Photo Credit: Annie Ngo
SoCal Rivalry Stays Close as Aviators Fall to Growlers, 19-17
Entering Saturday night’s matchup, the Los Angeles Aviators’ rivalry with the San Diego Growlers could not have been more evenly matched. The two franchises had played six games against each other; five last season, plus last week’s contest. Both teams had won three games. Both teams had scored exactly 123 points. After Saturday’s tilt, the advantage tipped in San Diego’s favor.
The game got off to an unfortunately inauspicious start, even before the players took the field. In the AUDL’s Game of the Week, streamed live nationally via ESPN3, San Diego’s Balboa Stadium encountered technical difficulties, rendering the scoreboard inoperable. The entirety of the game was played without any visible current score or, more importantly, time. Score was easy enough to keep track of, with plenty of capable people in the press box and on each sideline, and even time was relayed easily at the conclusion of each point. But important moments, such as the end of quarters, were complicated due to the situation. The most obvious of these moments came at the end of the first quarter.
San Diego got off to another fast start, scoring the opening offensive point followed by turning two Aviators turnovers into two defensive breaks. That 3-0 lead became a 5-3 score with time winding down in the quarter. San Diego gained possession of the disc and called timeout with 43 seconds left. When play resumed, they completed multiple passes before consecutive foul calls stopped the clock with 16 seconds to go. San Diego put up a throw into the right corner of the end zone but Aviator Jeff Silverman saw the disc go up and streaked across the end zone, leaping into the air and blocking it away (Watch the video here) before it was able to reach the hands of multiple receivers. (Sidebar: The out-of-nowhere rundown block should be henceforth known as a “Silverman”, due to the regularity with which he makes these types of plays.) Dan Bellinger brought the disc back into play, centering it to Tyler Bacon. Bacon’s desperation heave fell considerably short of a scoring opportunity, gathered in by San Diego’s Dominic Leggio. This entire process, from the release of the throw that Silverman blocked to Leggio gaining control, took approximately 20 seconds. The quarter was over, and there was no margin to argue. Reviewing it closely, even Bacon’s throw probably should not have counted based on how much time had run off. With no working scoreboard clock, slow communication between the field and box, and a timer malfunction on the part of the referees, play was not halted. Leggio instinctively caught and threw in one motion, putting the disc in scoring range. Bacon was in position, jumping up in front of a Growler receiver, and swatted the disc away. However, as discs are want to do, it stayed in the air long enough for San Diego’s Ryan Slaughter to track it down. Both sidelines went crazy; San Diego’s in bewildered joy, Los Angeles’ in frustrated confusion. With no way of analyzing or reviewing their mistake, the referees moved on, and San Diego took a 6-3 lead into the 2nd quarter.
The first six minutes of the second quarter was a flurry of back and forth scoring by both teams. Eli Friedman, signed earlier in the week and suiting up for the first time in the AUDL, scored his first goal for Los Angeles. San Diego took advantage of a backfield miscommunication between Bellinger and Schakner to haul in their first Callahan of the season. Eric Lissner had a high stall count punt reeled in by Bryan Nguyen. Whether by design or sheer luck, it counted regardless. San Diego held an 11-8 lead with 5:58(estimate) remaining in the half. Then turnovers lead to an L.A. goal, the first of Andrew Padula’s career. Another San Diego turn, in the end zone, became a beautiful, floating Zach Theodore pass down the break side to Brent George to cut the lead to one, 11-10, with two minutes left in the half. The Growlers would score once more to have a 12-10 halftime lead.
Coming out of the half Los Angeles started strong with two break points, including Brandon Severson’s first career goal and a well-placed scoober from Michael Kiyoi to Grant Boyd, tying the game at 12. San Diego held on offense, then put together two break points of their own to pull ahead 15-12, eventually taking a 16-13 advantage into the 4th quarter.
Starting on offense in the final quarter, L.A. scored easily when Jack Marsh found Steven Brooks in the end zone. On the ensuing pull, Kiyoi showed everyone what all the recovery hype was about and why his return was so anticipated as he sprinted down and blocked the Growlers’ first throw, giving the Aviators the disc and a quick conversion to pull back within one again. Los Angeles had another chance to tie after San Diego’s Milardovich dropped a pass, but Theodore and Kiyoi were in the same place at the wrong time, blocking each other from bringing in a wide open score. San Diego converts this time, taking a 17-15 lead with nine minutes left in the game. The next seven minutes of gameplay saw a slew of turnovers and only three points. With San Diego leading 19-16 and only two minutes remaining, Los Angeles had to work quickly to score. They scored, but it took over a minute, leaving themselves just 64 seconds to try to force multiple turns and convert them to goals. But it’s hard, nigh impossible, to do the latter without the former. San Diego displayed a calm and poise that both teams had been lacking for the majority of the game. Splitting multiple double teams and making 100% throws, the Growlers were able to run out the clock and secure the 19-17 victory.
It would be easy for Los Angeles to blame the loss on the things outside of their control. It is understandably disarming to have to constantly check in on the score and time instead of having it readily available on the scoreboard. Multiple foul calls (or lack thereof) felt like they changed momentum. But both teams were at the score/time disadvantage, and the biggest foul call gripe L.A. had, a play in which Hunter Corbett was hit (Video Here) as he attempted to go up for a goal, the Aviators ended up scoring later in that same point.
Losses aren’t easy to stomach, especially close ones that felt like they should have been wins. Los Angeles’ record of 1-2 could easily be 3-0, but turnovers (14 in just the first half of this game) and an inability to finish games strongly have kept them from the success they hope for and expect of themselves. They currently sit in a tie with San Diego for 4th in the West Division, one loss ahead of a shockingly underperforming Seattle Cascades team, and three wins behind the undefeated San Francisco Flamethrowers. Los Angeles has two weeks off before taking on that Seattle team at home on May 1. Holding off the Cascades won’t be easy, as they will be fighting hard to keep their championship hopes alive. The Aviators will need the same mindset if they expect more positive results.
The AUDL ESPN3 Game Recap
by Jacob Baumer
Aviators Beat Writer & Correspondent