Photos by Jeff Bell –

The Portland Stags took home a 24-20 victory over the Vancouver Nighthawks on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Thunderbird Stadium.

The Vancouver Nighthawks’ home opener wasn’t quite the result they were looking for, but with a squad full of fresh faces, early season games are primarily about finding chemistry. The hosts showed they still have some problems in that area, as they seemed out of sync much of the game. It’s a credit to how well they played when they were in sync that the final score was so close.

The game got off to the kind of start the Nighthawks were looking for when Ari Nitikman connected with fellow rookie Nathan Lam for the first point to give Vancouver the first, and unfortunately also their last, lead of the game. After a turnover-heavy point, the Stags got on the board when Topher Davis found Steven Rice in the end zone. Portland quickly followed up with three more goals, two of them courtesy of Matt Melius. Down 4-1, Vancouver made sure the game wasn’t over before it had even started by keeping it close to end the quarter with the score 5-3 for Portland.

To kick off the second quarter, Kirk Savage proved he can still get up in the air when he brilliantly skied his defender to snag an Aaron Loach toss. After more traded points, including one by the Nighthawks on a sweet connection between another pair of rookies, Levi Jeske and Gyorgy Aponte, the squads headed into halftime with the Stags on top 12-10.

Mike LeRoss and William Vu supplied Vancouver with the start that they needed to get the second half rolling, but, once again, the team couldn’t capitalize. It was the story of the night for Vancouver; any moments of momentum weren’t sustained, as the Nighthawks failed to put together any significant runs. The teams continued their back-and-forth affair until the end of the match, with the Stags ultimately taking it 24-20.

“Our O-line was a little bit stagnant early. The D-line did well, but it just started stacking up after a while. We’ve got to pick it up earlier,” said Jeske.

When asked asked about the wealth of fresh faces on the Nighthawks, Brendan Wong said, “Everyone is still learning to play the game. Or rather, they do know how to play the game, but now they’re playing at a much different level than they’re used to. Things are moving a little bit faster, everyone’s running a bit harder, and getting used to the bigger field is certainly a change for some of the new players. They’re doing really well though. They’re eager to learn and easy to coach. It’s been a really positive experience with them getting on board, and it’s just a matter of getting in practice and repetitions to get on the same page.

Further underlining his all around game, Morgan Hibbert led the Nighthawks in scoring with three goals and seven points and added a block. With Wong hampered by an ankle injury, Jordan Tessarolo was the only other Nighthawks to put many points on the board with his goal and four assists.

A look at Portland’s stats underlines their greatest strength, spreading the scoring around. Cody Bjorklund and Timmy Perston both scored five points, while Steven Rice and Grant Cole managed five, with both Perston and Cole getting four goals.

Peter Woodside and Savage took home the most valuable spirited player awards, presented by the Vancouver Ultimate League, for the Stags and Nighthawks respectively.

The Nighthawks will take two weeks off before heading down to Portland for a rematch. At 1-2, there’s no need to hit the panic button, but Vancouver doesn’t want to fall into an early season hole. Sitting pretty with a 3-0 record, the Stags will host the San Francisco Dogfish next week looking to build on another stellar start.

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