Aviators Upended by Cascades in AUDL West Playoffs, 31-23
In the first playoff appearance in franchise history, the Los Angeles Aviators fell to the Seattle Cascades 31-23 in the AUDL West Division Semifinals held at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California.
Los Angeles entered the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league, owning a six-game winning streak with an offense that had averaged 26.5 points per game during that stretch. Seattle matched L.A. with a 9-5 record, but their momentum had come earlier in the season. After starting 1-3, they reeled off seven straight victories to reach 8-3 before dropping two of their last three games to end the season.
Los Angeles brought a lot of confidence into this matchup with the Cascades. Being able to play the game at home was a huge advantage, compared to the alternative of flying up to Seattle. Additionally, the last time the teams had faced off, the Aviators used a big second half run to earn a comfortable victory on Seattle’s home turf. Unfortunately, such success was not in the works this time around.
The hallmark of the Aviators’ success over the last two months has been a steady offense that capitalized on open looks and used a few spectacular plays here and there to add a little flavor along the way. That offense was not present on this night. Whether it was the pressure of a nationally-televised game looming over them, or the prospect of the season coming to an end, Los Angeles relinquished its usual calm and confidence for a dose of nerves and slice of humble pie.
The Cascades ascended to an 8-1 advantage by the end of the first quarter. After trading offensive holds for the first three points, Seattle broke the Aviators’ offense six points in a row. Throws into traffic, hucks that soared too far through open space, discs bouncing off of hands, and hammers missing their usual zip and accuracy all contributed to the lack of scoring on L.A.’s side. Meanwhile, Seattle’s defensive line, highlighted by Reid Koss, Nick Stuart, Kieran Kelly, Sam Harkness and Matty Russell, took every opportunity given them and capitalized.
The second quarter was an improvement if only because the Aviators were able to manage a few more points on the board. The offenses traded the first six points of the quarter, bringing the score to 11-4. Seattle then scored six of the next seven points, including five more breaks, to take a commanding 17-5 lead into halftime. The first two breaks came after a dropped hammer and a poorly thrown hammer on consecutive Aviator offensive possessions. A tool that had been a huge threat and source of productivity for the second half of the season had turned into the source of critical turnovers in this game. Overthrown deep looks caused the later turnover string as the second quarter concluded.
As the second half began, some individuals still held onto hope. One young fan yelled from the stands, “Go Aviators! I believe in you!” Seattle started on offense and scored quickly to go up 18-5, but the Aviators ended up playing a much better second half than first. The first major highlight came ninety seconds into the half when Eli Friedman sent a long throw to Mark Elbogen. The disc got tipped away, out of the reach of Elbogen and his defender. Bryan Nguyen used his speed and explosiveness to follow the play, track the tipped disc, and make a diving grab in the back of the end zone. Three points later, with L.A. on defense, Aviator Andrew Padula blocked a Seattle throw, then sprinted to his own offensive end zone and hauled in the goal for the “bookends” play. It was the Aviators’ first break point of the game. The second one would come six minutes later when Trevor Smith made an elevated defensive bid at the disc and deflected it away, then took off towards the end zone and was found by Zac Schakner for another “bookends” play. That effort made the score 23-13. After Seattle reeled off another three points, Schakner ended the third quarter with a low, powerful hammer to Mitchell Steiner for a 26-14 score heading to the fourth.
Los Angeles won the fourth quarter 9-5, getting the final margin below double digits and to a more respectable difference of eight. But the game was never in doubt. Seattle’s veteran lineup of teammates who play together professionally and on the club level for many months of the year showed the value of that consistency and cohesion. Meanwhile, the Aviators had 18 turnovers in the first half alone, and their MVP-candidate Mark Elbogen managed just one goal, one assist, and seven turnovers. Nguyen still posted six goals, Eric Lissner totaled five assists, and Friedman had four goals and two assists, but that was the extent of noteworthy contributions. When your best player has his worst game of the season, emerging victorious is a tall task.
It’s important to note that the Aviators kept their heads up until the final horn sounded. As thorough as Seattle was handling Los Angeles, it would have been easy for the Aviators to disengage early and continue to get steam-rolled. Instead, the made most of their spectacular plays in the second half when the game was already decided, keeping their hometown fans engaged and entertained from start to finish.
Seattle went on to defeat the San Francisco FlameThrowers in the West Division Championship the following afternoon, advancing to the AUDL Championship Weekend. Los Angeles begins their offseason reflecting on a very successful second year as a franchise, and looking to continue to make positive strides for the future.
Photos by Karl J Kaul