Aviators Dominate, Then Make it Interesting, in Victory over Growlers
by Jacob Baumer
Aviators Beat Writer & Correspondent
Through the first two games of the 2016 AUDL season, the Los Angeles Aviators (1-1) seem to have decided that every game they play will share the same characteristic:
Last Week: The disappearance of a late, seemingly-comfortable 2-goal lead against the San Francisco Flamethrowers, which turned into an overtime loss.
This Week: Taking a 19-12 advantage into the 4th quarter against the San Diego Growlers (0-2) and allowing it to dwindle into a final difference of just 1, managing a closer-than-necessary 21-20 victory.
The game’s opening sequence seemed eerily foreboding. After the defense slowed the Growlers enough to force the offense to take more than 3 minutes off of the clock on a methodical, deliberate scoring possession, San Diego easily converted a zone-offense turnover by the Aviators into a 2-0 lead. An uneasy sense of “Here we go again”, harking to the offensive difficulties of last year, started to well up among those present in Occidental College’s Jack Kemp Stadium. A quick score from Mark Elbogen to Jack Marsh, however, helped get the first-score jitters out of the way.
Then the defense lowered the boom, taking control of the rhythm of the game. Rookie Andrew Kohl, continuing to show his youthful defensive acumen, tallied a block that turned into a give-go series between Husayn Carnegie and Dan Bellinger for the first L.A. break point of the game. Then Mitchell Steiner skyed for another block, eventually dishing an assist to Peter Zhou for a second break point in a row. Multiple poor throws by the Growlers became an Eric Lissner-to-Steven Brooks score (the first of 3 such connections in the game) for a 3rd straight break. Another turfed San Diego throw resulted in a Hunter Corbett hammer to Zac Schakner for 4 consecutive breaks and a 5-2 lead at the close of the first quarter.
Points were traded from there, though the defense was not content. After one Growlers goal, Steiner approached the sideline proclaiming, “It’s all force side! We gotta man up and play some defense!” Ask and ye shall receive, Mitchell. Los Angeles went on another 4-break run to extend their lead from 9-5 to 13-5 late in the first half before taking a 15-7 lead at halftime.
Matching goals back and forth in the 3rd quarter brought the game to a 19-12 Los Angeles lead headed to the 4th. Thus started the momentum gains of San Diego simultaneously with the grounding of the Aviators. It started with an ambitious hammer attempt by Lissner that was defended in the Growlers’ end zone. San Diego quickly converted to a streaking Milardovich. On the next point, captain Allen Lai was left with no options on a high stall count and punted the disc downfield. San Diego’s Dominic Leggio found Kyle Benton with his own successful hammer to cut the lead to 5. On the next possession, Bellinger’s pass to a stationary Jeff Silverman was layout blocked by San Deigo’s Will Griffin. Leggio found Milardovich for a second break point in a row, closing the gap to 19-15 with just under 9 minutes remaining. L.A. was able to halt the San Diego run when Lissner found Marsh for a score. After trading points back and forth, the Aviators took a 21-16 lead with 5:50 left in the game. The Aviators would not score again.
For the rest of the game.
Zeke Ivers goes huge over Andrew Kohl to bring the Growlers within 4 again, 3:51 remaining. A miscommunicated, dropped and tipped disc in the Aviators backfield gives San Diego great field position, which they convert quickly. 21-18 with 3 minutes left. Greg Husak attempts a midfield hammer to Mark Elbogen, a throw that Elbogen has fortuitously come up with repeatedly this season, but it falls to the ground. Griffin finds Milardovich in the end zone, narrowly beyond another flying block attempt by Kohl, cutting the lead to 2 with 1:54 left. Possession changes both ways to give San Diego the disc again, but they make the huge tactical mistake of working the disc slowly upfield instead of going big early. They finally punch it in, but leave just 15 seconds left on the clock for the Aviators to kill. San Diego pulls a roller out of bounds at midfield, allowing them to set up a tough sideline double-team. One foul moves L.A. ten yards upfield. Then it happens a second time. L.A. knows they need just two, maybe three completions to seal they game. Finally, the disc lands in Bryan Nguyen’s hands, and he makes one last pass to Bellinger as time expires.
“You don’t think your guys are gonna choke do you? That’d be awkward.”
“I think the fans were ok with the blowout. No need to make it this interesting… Let’s shut it down right here.”
The entire Aviator universe is able to release a collective sigh. Disaster is averted. The first win is in the books.
In keeping with the Everyone-Contributes theme that has been established from the beginning of the franchise, twelve different players scored goals. No single player had more than 3, notched by Brent George, Jack Marsh and Steven Brooks. Nine Aviators have assists, including Eric Lissner’s team-high 6. Ten players have blocks, paced by the 3 of Zack Theodore. And possibly the most important stat of the night: 17 turnovers. While still being too many, that amount is roughly HALF of their total from Game 1 against San Francisco.
While everyone experiencing the meltdown seemed to be losing their heads, at least there was one person who maintained his confidence:“Everyone else seemed worried about, but I wasn’t. I knew we were going to win,” said Lissner in his post-game interview. Maybe make sure everyone else has this same information next time. It’d be a lot easier on the rest of us.
San Diego doesn’t have to wait long for their attempt at exacting revenge (and earning their first victory of 2016) as they will host the Aviators in San Diego next weekend, Saturday, April 16, at Balboa Stadium. Game time will be at 6:15, and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN3.
by Jacob Baumer
Aviators Beat Writer & Correspondent