Photo by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com
After close losses in their first two games – 14-12 to Seattle the weekend before after being down 14-6 early in the 4th quarter, and 18-17 on a last minute goal to San Francisco at Vancouver’s home opener the night before – the Vancouver Nighthawks were determined to get their first win in Portland against the Stags last Sunday. A little thing like a 6-hour bus ride after playing the previous night wasn’t going to stop them.
The Nighthawks have had trouble with slow starts, and given the situation it was probably no surprise that it happened again in this game. Assistant Coach Jeff “Shank” Cruickshank certainly wasn’t surprised.
“I was a little concerned with our energy level in the warm-up after playing an emotional home-opener the night before and then getting up early for a fairly long travel day down to Portland. We had bad starts in each of our first two games and our goal was to start better in this one.”
“We did start a little better, but I would still classify it as ‘less of a slow start’ in this game than in our previous couple, although we still trailed 4-3 early due to a couple of offensive miscues on our part. Portland capitalized on a first point turnover and had a couple of good offensive possessions to get the lead.”
“A combination of a change in defensive strategy on our part and some unforced Portland turnovers swung the momentum and gave us a lead we would never relinquish. In a span of 5 points, Portland dropped two swing passes near their goal line and also dropped a pull. We also changed our marking strategy started applying some of our pressure sideline defenses which they did not handle very well. Our pressure sideline D forced several late count decisions and produced multiple turnovers throughout the game.”
Mainstay Mark Leduc, fresh off scoring five goals versus San Francisco the night before, puts it this way.
“Our handler defense was tight from the get go, though we gave up deep hucks for scores on multiple possessions in the first half. That being said, we were somewhat successful on defense in both making the Stags work it up the sideline, and in putting pressure on their dumps, in each case forcing them to make some tough throws that led to turnovers.”
“The first quarter was our highest scoring quarter all season and ended up 8-5 in our favour. The rest of the way our offense scored with a fair amount of ease, but still giving up a break here and there. Our defense did their jobs and kept the pressure up the rest of the way.”
The Stags relied on those hucks to keep them in the second quarter and managed to stay in the game with the half time score at 12-9 for the Nighthawks.
The Nighthawks were broken on the first point of the second half to make it 12-10, and it was 13-11 after the next two points, but the Vancouver defense kept the pressure on the Portland throwers, culminating in a Callahan by Aaron Liu with seven seconds left in the 3rd quarter to give the Nighthawks a five-point lead. (A Callahan is the term used in Ultimate for when the team on offense mistakenly passes the disc to the defending team in the offensive team’s own end zone, which counts as a goal for the defending team.)
From there the teams traded points the rest of the way, with the final score being 21-17 for the Nighthawks, giving the weary road warriors a well-deserved first win, setting up both teams for a rematch back in Vancouver this coming Saturday.
Co-captain Mauro Ortiz summarizes the game this way.
“Portland played well and used their striking game and athleticism to keep the score close early, so our D line make some adjustments and put pressure on their O line, and with the help of a few mistakes on their part we were able to get a lead and maintain it to the end of the game.”
Asked about the Vancouver standouts in the game, coach Shank highlighted the Callaghan goal by Aaron “Prez” Liu.
“Prez has been our most consistent defender in all three games this season and had another outstanding game last night. On offense, Aaron Loach had another strong game in the lane as an initiating cutter and Andy Collins made some big catches downfield either for goals or to set up goals. Oscar Pottinger had a steady game in the backfield keeping our offense moving.”
Says Ortiz, “The game was full of great plays from both teams but we managed to end up with a W this time. We know the Stags will be ready for the Saturday rematch in Vancouver and will try to take the W, but we’ll be ready. I am really looking forward to playing them again in front of our loud fans.”
“It should be an interesting match-up next week, with neither team having played the night before, the way it was for this game. Portland will be getting back some players who were away playing with their college teams, and we’ll be down some players who will be trying out to represent Canada at the World Games. We’ll be counting on those fans to push us to victory.”