Aviators Split Bay Area Trip to Stay in Playoff Hunt
With back-to-back games in the Bay Area against the San Jose Spiders and San Francisco FlameThrowers this weekend, the most likely scenario the Los Angeles Aviators were looking at was splitting the two games and heading back home no worse for wear. Unlikely would have been winning both games, while losing both games would have been devastating for their playoff hopes. Especially considering the victory the Vancouver Riptide earned over the Seattle Cascades on Saturday evening. Los Angeles managed the split, though not in the combination that would have been expected going in.
San Jose avenged their loss to the Aviators in Los Angeles last weekend with a 27-25 win on their home turf Saturday night. Los Angeles bounced back in San Francisco (Laney College in Oakland, to be exact) on Sunday afternoon, upsetting the first-place FlameThrowers 27-22. The loss and win combo kept Los Angeles (4-5) one game under .500, and one game behind the Riptide for 3rd place in the AUDL’s West division. San Jose’s victory put them at 4-6, one loss behind L.A. San Francisco (8-3) dropped their third game in a row, leaving them only one loss ahead of second-place Seattle. The playoff race is completely up in the air and should make for an exciting stretch through the rest of the season for all five teams. (Apologies to San Diego, but 1-8 is hard to bounce back from at this point of the season.)
Saturday’s game against San Jose was a back and forth battle from start to finish. Los Angeles had a 9-7 lead at the end of the first quarter, and a 14-11 advantage with six minutes left in the first half. San Jose closed the half strongly, not allowing the Aviators to score again and fighting back to a 14-14 tie at the break. The story of the first half, as has been the case in most games this year, was Mark Elbogen (#8). He spent the first two quarters giving the best John Henry-as-an-exterminator impression he could muster, pounding the Spiders with precision hammers over and over again. First to Steven Brooks (#6) to even the score at 4’s midway through the first. Then again to Brooks with 40 seconds left in the quarter to give L.A. an 8-6 lead. Four minutes into the second quarter, his third hammer assist found Eric Lissner (#43) to go up 12-9. VIDEO In all, Elbogen finished the first half with four assists and two highlight-reel goals. As time expired in the first, Lissner was near the Aviators side of the field when he unleashed a forehand that bladed straight towards the front corner of the end zone on the opposite side of the field. A Spider defender angled himself to intercept, but instead of catching the block the disc bounced off his hand and back into the air. Elbogen instinctively followed the play, positioning himself in the exact spot where the fluttering disc would meet the sideline of the end zone. Simultaneously stopping the rotation of the disc while keeping his toes inbounds, Elbogen secured the catch and the goal to end the quarter. His second goal may have been more spectacular. Three minutes into the second, Brent George (#3) had possession on the Aviators sideline twenty yards out of the end zone. Elbogen made an up-line cut in front of George, finding space behind his defender as he sprinted towards the front corner. George floated a forehand that was a couple steps short, in position for the defender to make a play. Robbing what appeared to be a clear block for the defender, Elbogen ripped the disc from his grasp, directly in front of an oncoming backside-help defender for the improbable goal and 10-8 lead. Elbogen proved he was human during the game with three turnovers, but his overall performance was the driving force for L.A.
The second half had its own share of excitement. Bryan Nguyen (#12) summoned his inner-Jeff Silverman and made a flying, flailing catch around defensive pressure near the end of the third. Earlier in the game, Silverman (#19) had summoned a less-theatrical version himself when he misread a huck from Zac Schakner (#22), first over-running the flight of the disc too far left, then recovering back to the right while at a full sprint to make the catch. Schakner created some sparks of his own late in the third quarter, reacting to poor conduct from one of the Spiders. After throwing an assist to Evan Brydon to take a 19-18 lead, San Jose’s Kelly Van Arsdale turned yelling towards the Aviators sideline in a clear act of taunting. Schakner suggested Van Arsdale “keep walking” back to his sideline. Deciding smartly to not further incite the man the L.A. franchise affectionately refers to as “Schak-Daddy”, Van Arsdale left the vicinity without further incident.
