Activating Stealth Mode Propels Aviators to 27-24 Victory Over San Jose
Champions do not relinquish their title easily. When star players find new residences, leaving behind a fragmented, short-handed roster; and the first half of a season brings more losses than the franchise had experienced in the previous two years combined. Considering those two factors, championship pride and pedigree are still grasped tightly for as long as their resilience can withstand. Luckily for the Los Angeles Aviators on Saturday night, pride, pedigree and resilience were no match for stealth.
Los Angeles (3-4) unveiled a new set of striking, black alternate home jerseys as they took the field against the two-time-defending AUDL champion San Jose Spiders (3-6). Using the hashtags of #Blackout and #StealthMode to promote the evening and energize the team, the Aviators overcome another early deficit to defeat their Bay Area foes 27-24.
For a second consecutive game, the Aviators could have fooled spectators into thinking they were just standing still for the beginning of the game, when in fact they were simply lying in wait, anticipating making a late push to overcome the opposition. San Jose earned the first break point of the game less than three minutes in when they quickly converted after a Los Angeles throw into the end zone was forced into tight space and intercepted. The Spiders got another break with five minutes left in the quarter after a poaching defender wandered away from covering his own player into the open cutting lane and got a block along the sideline, turning that possession into a score and 6-3 lead. The ensuing offensive attempt seemed destined for disaster when a deep shot by Mark Elbogen (#8) hung in the air too long and was swatted away. Another break point by San Jose would have created a ton of momentum and a daunting 4-goal advantage early in the game. However, Hunter Corbett (#17) had other plans. Corbett finished playing tight coverage on his cutting opponent with a huge layout block to give Los Angeles the disc back. Steven Brooks (#6) found Elbogen for the quick goal and cut the deficit back down to two. The teams traded scores, with L.A. running the clock down effectively on their possession, to bring the score to 7-5 with just eight seconds remaining. The Aviators have been notorious for faulty end-of-quarter situations, and fell victim to that scenario again when a lengthy hammer throw outdistanced a defender into the waiting arms of San Jose’s Seth Reinhardt as time expired, pushing the lead to 8-5 for the Spiders at the end of the first quarter.
Both teams’ offenses held steadily for each of their first two possessions of the quarter, pushing the score to 10-7 with 8:31 left in the half. Included in the ten goals scored by San Jose was Steven Chang, who was on the receiving end of three of them. Chang, as a former Aviator, was proving early that he came to impress in his first game against his former team. Not to be outdone, Jeff Silverman (#19) showed that it doesn’t matter what jersey he is wearing, he makes plays. Quite often, Silverman seemingly flies out of nowhere to pull off huge defensive blocks. While this particular situation was no exception, the sideline still felt compelled to explode into chants of “Stealth Mode!” after he pulled off a weak side run-down block. The black jersey added to the illusion that he materialized out of nowhere to make the play. Even though it was eventually for naught (Los Angeles turned the disc over for San Jose to convert the score), the play energized the defensive unit to three straight break point conversions shortly thereafter. For the first, Zac Schakner (#22) out-jumped his opponent to spike the disc straight down on his head (effectively “dunking” over him) to give Los Angeles the disc. Dan Bellinger (#5) hit Brandon Severson (#80) for that goal. A goal line drop out of a timeout by San Jose gave the Aviators the disc again, with Bellinger scoring this time, on an assist by Tyler Bacon (#55). For the third conversion, a backfield pass by San Jose flew directly between two receivers. LA’s Zach Theodore (#16) pounced, splitting the receivers to intercept the disc. He completed the “book ends” play when he dished the disc backwards to Brent George (#3) and streaked to the end zone to receive the return pass from George. That play gave Los Angeles their first lead of the game, an 11-10 advantage that lasted a grand total of 35 seconds before the Spiders answered to tie it up again. San Jose then started a break streak of its own, reeling off two in a row to grab a 13-11 lead with one minute left in the first half. Bellinger hooked up with Severson a second time to cut the lead to one with 31 seconds remaining. Looking to pull off another end-of-quarter success, San Jose received the pull and started to work upfield. This time, it was Sean McDougall’s (#10) turn to crush hopes with a layout block. After a timeout, Los Angeles’ designed stopped-disc play worked to perfection as Elbogen found Bryan Nguyen (#12) for the game-tying goal with ten seconds left. On the ensuing possession, San Jose’s huck as time expired fell harmlessly to the turf, sending both teams into their locker rooms in a 13-13 deadlock.
The third quarter was played at an even pace. San Jose had two breaks to Los Angeles’ one, with a few notable plays. LA’s Allen Lai (#68) produced the first of two perfectly curved backhands down the sideline for scores, this one to Nguyen three minutes into the half. Timmy Beatty (#24) showed off his signature blade forehand leading to a George goal halfway through the quarter. Bellinger found Severson for their third connection of the game. With five minutes left in the quarter, San Jose’s Kevin Smith was confronted with a high stall count but bailed himself out with a hammer, using perfect trajectory and placement to tally the score and give the Spiders a 19-17 lead. Third quarter scoring was completed when Elbogen found Nguyen with a well-placed hammer of his own, down the sideline to Nguyen. Video
San Jose started the fourth quarter with a 20-19 lead, but Los Angeles started with the disc on offense. Thanks to a couple break points in a row early in the quarter, Los Angeles scored four of the first five points in the final period. The resulting lead would not be relinquished for the duration of the game, though it never extended beyond the tenuous two-goal advantage. Along the way, George continued to assert his dominance as an uncover-able receiver, always open and by wide margins. Big defensive blocks by Bellinger, Silverman, and Andrew Kohl (#4) continued to fuel the defensive onslaught.
After Lai’s fifth assist of the game found Brooks in the end zone, Los Angeles had a 26-24 lead with 1:47 remaining in the game. Presented with a fantastic opportunity to crumble and collapse under the pressure of a late-game lead, the Aviators held strong. With a could-not-be-more-poorly-timed drop from San Jose’s top target, Kelly Van Arsdale, San Jose’s prospects looked grim. Los Angeles called timeout to organize themselves and discuss their strategy for the rest of the game: make 100% throws to keep possession consistently and long enough to run the clock down. The plan was run to almost-perfection as repeated disc movement slowly took more and more chunks of time out of the clock. Faster than they thought and could have hoped for, suddenly just eight seconds were left when Corbett accepted a pass from Bacon in the end zone for the final 27-24 difference. Exuberant relief was the best way to describe the Los Angeles sideline, celebrating the franchise’s first-ever victory over San Jose and confirming the excitement of having new jerseys in front of an anticipatory crowd.
Elbogen again led the way statistically, posting another game of at least 5 goals and 5 assists. George contributed his becoming-a-regular-thing 6 goals. Lai compiled five assists himself, and Brooks added another 4.
The win brings the Aviators(3-4) within one win of the Vancouver Ripide (4-4) for third place in the AUDL’s West Division, but just one loss ahead of 5th-place San Jose. The Spiders continued their weekend down south on Sunday against the Growlers, producing a victory and their third win. The class of the division remains the San Francisco Flamethrowers (8-2) and Seattle Cascades (8-3, 7 straight wins).
The Aviators travel up to the Bay Area this weekend, playing the Spiders in San Jose Saturday evening, then the Flamethrowers in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon. It will be a terrific opportunity to notch a couple victories and to take down an elite opponent.
by Jacob Baumer
Aviators Beat Writer & Correspondent