Photos by Jeff Bell and Kurtis Stewart – UltiPhotos.com

The Vancouver Nighthawks (2-2) outplayed the Seattle Rainmakers (3-2) on Saturday night at Thunderbird Stadium in a 29-23 victory.

Vancouver suffered a 20-15 defeat against Seattle two weeks ago, struggling to figure out the opposition’s defence in poor weather conditions, but they redeemed themselves in the rematch. Although Seattle stayed close for the better part of three quarters, Vancouver sprinted away in the closing minutes of the third, scoring four unanswered to break the game wide open.

“It was great. Today we played like we know we can play,” said Matthew Berezan. “It was frustrating going into Seattle two weeks ago and losing, not because we weren’t better than them but because we didn’t try. They just worked harder than us and they won. So this game we came out hard, and we maintained that throughout the whole game.”

The game kicked off with a Kevin Underhill forehand to Gagandeep Chatha in the end zone for the first point and lead of the game, a lead the Nighthawks would never relinquish.

Following a second point for the hosts courtesy of Morgan Hibbert, Seattle got on the board when Donnie Clark connected with Danny Trytiak. The teams traded points for the rest of the quarter, neither managing to build significant momentum either way. With 47 seconds left, John Norris sent a deep huck to Aaron Loach on the edge of the end zone, with Loach then completing a short pass to Brendan Wong for the score. Although the Rainmakers were quick to equalize — Trytiak and Clark swapped previous roles for the goal — the Nighthawks made the final minute an exciting one when Loach threw a gorgeous hammer to team up with Wong again, making it 6-5 for the hosts.

Clark was a standout for Seattle all night, and the amazing catches with which he opened the second quarter scoring for Seattle showed why. Adam Simon delivered a low hammer to the end zone and a diving Clark somehow managed to come up with the disc. After a Keane Knapp to Berezan goal, Myles Sinclair racked up a huge D which the Nighthawks capitalized on to grab the first two-point lead since the start of the game. Jordan Tessarolo was next to step up when he went all out to record a D of his own in Vancouver’s own end zone. Tessarolo came off injured on the play, but he was able to watch his teammates march down the field to go up 9-6 on an Allan Cowan throw to Sinclair, taking control of the game, a control they never relinquished the rest of the way. Play continued evenly for the rest of the frame as the teams headed into half with the Nighthawks on top 13-10.

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Eddie Feeley and Ben Beehner got the third quarter scoring started on a break, but on the ensuing pull the Rainmakers were offside, giving the Nighthawks a prime opportunity to score with a shortened field. They didn’t waste it; Joel Bellevance sent a scoober to Tessarolo in a point that took all of 14 seconds. A few points later, Seattle had a chance to close the deficit to one, having the disc while down down 15-13, but foul trouble struck again. A travel resulted in a turnover, and Hibbert delivered the disc to Matthew Doyle for a 16-13 score instead of the 15-14 the visitors had been pushing for. A few scores later, it was 17-15, with the game continuing to be played at a breakneck pace.

And then the Nighthawks found another gear.

With 4:04 left in the third quarter, Mark Leduc hit Wong for a goal. 18-15. Next, Takuya Saito came up with a diving effort on the edge of the end zone before quickly throwing to Doyle. A Bobo Eyrich hand block then put the Nighthawks on the Rainmakers’ doorstep, and, following a Vancouver timeout, Chatha was on the receiving end of a Loach pass. On the next point, Peter Yu, who had four D’s on the day, got a foot block, leading to Hibbert connecting with Alex Davis. With eight seconds left in the quarter, Seattle took a timeout to strategize, but their possession went poorly as they turned the disc over almost immediately, allowing Wong to race to the disc and toss it to Leduc as time expired, bringing the score to 22-15.

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With the Nighthawks sitting on a seven-point lead with only 10 minutes left, the final outcome was all but decided. The quarter itself was fairly even; not even Clark’s one-man-wrecking-crew effort for the Rainmakers — an MLU record for a single game 14 points, made up of 12 goals and 2 assists — could even hint at stealing a W. When time expired, the Nighthawks had taken the day 29-23, with 52 being the new MLU record for goals in a single game, and had beaten the Rainmakers for the first time in their shared MLU history.

“I thought we played well in all the quarters. The defence’s intensity stayed up and I think we wore down their O-line as the game went on because of that relentless pressure,” said Head Coach Andrew Lugsdin.

Vancouver’s two wins this season have both come at Thunderbird Stadium. As teammates signed autographs in the background, Yu couldn’t say enough about playing at home.

“It’s a fast surface and we’ve got our fans here. You want to bid every time you can. It’s amazing.”

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It was another strong team effort from the Nighthawks. While Wong picked up player of the game with seven points (five goals, two assists) to maintain his position atop the scoring table, 20 Vancouver players posted at least a point; Seattle had 12. The Nighthawks (2-2) will now head off to San Francisco next week for a date with the Dogfish on May 17 at 2 p.m.

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