The Empire solidified their dynasty status with their second straight title and third in four seasons.
August 28, 2023 by Alex Rubin in Recap with 0 comments
EAGAN, Minn. — With another dominant win, the New York Empire clinched the 2023 AUDL title with a 19-12 victory over the Salt Lake Shred. New York’s accolades are nearly too many to count. The title is the Empire’s second straight title and third in the past four seasons. The Empire are riding a thirty game win streak — the win tied the league’s longest streak — with no hint of a let up. New York also rostered the most recent three MVP award winners, and has a few players in contention to win this year’s as well.
New York’s success stems from hard work and dedication its players and coaching staff put in every season. While their talent level is off the charts and their financial might dwarfs that of most other teams in the league, games are won on the field and not in roster release graphics.
“We start every year with no wins,” New York’s Ethan Fortin said after the game. “We had a bunch of tough games early in the season, which I think was part of the plan. We want the hardest schedule. We love playing in the East. We love getting challenged early in the season. Because once we’ve had those hard games, you can come here to championship weekend and no one else has had a game like that while we’ve had four or five.”
The Shred would argue that they played and won hard games to get here. They took down division favorites Colorado twice during the regular season and won a tough semifinal a night before in Minnesota against the Wind Chill and their nearly two thousand fans. They also were relishing their moment to shine on a big stage. “It’s been so fun playing with all these guys,” Salt Lake’s Chad Yorgason said. “I feel like, I mean, obviously, with Utah, a lot of us have played for a long time together. We’re all very young, and it’s been fun playing all together for years and years. And it’s really cool, honestly, just to be able to get this opportunity to come out and play here against such a great team.”
Coming off of the most dominant semifinal performance in league history, the Empire were clear favorites against Salt Lake, and they played up to their hype. “I think it’s just maybe this whole weekend, it feels like our line has just been a little bit more locked in than usual,” New York’s D-line star Bretton Tan said after the game. “But certainly about coming into this weekend, knowing what was on the line, knowing these are the biggest moments, we just decided to turn it up to 20 for some reason.”
New York rushed out to a 4-0 lead with smart, confident play. Across the sideline, the first quarter was one to forget. Sean Connole suffered two drops, and every member of the Shred O-line save Jordan Kerr had a first quarter turnover. New York was undeniable, converting nearly every opportunity with precision including scoring a callahan on an overthrown swing.
“They weren’t taking it from us,” Shred coach Bryce Merrill said. “In that eight to two run I think we had two drops and two unforced errors. Even the ones where we had, like, a nice defensive play from Chad Yorgason came back on a foul, you know, so part of it was it wasn’t a systemic thing…I think the moment was big, and we were young, and they were not.”
The Shred put together a game changing run in the second quarter. Will Selfridge handblocked Jack Williams to get the first turnover from New York’s offense. Chad Yorgason tossed a beauty of a crossfield flick that brought the score within four. Someone squinting could see a comeback brewing for the Shred. New York needed three possessions to score on their next point as the Shred defensive pressure started forcing turnovers out of New York. Tony Mouga emphatically laid out to block an inside look to Lithio which led to another Salt Lake break punctuated by a Johnny Hoffman layout.
“It’s cool to see our team make plays and come up with big plays against a great team like New York,” Chad Yorgason said. “Especially with something that can be really demoralizing coming off of a big run like that. But to see everybody stand up and take the challenge is really cool to see.”
New York is normally dominant at end of quarter situations, but the Shred defense clamped down on underneath movement and Williams’ last second huck was blocked by Joel Clutton. Salt Lake won the second quarter 4-1 to close the gap in the game to just three. New York ended the first quarter with a stunning 8-2 lead, but went into halftime up just 9-6.
“The fun thing about being on the D-line is there’s just opportunities that you can take,” Chad Yorgason said. “It’s really fun to be able to be looked to from your whole team to be able to bring something back like that.”
Each defense came out firing in the second half. The Shred forced New York to burn two and a half minutes of clock and take a time out to avoid a stall on the opening point. “One of the big things that we like to do is just make sure to make them take as much time as they can,” Chad Yorgason said. “New York is a team that really loves big plays, and really loves to really just kind of ram it down your throat a little bit. And when we were able to slow them down and really take some of that momentum out of their game, I think it really, really helped.”
New York then broke on their first opportunity of the second half. Antoine Davis levitated to block a huck to Kerr in a moment that clinched him the Championship Weekend MVP award. He registered three blocks on the night and largely kept Kerr out of the action. John Randolph, Marques Brownlee, Ethan Fortin, and Ben Katz then marshaled the D-line counterattack up the field with remarkable patience as the Empire broke once more to remain in control and stamp out any hope of a Shred comeback.
“We definitely talked about burning the offensive legs, keeping those points long” Fortin said. “Sometimes, time off the clock is more important than a break early in the game. We put in a lot of work to be in the shape we need to be in to play as much defense as we do and to have the legs on a turn…and on a turn we have seven guys who have played O-line at some point in their careers.”
