Faces old and new merged together at Culver City High School on Saturday evening to propel the Los Angeles Aviators to a dominant 30-17 victory over the San Diego Growlers in both teams’ first action of the 2018 AUDL season.
Chris Mazur and Jesse Cohen showed off in their Los Angeles debuts, combining for 11 of the Aviators’ 30 assists. Tyler Bacon and Jeff Silverman returned to Los Angeles after one season in San Diego and combined for 2 goals, 3 assists, and 2 blocks against their former squad. Brent George and Tim Beatty picked up right where they left off in what they do best, scoring 5 goals and distributing 4 assists, respectively. And fun fact of the day for some other returning players: Five different Aviators had at least 2 goals and 2 assists each: Bacon, Tom Doi, Alex Drum, Eli Friedman, and Sean McDougall.
The game got off to in inauspicious start for L.A. when a throw through the middle of the field met George and Doi in the same spot, causing confusion as to the intended target and resulting in the disc turning over to San Diego. The Growlers were able to convert for an early break point and 1-0 lead. The second point could have ended similarly when, after both teams traded turnovers, a Cohen huck to Doi took a less-than-optimal flight path. But Doi mustered all of his World-Championship experience and savy to box out his defender and haul in the first Aviator goal of the season. After trading points, a block by Nate Ransom led to L.A.’s first break and lead to go up 3-2. Not content with just one break, Zac Schakner and Brandon Severson both hustled for huge blocks on the ensuing point, earning a 4-2 lead when Mazur launched a 60-yard bomb to McDougall. Los Angeles ended the quarter with an 8-6 lead, getting there with a lasered hammer by Beatty and two goals by Eric Lissner.
The second quarter carried out a slightly different plot line, further in Los Angeles’ favor. Combined with the last two points of the first quarter, the Aviators went on a 7-1 run to go up 13-7 with 4:58 left in the first half. Along the way: Defensive blocks by McDougall and Doi; Mark Elbogen invoking the integrity rule (because 9 months off doesn’t mean you show less spirit); Drum earning a “bookends” stat (get a block and score the resulting goal); General pressure defense all over by Ransom, Severson, and Silverman forcing San Diego into several turnovers. San Diego managed consecutive scores to cut the deficit to 13-9 with 2:57 to go in the half, earning a little momentum for themselves, but Los Angeles ended the half on a 3-1 run (including this) Cohen forehand blade to Friedman with three seconds left) for a 16-10 halftime advantage.
The Aviators scored quickly out of half when Beatty’s fourth assist found Elbogen just thirty seconds in. But San Diego responded with a goal of their own and a break to close within 17-12 with 7:34 remaining in the 3rd. That five-point deficit would be the closest the Growlers would be the rest of the game. Los Angeles proceeded to go on their second 7-1 run of the game, including five in a row to end the quarter with a 24-13 advantage. The entire quarter was highlighted by relentless defense, creating blocks or forcing bad throwaways, highlighted at one point by Schakner poaching off of his man to get a help block in the end zone, denying a quality San Diego threat.
The fourth quarter was more of the same as Los Angeles again scored five points in a row. From the 7:34 mark in the third quarter, when San Diego got the score within 17-12, until there was 2:28 left in the fourth quarter, the Aviators outscored the Growlers 13-3. For a franchise that has had trouble closing teams out in the past, Los Angeles made it a point to keep their defense amped up, setting a tone that the offense was more than happy to accomodate. The exclamation point came when McDougall blew out a cleat at around the 9-minute mark of the fourth quarter. After checking to make sure it was just his footwear and not his knee that gave out on him, he proceeded to take off deep, catching his defender by surprise. Mazur obliged the effort, and McDougall scored what was one of the more improbable moments of the evening. Even with a double-digit lead and the game well in hand, McDougall taped his cleats up and didn’t miss a single shift on defense. Keep an eye out for some new kicks in Texas next weekend.
Without producing a ton of stats, there was a host of other players whose contributions went beyond the stat sheet. Michael Kiyoi continued to provide veteran defensive line leadership, as he always has. Sam Plasman and Andrew Padula frequently provided disruptive defensive pressure. Zach Theodore mostly neutralized the 6’6” Trevor Purdy while creating multiple opportunities deep off of turnovers, earning two goals along the way. And the ever-excitable Aaron Weaver came within inches of blocks on several occasions.
All in all, the Aviators had 11 different players score at least two goals, and forced the Growlers into 31 turnovers. Getting major contributions from the new guys, and minor statistical productivity from the usual stat leaders, but still controlling the game from start to finish can only be a good sign for the rest of the season.
Los Angeles doesn’t get to ride their season-opening high for too long, however. This coming weekend they travel east for the AUDL’s version of the Texas Two-Step: a date in Austin against the Sol (0-0) Saturday evening in the AUDL’s Game of the Week (available live through Stadium, an online streaming channel), then squaring off with the Dallas Roughnecks (1-0) on Sunday afternoon. These two games will go a long way in showing the Aviators how far they’ve come, or how far they have to go. Tune in to as much of the action along the way as possible.