Aviators Control Early and Often in 26-18 Rout of San Diego
In the third of their four matchups this season, the Los Angeles Aviators defeated the San Diego Growlers 26-18, taking a 2-1 lead in the season series.
The last time Los Angeles (2-3) traveled to San Diego to face the Growlers (1-7), a malfunctioning scoreboard at San Diego High School’s Balboa Field caused enough confusion and frustration that an onlooker could legitimately conclude the Aviators allowed the disruption to get in their heads, causing their subsequent lack of focus and poor play. It would make for a poor excuse, and no Aviator player or coach would actually let themselves off the hook that easily, but one could force that analysis if one was so inclined.
A similar circumstance presented itself for Saturday’s contest well before the game began, but Los Angeles went with the flow and produced the best all-around game in franchise history.
With first pull set for 6:15 pm in San Diego, both teams were slowly filing in between 4:00 and 4:30. The only problem was, the stadium gates were not opened until 5:00. This left less than an hour for both teams to dress and physically prepare. On the field, the entire pregame setting felt rushed and dissonant. Before anyone knew it, the coin toss came and went, and the Aviators were pulling the disc to start the game.
(It is important to note that the situation was completely outside of the Growlers’ control. And, all things considered, the organization is to be commended for having such a short span of time to set up their entire gameday operations yet still facilitating a game that was run smoothly from start to finish.)
In the end, maybe the Aviators should adopt a rushed, shortened warmup process for the future. The offense they put on display was the smoothest, most efficient version they have ever produced, and their defense was stifling from start to finish. On the first point of the game, Trevor Smith (#13) had a huge sideline hand block, the first of his three blocks for the game, which Dan Bellinger(#2) instantly turned into a score to Hunter Corbett (#17) for the early tone-setting break point. The first quarter ended with Los Angeles up 5-4 thanks to three goals and an assist from Mark Elbogen (#4) and three assists from Timmy Beatty (#24).
The Aviators came out ablaze in the second quarter. They used a 6-1 run to extend their lead to 11-5 with 3:30 left in the first half. Just-signed rookie Josh Kohl (#33) made his presence felt early with two flying blocks in the half. Sean McDougall (#10) showed that he’s getting closer to 100% with a layout block right off of a Los Angeles pull that set up an easy goal. San Diego wasn’t helping their own cause, throwing multiple discs straight into the turf and making uncharacteristic drops more than once.
The first half closed with a scare for the Aviators. The Growlers launched a deep shot as time was expiring that three players attempted to make a play on. Corbett earned position and swatted the disc away. As he peaked, contact from another player took his legs out from under him and he crashed straight to the ground, landing completely flat on his back and head. After a few moments spent lying on the turf to gather himself, he was able to walk off the field on his own. He would not miss any game time. The block secured a 12-7 Los Angeles lead after two quarters of play.
The Aviators have been in a position of power and comfort with San Diego before. A seven-goal lead in the fourth quarter was nearly blown in the first meeting between the teams in Los Angeles last month. There would be no such collapse this time. In the highest-scoring quarter in Aviator history, Los Angeles put together nine goals to San Diego’s seven, winning their third quarter in a row. Eight different players scored those goals, while Bellinger contributed three assists in the quarter.
Rookie Brent George (#3) has quickly established himself as one of the most reliable players on the field at any given moment. After one particular 3rd-quarter point in which he never had a defender within 10 yards of him, Corbett proclaimed from the sideline,
Brent is so good! …He might be the best player on the team.
Hyperbole aside, George has translated his East Coast instincts into consistent production for the offensive line. He entered the game as the team’s leading goal scorer, and after his three goals against San Diego he still holds onto one of the top spots on the roster.
The new statistical leader in the Aviators’ clubhouse, though, is Mark Elbogen. Finishing the game with six goals, four assists, and zero turnovers, Elbogen took the team lead in both goals and assists for the season. His 13 scores this year surpassed George’s 12, and his 15 assists are just ahead of #43 Eric Lissner’s 13. His zero turnovers may have been the most important contribution, though, as turnovers have set the tone for the Los Angeles offense all season. The 17 turnovers against San Diego are still more than the Aviators would like, but a major improvement for them over previous games. Elbogen, George and Allen Lai (#68) all had clean games, which is remarkable for the number of touches they each accrued. Beatty lead the team with three turnovers, but all three were a result of high stall count misfortune. Three other turnovers from the team were on passes that would normally be caught. The Aviators can look back on this game and know that they were doing the right things more often than they ever had in the past.
To the surprise of nobody, the standout highlight of the game came from Jeff Silverman (#19). Everyone remembers the physics-defying corkscrew catch he made last season. That play was a result of a split-second decision to launch his body in the air at the exact moment he had his only opportunity to make a play. With no regard for the consequences to his body, he skyrocketed, flailed, secured, and crashed to the ground in a swirl of limbs and plastic. This time, he defied gravity and his own intelligence to astound the crowd and send his teammates into a sideline frenzy. On another huge huck by longtime teammate and friend Bellinger, Silverman saw the disc go up and took off. He picked a spot, lowered his head, and charged forward. When he looked up to locate the disc again, it became clear his judgment had led him astray, cutting off the path of the disc too early. Instead of changing course and darting to his right to make a more reasonable attempt, Silverman went straight up where he was. Silverman had no chance. He had miscalculated, was out of position, and had jumped too early. Or so everyone thought. Exploding off the turf, he rose higher and higher and higher, splitting the air through sheer will. With arm, hand and fingers outstretched as far above his head as possible, he grasped the disc and descended back to earth. Landing gracefully is never a mission objective for Silverman, so his body is used to careening into the ground then bouncing back up as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened, as was the case this time. Eventually he moved the disc back to Bellinger in the end zone, but that was a mere afterthought compared to his achievement. Operation “Get Jeff Back on Sportscenter” shall commence later this week.
As for the rest of the game, Los Angeles never lost control. By the end, four different players (Beatty, Bellinger, Corbett and Elbogen) had four assists each. Lissner contributed the oft-forgotten but just-as-important hockey assist in abundant fashion, finishing with six. In addition to Trevor Smith’s three blocks, Michael Kiyoi (#1) also had three, while Zach Theodore (#16) lead the way with five. Those defensive performances directly produced 11 break points for Los Angeles, while the offense flowed so well as to only give up two break points to San Diego.
With the victory, Los Angeles moves ahead of the San Jose Spiders (1-5) into fourth place in the AUDL’s West division, one game behind the Vancouver Riptide (3-2) for third. The loss is San Diego’s fifth in a row, plummeting them further into last place. The San Francisco FlameThrowers (7-0) remain the undefeated class of the division and one of the top teams in the entire league.
The Aviators’ next opponent is the Seattle Cascades (6-3), who sit comfortably in second place after a 1-3 start. Upending Seattle’s 5-game winning streak will be no small feat, especially having to travel there to do it. Los Angeles will have to bring the version of their offense that was showcased this week in San Diego if they hope to give themselves a chance for the upset.
by Jacob Baumer
Aviators Beat Writer & Correspondent