Randolph in particular seems to have another gear compared to other players on the field. When the rest of the offense stagnated, he kept churning reset cut after reset cut no matter how long he needed to cut. “JR is just an absolute menace,” Tan said. “I don’t know how he does it. We could play four minutes of defense and the moment we get the disc I know he says, ‘I’m going every single other throw.’ So it’s great to have them out there.” Randolph finished the game 32/32 (good for the third highest completion total in the game) with a game high four assists while playing exclusively on D-lines.
The Empire defense suffocated the flickering hope of Salt Lake’s offense. Like they did against Austin on Friday, Empire defenders up and down the roster won their matchups and contributed to a teamwide defensive effort that held the highest scoring team in the league to just 12 goals, barely more than half of their average per game.
“It seems like because we have the maybe the greatest O-line of all time, every practice is just an absolute war,” Tan said. “Every time you step on line up against them, like to even get a chance to stop them, you got to be giving it 200%. So doing that for three hours every week for the whole season, I think that’s what brought the D-line to a whole different level.”
“Our defense was the MVP of the season,” Osgar said. “They were unbelievable. The pressure they could apply on a team like the Shred who’s a really good offense. That just gives us a ton of confidence to know that even if we make mistakes, they’re going to have our back.”
That Empire offense didn’t make too many mistakes. Osgar’s unit found success in the second half working against the loose marks of the Salt Lake defense. Multiple points finished with five or fewer throws, as Osgar, Williams, and Jagt traded opportunities to throw and run deep. Quickening the pace was a conscious decision by Salt Lake, as they looked to preserve time to give themselves more chances to come back, but their gamble did not pay off because the Empire executed efficiently in isolation when given the opportunity.
“When you get to a point where, you know, you choose between clawing back or starting to take some risks, you know they’re a low percentage risk, but sometimes the best chances we get are to isolate and create a one or two throw situation. We had to get the turn or the goal quickly,” Merrill said. “And so I think at that point, you know, I don’t really care if we lose by one or 10.”
The Shred tried changing the tempo with zones and junk looks. They tried rolling pulls out the sideline. They tried mucking up pull plays before settling into a match-up scheme. The Empire offense passed all of their tests.
On defense, Tan stood out on the field and the stat sheet. His four blocks led the game, and his high intensity marks and heads up downfield defense caused fits for the Shred offense. Davis’ closing speed was another weapon for New York. His blocks were important, but his deterrence as a defender stifled the Shred offense as throwers holstered their looks for Kerr knowing that Davis was hunting for blocks.
The Empire closed out the game with a four minute point to grow their lead to nine. The New York offense looked incredibly comfortable moving the disc back and forth across the field. They took plenty of strategic backwards passes to give themselves more space to churn reset after reset that ate up the clock. The Empire might have been able to run the entire clock out, but Osgar spotted Jagt open deep and couldn’t resist putting up a trademark blading huck and putting that point (and the entire Salt Lake fanbase) out of its misery.
The Empire can now plan their title parade and sort out how to spend their $20,000 of prize money. With much of the roster planning to return and no signs that AUDL rivals will be able to keep up with the Empire’s on- or off- field success, New York can expect to be in this position for the foreseeable future. “We won and we know how much we love winning, so I don’t think people are really going to take the foot off the gas at all,” Osgar said. “At this point we cemented ourselves as a quote-unquote dynasty or whatever, so I think we all just want to keep pushing that and see how far we can go.”
Though they’ll be upset that the final score wasn’t closer, the Shred can return to Utah with their heads held high, knowing that they just finished the most successful season in their brief franchise history. With a young, talented roster set to return, this could simply be the start of a new wave of success for Salt Lake. “We have a lot of really good, experienced players, which really leads to the benefit of all the younger players coming up as well,” Chad Yorgason said. “And I think that’s the name of the game with Utah. This is just a lot of growth in the young season. But this has been fun. I think we’re just excited to come at it again next year.”
“We’re going to build the systems, we’re going to build up the people, we’re going to build the fundamentals,” Merrill added. “And if it was good enough to get us here in year two, it tells us, the roadmap we’ve been following is decent. It’s worth building on. It’s worth, obviously, tweaking and taking it to the next step, but it feels good to get some really good feedback that we’re moving in the right direction as a community program.”
Though there is reason for optimism on the Shred sideline, there is jubilation and celebration for New York. Their third title win cements themselves as the most decorated AUDL franchise in league history. “There’s no feeling like winning,” Osgar said on the AUDL Live postgame set after the win. “We all just say how much we love winning. It really is something special to go out there and really compete hard and train all year and have it all come to this one moment and be successful–there’s nothing else like it.” Osgar and the rest of the Empire will be chasing that feeling again in 2024 and if they work anything close to as hard as they did this season, they’re sure to retain the trophy that they made sure nobody else so much as dreamed of touching this season.