continued to Juengst in the end zone to give Raleigh the first multi-goal lead of the game at 12-10.
After a pair of holds, the game took on a helter-skelter feel. The Flyers’s Alex Davis baited a deep shot and blocked Jon Lithio’s bending huck to Ryan Osgar. The Flyers hunted another break, moving quickly up the field, but Babbitt laid out to block a swing pass mid-flight. New York closed in on the goal. With a lot of pressure around the disc, the Empire were forced to take an over the top shot and Yanuck, who entered mid-point as an injury substitution, blocked the hopeful pass. Ryan Drost got the block back, laying out to stop an under, and Josue Alorro’s hammer to Mike Drost gave New York the merciful score to claw back within one. The Flyers couldn’t get off an attempt before the buzzer on the ensuing possession and, with just one quarter left to play, Raleigh led 13-12.
Each team held to start the fourth quarter, but on their second offensive point, Osgar put a bit too much blade on his cross-field red zone shot. Bereft of timeouts, the Raleigh secondary D-line worked the disc up the field, with Connor Russell throwing an away shot to McAllister to bring Raleigh’s lead to 15-13. The Empire tried a rolling pull with a sideline trap after they scored, but the Flyers got around it without issue. As they worked their red zone set, Juengst threw a hammer to Henry Fisher, but Mike Drost smashed into him, forcing a lengthy injury stoppage. Juengst caught the breakside goal, as the game’s chippiness and physicality elevated significantly.
With just over a minute left, and New York needing to score quickly down 18-16, Williams overshot Lithio. Noah Saul picked up the turnover in his own end zone. Against a high pressure empire defense, Saul was forced to launch a desperate hammer, but Davis made a bobbling catch. A few throws later it was Davis – a player not known for his throwing process – who shot deep to Josh Hartzog, who continued to Richardson as two Raleigh lifers connected to put the nail in New York’s coffin. The Empire’s last ditch prayer was blocked and the Flyers rushed the field in jubilant celebration.
“It feels great. It’s been a long time coming,” said Flyers captain Noah Saul after the game. “I’ve worked so hard for this for so many years, and we all put so much work into this season. We all sacrificed so much not only this year but the last five or ten years. I’m happy for us, I’m happy for the team. I’m happy for North Carolina. I’m just fucking proud of the work we put in and just enjoying it right now.”
“Raleigh did a great job of playing through different styles of defenses that we threw at them,” Empire coach Charlie Hoppes said after the game. “I thought that we did a good job of trying to keep them off balance and they responded to everything we threw them. It was a really strong performance, particularly by their o line.”
New York earned just two break chances in the entire game, scoring their only break on the very first point of the game. Ryan Osgar led the team with five assists and four goals, but also had three turnovers. Williams, who was dominant in the semifinal, also had three turnovers in this game against his former franchise and was held to just two assists and two goals. Jagt was hardly king-like with two assists and three goals. Sol Rueschemeyer-Bailey stepped up into the offensive handler void with a crisp 70/71 night throwing, leading the game with 548 throwing yards.
On a night where there was so much to celebrate for the Flyers, Fairfax stood out. His two assists and five goals look great on the stat sheet, but his impact as a release valve for the offense, especially as the defense tightened around the handler corps late in the game, was vital for the Flyers success. That handler group, of course, played its best game of the season. Gouchoe-Hanas, Juengst, and Yanuck combined to go 166/168 on the game, with Yanuck throwing the two incompletions. Juengst also added three assists and four goals to cap off his breakout campaign.
All year long, Saul implored the Flyers to play with belief and confidence. Those feelings definitely showed up in come-from-behind playoff wins against DC and Chicago, but were really put under the spotlight in Raleigh’s near-perfect win in the championship game. “I say confidence is earned and I think we really earned it this year,” Saul said. “Going into this game we knew what was going to happen. We knew it was going to be tight. We knew we were just going to keep getting better every quarter, and we knew we’d have a chance to win at the end and that’s exactly what happened…there really didn’t feel like a turning point, we were just slowly building and building and building.”
“On Ring and Flyers we care a lot about heritage,” Yanuck said, when asked what this victory means to the Raleigh community. “We care a lot about the guys who came before us and there’s a huge generation of guys who were battling 2016 to the present to get this team to where it is now, and there’s a lot of us on the team who also have been building from below the surface to get the team to where it is now…that doesn’t happen overnight. That happens with investment in the community. That starts with Mike [DeNardis], that starts with [Jonathon Nethercutt] and that tree cascades down from there.”
“I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Yanuck continued. “I feel confident that we are the best area for men’s ultimate in the country because the program is integrated, everybody is on the same page, everyone plays to the same standard, and nobody takes reps off…this team showed that we were deeper and we had more options than other teams. That was because of that investment and the tide is just rising. This is the crest of a wave that is on the way up.”