Photo by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com

Going into last Saturday’s matchup, the Vancouver Nighthawks of Major League Ultimate had not beaten the Seattle Rainmakers in five tries. This was a bit of a talking point, because the teams are arch-rivals due to the top club teams from each city having clashed dozens of times over the last two decades.

Two weeks ago when the two teams met up in Mount Vernon, Washington, the Rainmakers prevailed 20-15 in a game that was closer than the score suggests. The main reason for their win was the inability of the Nighthawks to deal with the lane-clogging zone the Rainmakers deployed whenever the Nighthawks offence was trying to score upwind (and even downwind at times). The Nighthawks had not been practicing their zone offence, and the wind, which strengthened throughout the game, exacerbated this oversight.

When the rematch occurred last Saturday night at Thunderbird Stadium though, the conditions were perfect, with moderate temperatures and almost no wind. To top if off, the Nighthawks were coming off a bye week, which allowed them to fine tune their zone offence.

The Rainmakers never led in this game. By using strong defensive pressure and a smooth-running offence which quickly forced Seattle to abandon the zone, the Nighthawks were able to establish a three-point lead going into halftime. But three points is not a secure lead against an accomplished team like the Rainmakers, so it was incumbent on the Nighthawks to stretch that lead, and this is what they accomplished in the last 4:19 of the third quarter.

Cue up this video.

[iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/P9JOIPdK1gQ#t=23m40s” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen]  
First up, Khalif El-Salaam scores a nice goal for Seattle to make the score 17-15 for the Nighthawks. He celebrates quite exuberantly, which perhaps fires up the Vancouver D-line, which thereupon takes over the game.

We are now at the 25:20 mark on the video, with 4:19 left in the third quarter.

On receiving the subsequent pull, the Vancouver handlers interchange nicely before moving the disc to cutter Mark Leduc who puts up a perfectly placed O-I sidearm which MLU scoring leader Brendan Wong pulls in to make the score 18-15. The entire point took only 16 seconds, one of many quick scores for the Vancouver O-line in this game.

We are now at the 26:35 mark on the video, with 4:03 left in the third quarter.

After receiving the pull, Seattle moves the disc about halfway up the field before Allan Cowan gets a nice D, immediately picks up the disc, and hucks it downfield. A wide-open Tayuko Saito lays out to catch it just short of the end zone and calmly waits for Matthew Doyle to get open for the goal, making it 19:15.

We are now at the 28:10 mark on the video, with 3:30 left in the third quarter.

Vancouver’s defensive push continues to intensify and very quickly Bobo Eyrich D blocks Donnie Clark near the Seattle end zone. The Nighthawks move the disc around smartly before the Vancouver bench calls a timeout just as they were about to score. Seattle tries double-teaming the disc as play resumes but Keane Knapp expertly breaks the double team, and a few passes later Aaron Loach finds Gagan Chatha to make it 20-15.

We are now at the 31:15 mark on the video, with 3:40 left in the third quarter.

As Seattle receives the next pull, you can start to see frustration building among their handlers at the close marking by the Vancouver D-line. They do manage to complete a few passes, but Peter Yu, who was a standout in this game with no fewer than four Ds, gets a foot block which gives the Nighthawks the disc near midfield. In the game two weeks earlier, the Vancouver D-line had sometimes looked tired when they switched to offence after forcing a turnover, but there was no sign of that this week. Five quick passes later, Morgan Hibbert finds Alex Davis with space in the end zone to make Vancouver’s advantage 21-15.

We are now at the 33:05 mark on the video, with 2:06 left in the third quarter.

This time the Seattle offence manages to move the disc more than halfway up the field but then Myles Sinclair does a fantastic job marking Adam Simon while Nick Menzies shuts down Eddie Feeley’s attempts to get open, leading to a time count violation and yet another Seattle turnover. The Nighthawks don’t manage to score right away due to an incomplete hammer into the Seattle end zone, but this just sets them up for another chance to add to their turnover count. The Rainmakers barely manage to get it out of their end zone and within seconds drop the disc.

The Nighthawks turn it over again in the Seattle end zone. Simon quickly picks up the disc and runs it up to his goal line but before he can get a pass off, his bench calls a timeout to give him and his teammates a rest. The frustration caused by the unrelenting defensive pressure by the Nighthawks shows in his reaction.

We are now at the 35:40 mark on the video, with 0:08 left in the third quarter.

The timeout allows Seattle to set up a play to try to score in the remaining eight seconds, and also to make sure they don’t turn over the disc again, giving Vancouver another chance to score, but the planning goes for nought. Seattle’s first pass is poor and ends up on the turf, from where Brendan Wong picks it up and easily finds Mark Leduc in the end zone to make the score 22-15 on the last tick of the clock before the third quarter ended. With only 10 minutes left in the game and a seven-point lead for the Nighthawks, it was essentially game over.

The Nighthawks’ play in this win over Seattle, and in particular in the 4:19 we just watched, showcases what the Vancouver style of ultimate is all about: a smooth flowing offense built around a potent huck game; a pressure defense that can force turnovers and strike quickly for a score; and a deep, fit, talented, and athletic line-up that can wear down and frustrate the opposition.

The Nighthawks’ next game is next Saturday, May 17 in San Francisco at 2 p.m. You will be able to watch a live stream here.

Vancouver’s next home game is against the Portland Stags at the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Stadium on Saturday, May 24 at 7 p.m..

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