There’s a good chance the Major League Ultimate Defensive Play of the Week Award goes to a Vancouver Nighthawk after the squad produced two outstanding candidates against the Seattle Rainmakers.

Nighthawks D-liner Morgan Hibbert is a giant of a man standing just under 6-foot-3 and weighing 190 pounds. He is remarkably coordinated for someone so big and has terrorized O-line strikers for years. He captains the team, takes every pull and leads the league in Ds.

His D-line compatriot, Peter Yu, is often the smallest player on the ultimate field at only 5-foot-7 and weighs only 154 pounds in spite of a muscular build. Although he had an outstanding career as a junior, he is in only his second year playing top level men’s ultimate and is an MLU rookie.

In last week’s overtime win over the Rainmakers in Seattle, both of these very different-looking players made a defensive play that should be in the running for Play of the Year once the season ends. And both of those plays were vital turning points that helped the Nighthawks pull out a win that greatly enhanced their chances of making the Western Conference playoffs.

Morgan Stands Tall

Well, runs tall actually…

Seattle opened the fourth quarter of the game by catching Hibbert’s pull and smoothly scoring to take a 19-17 lead, but the Nighthawks managed to score on their turn to bring it back to 19-18.

After receiving the next pull, the Rainmakers lost the disc on a routine D by Hibbert, one of the six he had in this game, but the Nighthawks then returned the disc to Seattle with a throwaway. The Rainmakers’ most experienced handler, Adam Simon, eventually received the disc in his favourite area, midway between the sidelines and on his own side of centre field. At first Allan Cowan marked Simon closely but as the count got higher he backed off a step, allowing Simon to get off a sidearm huck downfield in the direction of teammate Donnie Clark, who is currently tied for the lead in MLU goalscoring with the Nighthawks’ Brendan Wong.

Then this happened:

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Hibbert comes from several strides behind on one of the most lethal strikers in MLU, manages to also somehow keep his eye on a disc coming in over his shoulder and then throws himself into the air with enough control that he is able to reach out and deflect the disc that Clark had thought would be an easy catch.

The Nighthawks promptly called a timeout to get their O-line on the field and scored to tie it up.

It’s worth watching the original coverage to get the replay. Cue up this video at the 1:53:20 mark.

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Yu Lays It All on the Line

After Hibbert’s D led to the Nighthawks tying up the game at 19-19, the teams traded points with regular time ending 22-22 and the first overtime ending 24-24. The Nighthawks received the pull to start the second overtime and smoothly moved the disc up the field to score and take the lead 25-24.

After they received the subsequent pull, the Rainmakers completed their first few throws without difficulty, but then this happened:

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As the stall count gets higher you can see that Chris Rupp, marked by Alex Davis, is getting increasingly desperate to dump it off to Simon, who is being covered by Yu. First Yu cuts off the attempt to dump it backwards by being in perfect position with his eyes on both Seattle players and the disc. When Simon then tries cutting ahead of Rupp, Yu angles across the slightly rounded cut and flings himself under Simon to get his hand on the disc to complete the D. Also check out how the veteran Davis manages to position himself perfectly in relation to Yu just by watching Rupp’s eyes and body position. Between Yu and Davis, it’s a clinic in how to strand a handler.

Yu is injured on the play as the much larger Simon lands on top of him. After he took an injury sub, the Nighthawks quickly scored to take a 26-24 lead and rolled from there to a 29-24 win. Yu recovered quickly enough that he was back out there for the clinching points.

Once again it’s worth watching the original coverage, for two reasons: to see the slow motion replay; and to see how Yu ended up covering Simon in the first place

Cue up the game video at the 2:35:30 mark as the Rainmakers receive the pull that starts the point. You’ll see that Davis is originally marking Simon while Yu is on Rupp, but then Yu breaks off for a poach on Simon which almost works, whereupon he and Davis seamlessly switch marks. Stick with the video after Yu goes off to see the replay, which underlines how amazing a layout D this was.

“We didn’t say a word; there wasn’t enough time,” said Yu. “When Davis saw me miss my poach on Simon, he immediately ran onto my guy. When Davis saw Simon trying to get the disk straight back, he rotated his mark to help me cut it off. Simon then went upfield and because I saw how Davis was marking, I knew the throw could only go to one place. Basically, Davis is a high quality robot instinctively programmed in a way that gift wrapped me that D.”

Which Would You Choose?

Smarts, disc sense, fitness and a willingness to sacrifice your body for the team; the big veteran Morgan Hibbert and the small rookie Peter Yu both displayed all those attributes in making amazing Ds that sparked their team to a vital win.

You’ll be able to watch Yu and Hibbert and their teammates strut their stuff in a rematch against the Seattle Rainmakers this Saturday, June 7 at 7 p.m at the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Stadium.

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