Photos by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com
Having dropped a 16-14 decision to the Dogfish last week, the Nighthawks were keen to move on. After Saturday night’s rematch, it turned out the Nighthawks had done just that; they left their loss in San Francisco.
A gorgeous evening out at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium was the setting for the first of three must-win games for the young Vancouver squad. With a light breeze making its way across the field, conditions were near-perfect for a tilt between two teams fighting for a shot at the playoffs.
The Nighthawks, as noted by coach Andrew Lugsdin, have been in pretty much every game this season, but getting in a hole off the bat has definitely hurt the team’s chances of winning more than once.
“We knew we played really hard last week against these guys in the second half but we came out flat at the beginning of the game. We really focused on coming out and playing with the same intensity that we did at the end of the last game at the beginning.”
That focus was evident early on as Vancouver stuck with the visitors, refusing to allow an early run. After the Dogfish put up the first point of the game 38 seconds in, the hosts promptly went about tying it up. Taylor Nadon came up with a handblock on the edge of the end-zone, allowing Ari Nitikman to hit Brendan Wong for the point. Following a San Francisco drop in Vancouver’s end-zone, the Nighthawks turned around and showed them how it’s done, with David Hochhalter delivering a half-field huck to Nathan Lam.
A quick 23-second Dogfish drive finished by Taylor Cascino to Matt Kissman was a hiccup to Vancouver’s designs on a three-point run, but the group was undeterred. Wong and Nitikman teamed up again, this time with Wong delivering the disc to the hosts’ youngest player. Andrew Riggs got deep on the Vancouver defence to reel in a toss from Michael McGuirk before a long point saw another Dogfish score when the Nighthawks couldn’t recover from a turnover at half. Not wanting to go into the first break down a score, Vancouver tied things up when a Bobo Eyrich flick found Nadon for the goal.
If the focus for the Nighthawks coming in was to keep that intensity and avoid the first quarter hole, the second quarter was all about finding some breathing room. Vancouver kicked off the second 10 minutes with some of their best movement all year, smoothly working the disc up the field until an Eyrich’s forehand found Nitikman for a 5-4 lead. A poor throw from San Francisco on the ensuing point put Vancouver in prime real estate 15 yards from the end-zone and they didn’t waste the opportunity, with Michael LeRoss ultimately flipping it to Kevin Chan.
Following another Dogfish point, the Nighthawks resumed their scoring ways as Morgan Hibbert got on the end of a lovely Wong scoober for a goal before Lam picked up a pass from Hibbert on the next possession to put the game at 8-5. Two consecutive points for the Dogfish brought the game to 8-7 before the hosts decided that the final six minutes of the half were to be dominated by the Nighthawks. A five-point run, highlighted by two incredible defensive plays — Hochhalter with a brilliant layout D, one of his 5(!) Ds on the night, and Lam with a ridiculous sky in the endzone — ended the half, putting Vancouver up 12-7 heading into the break.
If the Dogfish thought that halftime would slow down the Nighthawks’ momentum, then they were sadly mistaken. Although the visitors snagged the first point of the half when James Pollard converted to Andrew Goldstein, the Nighthawks continued to outplay San Francisco, picking up the next point on an Alan Macfarlane toss to Wong, before LeRoss came up with a D 10 yards out on the next point to set up Phillip Davidson pass to Chan. After two straight San Francisco goals narrowed th margin to 14-10, Samuel Creed sent a flick to the endzone that the defender got a piece of, but an alert Levi Jeske stuck with it and tracked it down for the point. James Yeager put it in to David Janinis for the final score of the third quarter, making it 15-11 Vancouver.
The fourth quarter might have been more interesting if Vancouver had chosen to sit on their lead, but they didn’t. Four straight points to start the final frame ensured that the remaining five minutes were little more than a formality. The Dogfish put up two more, but so did the Nighthawks, and the the 21-13 final score meant the Nighthawks lived to fight another day.
Special kudos should go to Brendan Wong. Before the game he indicated he would warm up but doubted he would be able to take the field, but in the end he managed to play 13 points while recording three goals and three assists.
As usual Morgan Hibbert filled the stats sheet for Vancouver. He extended his wide lead in the league-wide Points Played statistic by taking part in 26 points while matching Wong’s three goals and three assists. Also notable was that, led by Hochhalter’s five, the Nighthawks managed a remarkable 17 Ds on the night.
After the game, Hochhalter made reference to the fact that the team had 11 players inactive for the bout with the Dogfish.
“It’s all effort based. It’s the same guys that have been grinding all year. The fact that they can come in and step up when we need it is a testament to practice, showing up, working hard, and getting better.”
On needing to finish the year with wins against Portland and Seattle, coach Lugsdin was feeling optimistic.
“I feel confident that every game we go into that we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win, so I feel that about the closing weekend. We’re going to try to keep getting better — we’ve got a lot of young guys on the team — and the positive is that we have been getting better in lots of ways. We’ll just keep working at that and keep driving.”
Alas, the next day Seattle beat San Francisco to clinch second place and extinguish the Nighthawks’ playoff hopes, but you can can bet this team will still play hard next weekend. If they can win both matches they will pass San Francisco to finish third in the Western Conference.
The Nighthawks will host the 8-1 Portland Stags on Saturday night before closing out the regular season against the Rainmakers in Seattle the next day.
You can buy tickets to the home game against Portland here.