Austin Pulls an Upset, New York’s Historic Game
August 14, 2023 by Alex Rubin in Recap with 0 comments
The AUDL’s Championship Weekend kicks off on August 25th as the New York Empire, Salt Lake Shred, Minnesota Wind Chill, and Austin Sol clinched their spots at the league’s marquee event this past weekend.
New York will be the favorite. The defending champions just completed the finest offensive game in AUDL history against a good DC defense. Minnesota finally made Championship Weekend after building towards a division championship for a few years. They will join Chicago (2013), Toronto (2014), San Jose (2015), and Madison (2016, 2018) as teams to compete in a Championship Weekend in their home city. Salt Lake finished the season atop the west, taking down a resurgent Los Angeles team to clinch their first Championship Weekend appearance in team history. Likewise, Austin took down Atlanta in the only upset of the weekend.
New York Hits Playoff Mode
Wow. As I watched the brutality of the Empire machine break the plucky spirit of DC, it was tough to put into context what was unfolding. New York finished the division championship game with just four turnovers, a new AUDL record. Ben Jagt finished with an AUDL record 687 receiving yards to go with his eight goals, replacing the production of Jeff Babbitt and John Lithio, two O-line mainstays ruled out for this game. This wasn’t a matchup between a top team and a bottom dweller either. Had DC won this game, they would simply replace New York as the championship favorite.
The Breeze came into this game with a lot of confidence. They’d been building to this moment all year, knowing that the regular season was simply an appetizer for their annual trip up to New Rochelle with a spot at Championship Weekend on the line. The possibility that it could be longtime coach Darryl Stanley’s last game with the team added a hint of extra motivation–not that any was needed.
Despite the hype and excitement that DC played with, the game was all but over at the end of the first quarter. Troy Holland ran through an in-cut to force the Breeze’s first turnover with under a minute left in the frame, and DC had a perfect chance to reverse their end-of-quarter fortune. Over the past few seasons, New York has owned the last ten seconds of each quarter, with Babbitt, Jagt, and Jack Williams taking turns bringing down devastating skies. Of course, the first quarter of this game ended up like so many others have for New York against DC, with Jagt grabbing a floaty disc in the end zone to give the Empire a one-goal advantage. They’d expand on that lead, eventually winning by a whopping five goal margin, but that one goal was really all that they’d need.
DC red zone mistake, Ben Jagt cleans up the deep shot for the NY momentum shifter
📺 AUDL TV pic.twitter.com/vJ5CznDfLW
— AUDL (@theAUDL) August 12, 2023
To have a chance at pulling off a historic upset, DC needed to take every chance they could. The Empire’s historic night ensured that wouldn’t happen, but the Breeze did not step up to match the Empire’s perfection. Untimely drops from Cole Jurek and Jacques Nissen gave the Empire free break opportunities. A late-game handblock on Kevin Healey (one of Ben Katz’s two blocks in the game) didn’t help the cause either, and contributed to the Breeze’s appearance of sloppier-than-expected play.
For DC, Tyler Monroe had a dominant offensive game, racking up four goals and five assists. Jonny Malks was a two-way threat, totaling nearly 800 yards on his own. Andrew Roy and Nissen had an efficient game in the backfield, completing 91 throws between them with just a single turnover against a high-pressure New York defense.
The Breeze have all the talent to run it back and get to this game next year. Though they’ll be without Stanley, the young core of this offense1 will keep the team competitive against anyone in the league. DC will return to their familiar offseason project, getting club outfit Truck Stop (and local neighbor Virginia Vault) as far as they can in the USA Ultimate club circuit and scheming up new ways to beat New York in 2024.
Heartbreak in Atlanta
For years, the Atlanta Hustle have built themselves into an outfit that could contend for a Championship Weekend berth. Two seasons ago they were in DC’s shoes, dropping a win-and-in game in New York on a last second play. Last year they were a playoff caliber team, but didn’t make the postseason as the league only advanced two South teams. This year the Hustle were the South’s top team, hosting the divisional championship game. They took down Austin and Carolina during the regular season and looked to be firing on all cylinders with the breakout of Brett Hulsmeyer as an offensive star and the continued development of both young players (Justin Burnett, Hayden Austin-Knab, and Bobby Ley) and AUDL veterans (Matt Smith, Mischa Freystaetter, and Max Thorne).
Against Austin, Atlanta played a pretty clean game. Their offense was converting regularly even with a high-pressure Sol D-line giving them fits at times. Atlanta opened up opportunities for their preferred attack (an Austin Taylor or Ley OI flick shot across the field from the backhand sideline) time and time again. But, no matter how hard they worked, Austin always had an answer.
The gutsy play of Kyle Henke, the finishing ability of Evan Swiatek, the polish of Mark Evans, and the step-up-ability of Duncan Fitzgerald propelled the Sol to push for new heights in year three of their 2021 Three Year Plan. Though the Sol famously did not beat any teams with a winning record during the regular season, they took down division favorites in Carolina and Atlanta in consecutive games to earn their first ever Championship Weekend appearance.2
The Hustle had multiple chances to put the game away and ruin Austin’s fairytale. At the end of the 4th quarter, Atlanta had the disc as time was ticking down. With Burnett, JP Burns, Freystaetter, and Dean Ramsey all on the field there were plenty of targets to look for in the end zone. Austin-Knab was stranded near midfield though without any easy receiving options. Despite ample time left on the clock for another throw or two, he ripped a flick huck short of the end zone that tailed out of bounds. The game went to overtime.
