The top three seeds advance, but not without intrigue.
October 5, 2021 by Patrick Stegemoeller and Charlie Eisenhood in Recap with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s 2021 coverage of the club men’s division is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.
DEVENS, Mass. — A spectacular early fall weekend set the stage for a bid-rich Northeast Regionals to qualify three teams from the men’s division to the 2021 National Championships. With an unusual format and hopefulness in the air, there was plenty of buzz at the fields first thing Saturday morning.
Saturday: PoNY Returns to Form
The Men’s preliminary bracket was largely chalk at the top, with the top four of New York PoNY, Amherst Sprout, Boston DiG, and Boston Big Wrench all holding seed. The biggest surprise may have been the scoreline of PoNY’s placement win over Sprout.
At the previous Northeast Regionals in 2019, Sprout pushed New York to the brink and nearly knocked them into the backdoor bracket in semifinals. This year, PoNY left no doubt, carving Sprout up 15-6. It could have been an even wider margin, as PoNY’s defense, looking healthy for the first time all season, was forcing turnovers with ease and failed to take advantage of a few break chances. Despite a tough regular season, PoNY seemed to find their top gear on Saturday at Devens and kept it rolling into the bracket on Sunday.
Sunday: New York Back On Top of the Northeast, Sprout Controversially Avoids Upset En Route to Securing the Final Bid
While Saturday and Sunday saw some shuffling of positions lower on the board, the top four seeds all ended up finishing in order, with a commanding performance from PoNY leading the way.
PoNY stomped New York Shade 13-2 in quarters and Big Wrench 13-3 in semis to qualify for Nationals. On the other side of the bracket, Dig and Sprout met in an anticipated game-to-go semifinal. Both offenses were crisp throughout — or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the defenses were lackluster. Dig was able to take advantage of a midfield miscue from Sprout to get the game’s first break to go up 6-4, but the real momentum play came after Dig’s O-line turned it over on their next possession. A slightly floaty swing pass from the Sprout D-line was tipped and then caught on a layout for a Callahan from Josh “Cricket” Markette in what was easily the play of the game and one of the best of the weekend. Dig’s O-line rode that momentum and went the rest of the first half without surrendering a break.
Ben Ayres kept making huge plays to keep Sprout close, though. Eventually, Amherst’s intensity on defense dialed up, with layouts nearly turning into blocks at multiple points. Finally, that pressure forced a high stall crossfield hammer that floated: Sprout got the crucial block. A risky huck later and they punched in a clever ‘box out scoober’ at the front cone to tie the game at 11 a piece.
But Sol Rueschemeyer-Bailey was determined to regain the advantage for Dig, and he orchestrated a beautiful D-line possession to put them back up by two at 13-11. A poor short field turnover from Sprout all but sealed it, and Dig clinched a Nationals berth with a 15-12 win.
In the final against PoNY, they did not fare so well. Though their defense picked it up, especially in the red zone, they struggled to take advantage of the break chances that an increasingly windy day provided. New York’s deep game looked much improved with Ben Jagt in the lineup after he missed most of the season due to commitments to the AUDL’s New York Empire, and given second chances at holds, PoNY’s offense was able to keep DiG at arm’s length. The Dig offense was much shakier against the pressure from the PoNY D-line, and they barely held their early points.
PoNY’s Jack Hatchett had a fantastic game: he got the D-line its first break after picking off a floaty backhand and then going deep the other direction for the bookends score. Later in the first half, he threw the assist to Ben Katz to put New York up three. From there, PoNY was in cruise control; they won 15-10.
Their offense is not yet where it needs to be to compete for a championship in San Diego, but they looked much improved across the board from earlier this year. The additions of Jagt, Katz, and Marques Brownlee have clearly made an impact, and Conrad Schloer’s return to the D-line is almost as crucial as Jagt’s return to the offense.
The win gave PoNY their second Northeast Regional title, putting them one in front of GOAT and giving them the most of any active men’s team1. As coach Bryan Jones said after the game, winning back the regional title felt good, but they have some work to do if they want to reclaim their national title as well. “The message in the huddle was, we can celebrate this for 15 minutes, then we have to get hungry again,” he said.
Although Sprout ultimately earned the third bid with a fairly comfortable 13-10 win over Big Wrench (a game that was never really in doubt), they very nearly didn’t even make it into the game-to-go. Mission Hill Iditarod — a Northeastern-based club team — barely snuck past Shade to get into the backdoor semis, where they proceeded to give Sprout everything they could handle. Iditarod was up multiple breaks in the second half, taking advantage of a sluggish early performance from Sprout, who may have been looking ahead to the game-to-go.
Players started flocking to the sideline as the word spread that Sprout — the heavy favorite to earn the third bid — might get knocked out.
Iditarod was up 11-9 before giving up the hold and then break to Sprout. It seemed like the story would be coming to an end. But the Iditarod O-line was nails. They got a clean hold to go up 12-11 in a game to 13. After Sprout held, Iditarod scored on a huge sky off a hanger to go up 13-12, which should have ended the game. However, they thought they need to play overtime, not a part of the new 12th edition rules, and so the contest continued.2 Sprout held to tie it at 13-13. Now, the time cap meant that it was universe point.
Iditarod centered up the pull and sent a massive trust throw down to the front cone of the endzone. Caught, inches from a goal. Timeout on the cone.
Coming out of the timeout, Iditarod attempted to center the disc with a tricky inside backhand that had to be dug out by star player Ben Field. Conflicting calls ensued, with Sprout players insisting that the disc was down while Field maintained that it was up. Eventually, Field deferred to the perspective of the Sprout defenders, resulting in a turnover.
Here’s the video of the play:
After the game, Ultiworld asked Iditarod player-coach Tim Bobrowski what happened in the discussion. “There were two guys on their team who we felt had best perspective, and it’s tough when you are catching one of those discs to see that kind of thing,” he said. “Ultimately, those two guys on Sprout were adamant that it was down, and I know a lot of those guys and that they aren’t cheaters or anything, they are just here to play the game the right way. So I said to Ben, if we want to get that disc back, we should go play defense.”
Sprout pounced on the lifeline they had been given and quickly worked the full 70 to put in a game-winning break that kept them alive and on the road to Nationals.
Boston teams have dominated the region for decades ↩
Footnote: The same scenario played out to Iditarod’s advantage in the previous game, as Shade scored to make it 13-12, which would have ended the game but for the rules confusion. Iditarod held and broke to win that one 14-13. ↩