Buzzer Beater: DC Survives Double OT Against Hot Philly [UFA Week 4, 2024]

Results Reversed! Pittsburgh and Philadelphia both progress as the regular season moves along.

Philadelphia Phoenix's James Pollard looks to throw around the mark of DC Breeze's AJ Merriman. Photo: Alan Bloodgood - Ultimate Frisbee Association (UFA)
Philadelphia Phoenix’s James Pollard looks to throw around the mark of DC Breeze’s AJ Merriman. Photo: Alan Bloodgood – UFA

We are getting closer and closer to the famed “mid-season” when teams begin to round into form. Mid-standings teams like Pittsburgh and Los Angeles look improved from the early part of the season while DC, New York, and Atlanta all escaped tough tests. Salt Lake dominated a two-game road trip to cement their standing as the team to beat out West. Their five-goal win in Colorado was notable, but we start this weekend in the District, where the Philadelphia Phoenix put together their best performance of the season — albeit in a familiar one-goal loss.

Phoenix Reborn?

Over the first few weeks of this season, the Philadelphia Phoenix looked downright hapless. All offseason, Philadelphia made a name for themselves on social media by hyping up their talent level relative to the rest of the league because they play in such a tough division. It’s true that the Phoenix have gotten really close to beating the top teams (DC and New York, namely) over the last few seasons. However, losses to the DC Breeze and Boston Glory by a combined 21 goals over the last two weeks signaled an early end to a season full of promise and hype.

For about 54 minutes on Saturday night, the Phoenix were reborn out of the ashes of their own despair…and then the familiar haunts of misery emerged to hand Philadelphia their third loss to open the season as they fell in double overtime to the Breeze 24-23.

Philadelphia was clicking from the get go. The Phoenix finally figured out how to attack the deep space effectively, finishing 11/11 on huck attempts. In fact, just four of Philadelphia’s 23 scores came from closer than 25 yards. Calvin Trisolini, Alex Thorne, and Jordan Rhyne all turned in season-best performances with regards to taking care of the disc. Philadelphia had just 12 turnovers in the game, a rate on par with the best teams in the league. For the first time this season, the O-line seemed not just capable of but confident in executing 15+ pass possessions while scoring in efficient, sub 60-second points. James Pollard and Max Trifilis were catching buzzer beaters nearly every quarter. It looked like a historic performance for a Philadelphia team that always seemed to play little brother to the division favorites.

“After our Boston game, we realized our system we put in place for us wasn’t beneficial to the types of players we had,” said Philadelphia’s James Pollard. “We opened up the field a little bit more for all of our cutters and all our throwers to make everyone dangerous from any spot on the field at all times.”

As this was going on on the Philadelphia side, DC looked absolutely fine. A few execution errors are bound to happen in every game, as they did in this one, but by and large the Breeze offense looked as explosive and dynamic as fans have come to expect. DC’s O-line defense is not quite at the level of their offensive execution, and the Breeze let Philadelphia convert four of their five break chances as the Phoenix built a sizable lead.

We’ll pick up the game narrative at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Philadelphia up 20-17. On the next three points, Sean Mott (who also had four assists, five hockey assists, and a goal) tossed three turnovers. Blocks by Breeze youngsters Miles Grovic, Isaac Lee, and Jace Dean helped DC claw back and turn that deficit into a one goal lead, but Pollard caught a fourth quarter buzzer beater to keep Philadelphia’s hopes of winning alive with the promise of overtime. Then, Pollard caught his fifth goal (along with five assists and 963 yards of offense in a massive day for Philadelphia’s leader) with nine seconds left in overtime to send the game to sudden death.

The Phoenix started with the disc knowing that despite the trials and tribulations of this game and of the past several seasons worth of close losses to the Breeze, they could actually come away with a win. It was not to be. Mott let go his fifth turnover of the game and Bonnet launched a 56 yard huck (one of his four assists to pair with four goals) to a crater-wide open Tyler Monroe to seal an unlikely win for the Breeze.

“We want our best players with an opportunity to make a play when the game is on the line,” Pollard said when asked about Mott’s turnovers. “It wasn’t a thing that we thought about. We were just out there playing.”

While DC definitely benefited from some Philadelphia mistakes, they also deserve credit for pulling out a significant win. Cole Jurek put in a herculean shift, playing an absurd 30 points across O- and D-points. He finished with two assists, six goals, and two blocks and has clearly become a focal point for a DC team with a Christian Boxley-sized hole to fill.

