Photos by Rodney Chen – UltiPhotos.com
The Vancouver Nighthawks opened their third season with a close loss to the Dogfish in San Francisco by a score of 14-15.
On the surface this looks similar to last season’s opening game, for which the Nighthawks journeyed to San Francisco and lost 12-13, but there were two big differences.
Last season the Dogfish played in Boxer Stadium, where the defining factor was wind, and not just any wind, but a gusty swirling wind prone to changing direction and speed even during a single throw. One point last season featured more than 25 turnovers and took the majority of a quarter to complete.
Judging by yesterday’s game, players in the other Western Conference teams no longer face losing confidence in their throwing ability when they visit the Dogfish. The winds at San Francisco’s new home, Yellowjacket Stadium in Berkeley, were certainly present yesterday, but they were relatively calm, and above all, consistent.
“The playing conditions were great,” said Nighthawks handler Kirk Savage. “The stadium that they’re now playing in is much better than the one they used before.”
This brings us to the second difference from last season. In 2013 the Nighthawks were a veteran team enlivened by several top-level rookies, but after substantial off-season turnover, the 2014 Nighthawks feature 20 MLU rookies salted with several top-level veterans. In a tight game, this can make all the difference.
To quote Nighthawks captain Morgan Hibbert, “Today was a learning experience…”
Coach Andrew Lugsdin was reasonably satisfied despite the final outcome.
“The team played well given how little time they’ve had to play together as a unit. We’ll just have to continue to get much better each week. The guys did play well enough to be in a position to win the game. Unfortunately we didn’t get it done, but it was good that we gave ourselves that opportunity.”
For most of the game the teams traded points, with no lead greater than one point, the first half ending 9-8 for San Francisco. Late in the third quarter, the Nighthawks finally forced several breaks and took the lead for the first time 11-10. But they failed to capitalize on the breakthrough, giving up four straight points, most notably committing two offensive fouls on the first point of the third quarter with the score tied 11-11.
“The guys came out after half and played very well, especially defensively,” said Lugsdin. “We had a few shots to go up by two, but we couldn’t get it done, and things unravelled a bit on us. Our inexperience in those situations played a factor. The guys will get better about being more consistent in their decisions and their execution as we go through the season.”
With the score 14-11 for San Francisco and time running out, the Nighthawks showed their resilience by fighting back, powered by veterans Hibbert and Brendan Wong and rookie William Vu. They whittled the Dogfish lead down to a single goal, but in the end there wasn’t enough time left to complete the comeback.
“The team, as could be expected, had some issues, especially early when the offense wasn’t gelling,” said Savage. “I expect that to improve as the season progresses. On a positive, our defense played well, making life difficult for the Dogfish O-line. Many of the San Francisco points came off transitions and quick hucks.”
“In my opinion, we needed our vets to all play well today in order to get the W, and I think that we all (me included) wish that we had played better.”
Lugsdin was generally pleased with the performances of his rookies, particularly Samson Hoy.
“I thought Samson played very well; very solid with his throws, made some big catches, played good D. For all of the new guys, I thought that they played better as the game went on. They got more comfortable and just started playing.”
Another rookie standout for the Nighthawks was Ted Chu, who scored three goals and had two blocks and several outstanding layout bids.
Next week the Nighthawks travel to Seattle to play the Rainmakers on Saturday night, April 26. They open their home season against the Portland Stags at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 3. You can buy tickets here.