Photo by Rodney Chen – UltiPhotos.com

The Vancouver Nighthawks made a spirited comeback against the Dogfish in San Francisco that just fell short, as they lost a close Major League Ultimate game, 16-14.

Unfortunately, it was a refereeing error that derailed the comeback. After falling behind 12-7 late in the third quarter, the Nighthawks took control of the game, forcing a number of breaks and bringing the score back to 13-15. After a great passing sequence, Morgan Hibbert found a teammate alone in the end zone to make the score 14-15 with more than enough time left to even the score, but the celebration was cut short when one of the referees made a travel call on Hibbert. Replays confirmed what the players on the field already knew; the call was incorrect. Perhaps the official was confused because Hibbert throws with both hands, but his error ended the chances of Vancouver getting a win that would have a been a huge boost to their playoffs hopes.

This wasn’t the first missed call in the game that went San Francisco’s way. On the play that made the score 12-7 for San Francisco, the Dogfish hucked the disc to Nicholas Fisk who was heading for the Vancouver end zone. It was an overthrow he had no chance of catching, but one of the officials called a foul against a Vancouver defender that would have been marginal at best even without the overthrow. Somehow the call was upheld even after the officials talked it over, so Fisk received the disc on the Vancouver goal line. But to his credit, he knew it had not been a foul so deliberately threw the disc into the ground so Vancouver could take over possession as if there had been no foul called. In a nice twist, after Vancouver turned over the disc later in the point, Fisk actually scored the subsequent goal.

It was also noticeable that the refereeing crew called six travels against Vancouver, a team which has otherwise had very few travels called against them all season, but only one against San Francisco, and that with just a few seconds left in the game when the outcome was already decided.

Though the referees certainly made a number of mistakes in San Francisco’s favour in this game, the Nighthawks made more than enough errors of their own to lose the game without the referees’ help, turning the disc over in the Dogfish end zone 17 times. If even a few of those turnovers had instead been goals, those refereeing mistakes would have been irrelevant except to their performance ratings.

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Coach Lugsdin rallies the depleted troops

“Execution mistakes, some poor decisions, and travel turnovers hampered our offense all day,” said Coach Andrew Lugsdin. “Once again, the guys played hard for most of the game but we’re still making too many mistakes.”

There’s a good reason for all those mistakes, though. After a disastrous run of injuries that decimated the O-line, Bobo Eyrich was the only member of Vancouver’s opening day starting O-line who played in this game. Though Hibbert, who rarely came off the field the entire game, was there to help, the young rookies are still figuring how to perform consistently and come through when it’s needed. And with so many players out, the San Francisco wind and heat took their toll on a very short roster; many of the Nighthawks players were clearly exhausted after the game

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William Vu gets the D

Nathan Lam points to something else that hampered the Nighthawks this day; a lack of desperation and attitude until late in the game.

“We didn’t come out of the gate with the same intensity we showed when we had our backs to the wall in the 4th quarter. We were working hard but we just didn’t have the same attitude as we had in the fourth, when we were absolutely relentless. They couldn’t move the disc up-field because our D-line completely suffocated them.

“We have been in almost every game and have showed we have the ability to compete, but we lack the consistency that the great teams exhibit. Major League Ultimate is played in four quarters of 10 minutes duration, not just the last 10 minutes of a game. It’s a cliché but true nonetheless.”

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Anthony Phan walks the disc up to the goal line after a turnover

With this loss, the Nighthawks’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. The only way they can get in is if they win all three of their remaining games while the Seattle Rainmakers lose both of theirs, creating a three-way tie between the Dogfish, Nighthawks, and Rainmakers. (Seattle and Vancouver play each other in the last game of the season; that could get tense!)

Lugsdin is glad he has something positive to build on for the stretch run.

“It was good that we played such intense D down the stretch. If you take away the Hibbert travel call at the end of the game, we would have been pulling to tie the game. Still it comes down to winning and we haven’t been able to get over the hump.”

The Nighthawks will be looking to vanquish that hump when they host the Dogfish for a rematch at Thunderbird Stadium at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 20.

You can buy tickets to the game here.

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