After the game, there was some chatter online about poor refereeing decisions helping the Breeze; I won’t comment on those here because at some point Philadelphia needs to close out a win. At the end of the game, they had the disc in their hand and they simply had to score. At the end of regulation, they had three possessions during which a goal would have effectively iced the game. Referees aren’t an excuse for that much misexecution. Ultimate can be a complex game with coaches matching strategies and leveraging whatever advantages they can find. It’s also a simple game in which you just need to catch the Frisbee in the big box of cones at the end of the field. On a day when the Phoenix balanced possession and power better than they have in recent games, they just needed to do that one more time, and that was too much to manage.

“We largely played a complete game. Some miscues here and there but that’s the way it goes,” said Pollard. “This was a vast improvement and shows what we can really do in this division when we play for each other.”

On the positive side, Philadelphia found some answers to the questions that built up following their season opening losses, and they built some positive momentum to take forward into a season still with promise. With each of DC, New York, and Boston sitting on at least a loss and two-thirds of a season to go, the Phoenix still have a legitimate playoff chance. But they need to turn things around fast. Oh, and they have a trip to New York next week. At least they’ll have new mascot Birdy McBirdface to cheer them on.

News and Notes

  • The biggest upset of the weekend took place at Sea Foam Stadium where a shorthanded Minnesota Wind Chill dropped their home opener to the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds. Three consecutive short field breaks to open the second quarter for Pittsburgh made all the difference in a sloppy game (53 combined turnovers!).
  • Houston edged Dallas 18-17. Connor Ughetta was the Havoc’s all-around star, leading the game with 473 yards while splitting time between the O- and D-lines and racking up two goals and assists each.
  • Salt Lake secured another two-win weekend, taking down Oakland 25-19 and Colorado 20-15. The Shred won 7/8 of the quarters they played across the two games. Jordan Kerr threw ten assists over the course of the road trip.
  • The Los Angeles Aviators earned their first win of the weekend with a solid knockdown of still winless Portland. Daniel Brunker’s three-assist, five-goal, 514-total-yard performance led the way.
  • The Nitro also lost to San Diego. Travis Dunn notched four assists and five goals. Felix Moren managed 737 total yards in the loss.
  • The Madison Radicals managed 20 blocks as they beat Detroit 27-10.
  • Atlanta converted 80% of their hucks en route to beating Indy 25-18. Justin Burnett had three assists and a goal for the Hustle D-line.
  • The New York Empire regained their first-place standing in the East division with a pair of two-goal wins over Boston and Montreal. Ben Jagt’s five assists and four goals helped put away Boston while Jack Williams’s five assists and two goals finished Montreal. Jeff Babbitt was 33/33 throwing and had five goals for Boston in his first game against his former team.

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

NY went 2-0 this weekend, including a win against a hyped up Boston team. Do we think their loss was a blip? Or is Atlanta just really good? – ibelieve616 on Discord

This Empire team reminds me a lot more of their 2019-2021 teams than their 2022-2023 teams. The early days of the Empire dynasty featured a lot more close games as their defense did not quite have the depth of recent years. This year, the games are a bit closer not because the team is too top heavy, but because the team is still working through a new offensive identity without Jeff Babbitt, Ryan Osgar, and John Lithio. The loss of Lithio in particular gets overlooked because he wasn’t as big a star overall, but his function as an always-open release valve was critical for New York.

Jack Williams and Ben Jagt are still capable as ever in holding down the fort, but working in pieces like Liam Haberfield and Jeff Holm this week takes time. Before he joined the Empire, Osgar had already played with Williams (for the club team Ring of Fire) and Jagt (in college at Minnesota). Before joining the Empire, Haberfield had a season in Atlanta and a career in New Zealand. While both are skilled players, it’s no wonder their integration looks a bit different. By the end of the season, I expect New York will be back to feeling inevitable. Sure, they’ve been proven beatable for the first time since 2021. That will only fuel the team to work harder and strive for stronger performances. I wouldn’t call the loss a blip, but I also wouldn’t worry about it too much for now.

I do also want to add that Atlanta is really good and absolutely deserved their win over New York. The Hustle have been building a strong team for a few years and are dealing with a sour taste in their mouth after losing a heartbreaker of a division final last season. Their skill is evident, their strategy strong, and their leadership engaged. Carolina and Austin are both tough competitors. Even if they look to be the strongest team, Atlanta cannot be considered the division favorite until they solve the Carolina problem. But yeah, they’re really good!

UFA Power Rankings:
Rank Team Change Prior
1 - 1
2 - 2
3 - 3
4 - 4
5 - 5
6 - 6
7 - 7
8 +1 9
9 -1 8
10 - 10
11 - 11
12 - 12
13 - 13
14 - 14
15 - 15
16 - 16
17 +4 21
18 +1 19
19 -2 17
20 -2 18
21 -1 20
22 - 22
23 - 23
24 - 24
  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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