Austin-Knab was again at the center of action at the end of overtime. His impressive interception of a huck over his head prevented what would have been Austin’s go-ahead score with about thirty seconds left. The Hustle worked the disc up to about midfield and Taylor spotted his reliable receiver Hulsmeyer with just enough separation in the back of the end zone. With seven seconds left he released a pinpoint hammer that hit Hulsmeyer right in the hands and should have sent Atlanta rushing the field with glee. He dropped it, and the game moved on to double overtime.
With the disc to start the second overtime period, the Hustle were in prime position for the third time to advance. With the disc on the goal line, scoring should have been a sure outcome. With the disc in Taylor’s hands, good things usually happen. But, his open-side flick to Austin-Knab was read perfectly by Henke who laid out to make the game-saving block for the Sol.
KYLE HENKE END ZONE REJECTION!!
📺 AUDL TV pic.twitter.com/blD8JbgBmj
— AUDL (@theAUDL) August 12, 2023
Atlanta actually did get possession back when Mark Evans’ swing to Henke hung up in the air too long and Bradley Seuntjens was able to elevate to knock it down, but Ley’s subsequent reset pass for Jeremy Langdon was blocked by Joey Wylie and the Sol had their own chance to win.
With time running down in the stall count Fitzgerald stood less than ten yards from the goal line. Four cutters stood stagnant, holding the shape of a vertical stack. As the stall crept up to six, Matt Armour snuck out across the front of the goal line; Fitzgerald lofted a flick over his shoulder, leading Armour to secure the catch in the end zone and giving the Sol a historic victory.
Austin walks it off!!
📺 AUDL TV pic.twitter.com/dOCwK4nV8R
— AUDL (@theAUDL) August 12, 2023
Austin moves on to the team’s first Championship Weekend in franchise history while Atlanta will begin a long offseason figuring out how to replicate the feat in 2024. If the Hustle can keep their team together (with players joining from far-flung locations like Florida and Alabama), there is no reason why Atlanta couldn’t put themselves in position to improve upon this year’s results and make a long-awaited debut at Championship Weekend next season.
Have a question about the AUDL? Send it in to [email protected] with AUDL Mailbag in the subject line. You can also message me on Twitter at @ StallSeven
Which team has the best chance of upsetting New York to win the title? – Charlie on Discord
Here’s your preview to the preview content coming next week. The answer is Austin. Most people will think it’s Salt Lake and they aren’t necessarily wrong. The Shred have an elite offense and if they can turn the game into a shootout they have as good a chance as anyone in the league. Let’s look at some stats: Salt Lake leads the league in scores per game and is tied with New York for fewest turnovers per game. The Empire have the edge over the Shred and Sol in blocks per game by about one. The Sol are better than anyone at converting breaks, averaging nine per game (albeit for much of the season against Dallas and Houston), and end-of-quarter nonsense notwithstanding, teams need breaks to win games.
On paper the Shred and Empire should match up well and their close Week 13 game proves it. Salt Lake will be hungry for a rematch. And that is why I think Austin might have an inside edge. New York will do its homework on both teams and come to Championship Weekend ready with a game plan for all three opponents (in case Minnesota upsets Salt Lake). At the same time, they might already be looking forward to the championship game. If Austin can come out and hang tight with the Empire in the semifinal, they have that extra bit of juice that can propel them to an unlikely victory. They’ve already upset Carolina and Atlanta in their last two games. There’s a loveable fearlessness that the Sol play with that might just be the missing ingredient against the Empire.
Kyle Henke has been on a tear the last few weeks and his game-saving plays against Atlanta were necessary for the team to succeed. Evan Swiatek is having one of the best stretches of his career on offense as well. In the kind of game in which one or two moments could make the difference, there are worse things a team could do than counting on those two to make an impact play. New York is the heavy favorite to win the entire league, but if anyone is going to stop them, it’s Austin.
News and Notes
- Salt Lake joined New York in the sub-10 turnover club with a near-perfect game against LA. Though close through three quarters, the Shred pulled away in the fourth quarter and completed their own near-perfect regular season. Jordan Kerr’s eight assists and Jace Duennebeil’s seven goals led the way.
- Minnesota broke out to an early lead against Indianapolis and held on to win their first division championship. In a sloppy game all around, Will Brandt’s 51/53 throwing performance with seven assists helped the Wind Chill clinch their spot at Championship Weekend.
- We’ll have a full preview out next week, but at Championship Weekend, the semifinal matchups will be: New York vs Austin and Salt Lake vs Minnesota. New York is the overall favorite to win. The Salt Lake/Minnesota semifinal game has a lot of promise; the Shred will be eager to earn another game against the Empire, who handed them their only loss this season, while the Wind Chill will hope to win a game in front of what will essentially be a home crowd.
|1||New York Empire||-||1|
|2||Salt Lake Shred||-||2|
|7||Los Angeles Aviators||-||7|
|11||Minnesota Wind Chill||-||11|
|19||San Diego Growlers||-||19|
Rowan is the outlier on paper but could play another decade ↩
Not too bad for a team that entered 2021 ranked 18th out of 19 teams. ↩