Vancouver suffered their first home loss of the season in Week 7 as the Portland Stags took the victory by a score of 19-16. With the loss, Vancouver drops to 2-4 on the season while the Stags are on top of the Western Conference at 4-1.
After a fourth quarter Nighthawks comeback roused the boisterous crowd full of participants from the B.C. High School Championships which are taking place this weekend on the fields outside Thunderbird Stadium, Vancouver tied the game at 15. Ultimately the comeback fell just short when the Stags dug in their heels and took four of the final five points.
Up until Saturday night’s game against the Stags, Thunderbird Stadium had been a fortress for the Nighthawks. Vancouver had put up 26 and 29 points in their pair of wins and appeared unstoppable on their home turf. Tonight’s game against Portland changed all that.
It wasn’t so much a dominant performance by the Stags as it was a much different Nighthawks effort than the fans were used to seeing as the team struggled with drops and turnovers. That said, Portland’s most potent weapon was a strong huck game which frequently sliced right through the Vancouver defense, particularly as the Stags won the vast majority of the contested catches.
“We had some tough fouls early on. There were three breaks early in the game from non-disc related plays,” said Kirk Savage, who scored one goal and four assists for the Nighthawks in the game. “That threw our team for a bit of a loop and put us in a hole, and we had to try to get out of that. Portland did a nice job of clogging lanes and double-teaming players.”
On the game’s first point, Steve Kenton found Cody Bjorklund in the end zone. On the play, Mark Leduc narrowly missed out on getting the D, foreshadowing Vancouver’s effort on the day. They tried hard, but too often weren’t quite able to get it done. Brendan Wong then put Vancouver on the scoreboard courtesy of an Aaron Loach throw and followed it up with another, this time from Gagan Chatha. Wong ended up with eight points (six goals, two assists) on the night to move back into the MLU scoring lead.
Myles Sinclair had a big D on the next point which would allow recent birthday boy Joel Bellavance some celebration time in the end zone after a Nick Menzies toss. The ensuing pull landed Vancouver in poor field position when they were caught offside. Portland wasted little time in capitalizing on the shortened field, with Mark Burton using all of 12 seconds to deliver the disc to Eli Friedman for another goal. The final point of the quarter went to Portland after a massive layout from Topher Davis forced the turnover, giving the Stags a 5-4 lead.
The second quarter was as uneven as the first was tight. Kirk Savage got the Nighthawks off to a good start when he hit Wong for a goal, but it was all downhill from there. The Nighthawks would fail to score for the remaining 9:17 of the quarter as Portland racked up four unanswered points. Both teams struggled with turnovers at times but the Stags were relentless in punishing the hosts for any fouls. The teams headed into half with the visitors on top 9-5.
It was a rough 10 minutes for the Nighthawks.
“We didn’t execute the fundamentals in our offense, and they punished us for that. Every time we made slightly marginal choices they came down on us,” said a clearly disappointed Marc Seraglia.
When Chris Hancock opened up the second half with a seven-second point to Camden Allison-Hall, the fans were apprehensive, but the Nighthawks weren’t about to concede just yet. Patience around the Stags’ end zone resulted in a Matt Berezan score from Wong. Following another Portland point, Raphy Hayes came up with a highlight reel catch on a diving second-effort after Leduc looked to have gotten the D. Up 12-6 after an 8-1 run lasting almost half a game, the Stags could afford to coast a bit and the rest of the quarter was fairly even. A late stall count violation nearly sent Portland into the final frame up five, but a Kevin Underhill layout ensured that the lead would just be four at 15-11.
The Nighthawks then stuck on the rally caps and made a game of it in the final quarter. A travel foul gave the hosts the disc close to the Stags’ end zone and Underhill found Wong for the point. The very next possession, Portland again traveled, and Vancouver punched it in on a Peter Yu to Seraglia connection. The Stags continued their self-destruction when a poor throw at half-field gave the Nighthawks another prime opportunity, whereupon Rumi Tejpar caught a huck before hitting Yu. Racking up the frequent flier miles, the Stags took their third travel of the quarter, and Savage found Berezan to tie it up at 15. Unfortunately for the Nighthawks, they had expended too much energy making the comeback for the tie, and that would be as close as they’d come to victory as the Stags took four of the final five points for a 19-16 Portland win.
Gagan Chatha took home the Vancouver Ultimate League Player of the Game honours for the Nighthawks on his three-point (one goal, two assists) effort that was highlighted by several tightly-contested catches. Eli Friedman earned his award for the Stags on a five-point night (two goals, three assists) while also putting up a D.
Despite the loss, coach Andrew Lugsdin had no difficulty picking out positive takeaways from the game.
“I’m glad we came back and played better; it gives us something to build on. I think some of the guys, especially on the D-line, played some good defense, particularly on something we’ve been trying to work on this year, getting more consistent in our defensive pressure.”
Next up for Vancouver is a game in Seattle on Saturday, May 31st at 7 p.m. Portland will stay on the road as they head to San Francisco also on May 31st, at 7 p.m.