Buzzer Beater: Hustle on Top [UFA Week 2, 2024]

Atlanta ends New York’s historic winning streak

Atlanta Hustle’s Matt Smith. Photo: UFA

Just one week after they set the league record for consecutive wins, the New York Empire lost their first game since the 2021 title match. Elsewhere, DC, Chicago, and Austin produced strong wins, Seattle briefly continued their winning streak, and Boston put together the most complete victory of their UFA existence.

Atlanta Hustled Us All

One week after losing badly to Carolina, a revamped Atlanta team took down vaunted New York. It’s just a regular season game–this isn’t the end for the Empire’s empire–and Atlanta always plays New York tough; of all the games New York could lose, this should not feel surprising. But the fact that the Empire actually lost a game still does feel surprising. The last time the Empire had a 1 in the loss column, they still had to take a COVID test before traveling and gas prices were really cheap.

The Hustle started this game on the front foot and never looked back. Their first break came less than four minutes into the game after a methodical Adam Miller1 led counterattack. Their second one came just a point later on a shocking callahan when a standard swing pass bounced out of Elliot Chartock’s hands right into a recovering Trenton Spinks, who was in the right place at the right time while running by to set a mark.

Aside from that moment, none of Atlanta’s success could be called a fluke. Justin Burnett and Tyler Randall locked up Jack Williams so well that he could have also been one of New York’s offseason departures. Jakeem Polk Beaued a guy. Miller, Billy O’Bryan, and Lukas McClamrock outshined the New York D-line offense by standard deviation. Brett Hulsmeyer won the Antoine Davis matchup, and Dean Ramsey more or less did the same to Ben Jagt. In front of a happy home crowd, the Hustle made sure this was a night to remember.

More than in previous seasons, Atlanta’s offense attacked back to the middle of the field quickly. Even while losing a few yards, the Hustle prioritized moving their point of attack within two or three stalls so the Empire defense constantly had to orbit around their marks. Eventually the Hustle were able to spring free for hucks against a wrong-footed defender, or they simply churned upfield long enough to get to scoring range without one of Bobby Ley’s or Austin Taylor’s home run balls. Over the past few seasons, New York developed a reputation as lockdown handler defenders, but Ley and Taylor kept the Atlanta offense moving with no signs of trouble.

The Empire likewise weren’t troubled, but they also weren’t showing the same ease on offense. With Sean Keegan joining the Empire O-line, he along with Sol Rueschmeyer-Bailey and Elliot Chartock piloted a backfield-driven attack that looked quite different from the Empire offenses of old. Last season we saw Williams, Jeff Babbitt, John Lithio, and Ryan Osgar dominate downfield cutting lanes and score quickly with continuation passes from one another. In this game the Empire cutters looked quicker to get the disc back to their handlers rather than continue downfield to other cutters, and the Hustle defense had more time to recover their positions and be ready to contest the next throw. The wear and grind of these longer possessions led to a few forced hucks from tired legs and tired minds. As throwers are still getting used to the new disc, a few scoring opportunities sailed out of bounds.

New York will feel the unique sting of this loss, but the Empire don’t need to panic. Top to bottom, they still have the most skilled roster in the league and they’re still the favorites to make it back to Championship Weekend. In their run of success from 2018 until now, they’ve had hiccups and overcome them all. While this game shows the Empire are beatable, it also gives the New York braintrust several months to sort out their sub-par attributes before the games become win-or-go-home. Besides, the Empire should have known better than to schedule a game for Star Wars day2 anyway. New York has a week off before a double header in two weeks in Boston and Montreal.

And while New York should not panic, the Hustle should absolutely celebrate. Atlanta re-announced themselves as firmly in the title conversation. If they play this way every week, they’ll win by large enough margins to avoid the Ben Jagt catches and the Kyle Henke blocks that knocked out the Hustle in seasons past. With a defense forcing almost as many blocks as the offense has turnovers (a 7:8 ratio in this contest) and an offense converting nearly automatically in the red zone (11/12 in this game), the Hustle are winning on both sides of the disc. A week after their O-line defense looked abysmal against an energized Carolina counterattack, the Hustle stymied the New York D-line offense. The Empire scored but a single break in the entire game, and it came while down six with less than two minutes remaining in the game.

The Hustle have a chance to avenge their season opening loss with a repeat trip to Carolina next week.

News and Notes

  • Austin left no doubt as to which Texas team is the best. The Sol dismantled the Houston Havoc 25-14.
  • Seattle continues to make their case for a playoff spot. Eking out a win in Oakland is an excellent resume builder, but the Cascades did nearly blow a seven goal lead.
  • During the second game of their doubleheader, Colorado put an end to Seattle’s undefeated season with a four goal win in the Summit’s home opener.
  • Salt Lake came away with two wins in SoCal, though they were closer than the Shred might want: 19-17 over San Diego and 23-20 over LA.
  • Chicago opened their season with a trouncing over Detroit. Final score: 24-9.
  • Boston continued its strong start with an eight goal win over Toronto. The Glory doubled the Rush’s score in three of the four quarters and threw just nine turnovers in the entire game.
  • After an offseason of self-praise on Twitter, the Philadelphia Phoenix fell to the DC Breeze 22-10. Philadelphia did not convert a single break and scored on just 10 of their 30 offensive possessions.

Mailbag

Have a question about the UFA? Send it in to [email protected] with UFA Mailbag in the subject line. You can also message me on Twitter at @StallSeven, or subscribers can DM me in the Ultiworld Discord

Way too early awards picks? – Nate K on Discord

Since I didn’t publish preseason predictions, I’ll say it’s never too late to take some educated guesses. We are at a weird part of the schedule in which some teams have played two or even three games and others haven’t yet seen the field, so while I have some game data, there is still limited information available. Without further ado:

Most Valuable Player: Jordan Kerr (Salt Lake Shred)
Defensive Player of the Year: Justin Burnett (Atlanta Hustle)
Rookie of the Year: Elliott Bonnet (DC Breeze)
Most Improved Player: Zeppelin Raunig (Seattle Cascades)
Coach of the Year: Tuba Benson-Jaja (Atlanta Hustle)

First Team All-AUDL:

  • Jordan Kerr (Salt Lake Shred)
  • Brett Hulsmeyer (Atlanta Hustle)
  • Jeff Babbitt (Boston Glory)
  • Ben Jagt (New York Empire)
  • Quinn Finer (Colorado Summitt)
  • Jonny Malks (DC Breeze)
  • Kyle Henke (Austin Sol)
UFA Power Rankings:
Rank Team Change Prior
1 +1 2
2 +1 3
3 +1 4
4 +5 9
5 -4 1
6 -1 5
7 -1 6
8 -1 7
9 -1 8
10 - 10
11 +1 12
12 +1 13
13 +1 14
14 +2 16
15 +3 18
16 +1 17
17 +2 19
18 -3 15
19 -8 11
20 +1 21
21 -1 20
22 - 22
23 - 23
24 - 24

  1. Note: per the UFA’s Adam Ruffner, Miller is 9-0 in his UFA career including two wins over New York 

  2. The game took place on May the fourth 

  1. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years. After a stint in Los Angeles coaching high school and college teams, they moved to Chicago to experience real seasons and eat deep dish pizza. You can reach Alex through e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@arubes14).

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