The fourth quarter began inauspiciously for Los Angeles when George jumped up to make a play on the disc in the end zone. With the disc firmly in his clutches while still in the air, he was pummeled from behind by a defender. The disc fell from his grasp to the turf, eliciting an eruption from the Aviators’ sideline, but silence from the referee. San Jose converted that turnover into a goal, giving them a 22-19 lead with ten minutes left. L.A. brought it back to a tie at 23 with seven minutes remaining when Mitchell Steiner (#14) proclaimed on the sideline the need for more aggressive defensive attempts. He turned himself into a prophet by abandoning his defensive assignment from the weak side to sky over a Spider and teammate Sean McDougall (#10) to create a turnover. Steiner eventually got the disc to Zach Theodore (#16) for the tying goal. That was the first of three goals Theodore would score in the fourth quarter, accounting for the entirety of his scoring for the game. San Jose held on offense, then squashed Nguyen on a floating “hospital” pass to create a turnover and score the break point for a 25-23 lead. On the ensuing L.A. possession, the offense worked to get to the goal line before turning the disc over in the end zone. San Jose called timeout to get situated, then promptly threw the disc straight into the waiting hands of Peter Zhou (#11) for the easiest Callahan (ultimate’s version of a safety or defensive touchdown) of his life. Los Angeles could not capitalize on that momentum, though, and San Jose scored consecutive goals to take a 27-24 lead with two minutes left. The Aviators offense spent the remaining time making sure to score a goal instead of scoring goals quickly, managing to find paydirt one more time before time expired on the defeat.
Having lost the game they were expecting to win, Sunday’s game against San Francisco seemed even more daunting as now the Aviators’ season seemed to be on the brink of disaster. Los Angeles’ saving grace may have been the desire of the San Francisco club team, Revolver, to hold a practice right before the game. Several FlameThrowers have double-duty as members of Revolver, so participating in an elite-level practice for multiple hours then competing professionally without a break probably took a toll on several key players. Their first-quarter play could have fooled anyone, though. Names like Dallman, Hagen and Higgins made their presence known often as the squads played to a 6-6 tie. The Aviators managed to pull off a second, quarter-ending, improbable goal in as many days. This time, Allen Lai (#68) floated a last-second huck into the end zone. Lissner found a spot in front of the crowd, rose in the air and plucked the disc from the sky before anyone else had a chance.
Los Angeles started the second quarter with a hold on offense, followed by two break point conversions to take a 9-6 lead. The teams played even for the next nine minutes, including Brooks placing an inside-out forehand to Elbogen in a spot where a full-extension block attempt from Hagen could only accomplish the tiniest of finger-grazes. That goal made it 15-12 in favor of L.A. with a little over a minute remaining in the half. San Francisco punched one in with 28 seconds left, then a throw by Lai out of bounds was followed by a FlameThrower drop and compounded by Eli Friedman (#53) having his last-second huck attempt blocked by the mark. Three goals each by Elbogen and Lissner, accompanied by three assists each from Hunter Corbett (#17) and Lai contributed to the 15-13 Aviator lead at the half.
Los Angeles started the third quarter with consecutive break points to take a four-goal lead. They would not lead by less than two for the rest of the game. Schakner had a one-handed, full-extension layout grab of a Corbett scoober early in the third that earned him a substitution after he rose slowly from the ground. Silverman had a backfield defensive block that lead directly to an Aviators goal. The third quarter ended in comical fashion when Nguyen defended a hurried San Francisco throw. Thinking there were only 2 or 3 seconds left in the quarter, he quickly rushed a hail mary towards the end zone. San Francisco caught it and quickly launched it back the other direction, looking to capitalize on another Los Angeles time management miscue. Nguyen made up for his error by launching into the air and intercepting the pass, tallying two defensive blocks in less than 10 seconds.
The fourth quarter started ominously when Brooks and Friedman had their third miscommunication of the game, creating their second backfield turnover. Lai redeemed them with a ferocious hand block right away. Brooks would find Nguyen with a hammer for the goal and an obvious momentum shift on L.A.’s sideline. The most impressive moment of the day may have been the last one for the Aviators’ disc control. With a four-goal lead and the game out of reach, Los Angeles forced a turnover with just under two minutes left. The offense did not force a single difficult throw, and used all but seven seconds of the clock before Theodore found Corbett for the goal and exuberant sideline celebration. Steiner sealed the 27-22 final score with one last defensive interception as the clock ticked to zero.
Over the whole weekend, Elbogen finished with six goals and eight assists. Lissner totaled eight goals and five assists. Lai had two goals against San Jose and five assists against San Francisco. Corbett contributed two goals, six assists, and five defensive blocks over both games. As each game plays out, Los Angeles looks to be in more and more of a rhythm, while steadily ramping up their defensive pressure and getting contributions from everyone. With three of their next four games coming against Vancouver, there is no more crucial time for the team to be firing on all cylinders as they make their playoff push. The next game is at Occidental College this Saturday, June 18, against the Riptide. First pull is at 7:30 pm PT. Tickets are available now!
A special shout out for this weekend goes to the amazing fan base the Aviators have. San Jose ownership mentioned that an estimated 100 Aviator supporters showed up at enemy territory on Saturday. He playfully invited Los Angeles to come up and play anytime if that was going to be the result of their presence. And in San Francisco, the loudest cheers to be heard were the “Go Aviators!” screams that could be heard from across the field, louder even than the public address announcer at times. The support of the fans is always appreciated and never overlooked. Thank you, Flight Deck! See you Saturday! #AviatorsDominate