The Vancouver Nighthawks of Major League Ultimate defeated the Dogfish in San Francisco by a score of 17-15, continuing their impressive late season form to close out the regular season with a record of 6-4. The result sends the club into the playoffs on a four-game winning streak, something the Portland Stags will be well aware of when they host the Nighthawks for the Western Conference Final on June 28.
Boxer Stadium once again presented difficult conditions for the players as the wind was both strong and variable. Not even the simple passes were easy to complete on Saturday, Alex Davis noted after the game:
“This stadium’s strategies and performances revolve around the wind. It really rewards a zen approach to the game. In those conditions, you need to decide what the team should try to do to win and just calmly accept that there are going to be mistakes and turnovers and things going wrong.”
The conditions led to numerous errors by both teams right from the start. Not helping matters, pulls into the wind consistently failed to advance much beyond half, but those same blustery breezes meant the shortened field didn’t produce as many points as one might think since the receiving team was frequently unable to complete enough passes to capitalize. After a first quarter ended by a Brendan Wong score sent the two teams into the second frame with Vancouver up 5-4, it was obvious the game was going to be a dogfight right to the end.
With the wind at their backs on the opening pull of the second quarter, the Dogfish hemmed the Nighthawks in deep when the disc rolled right out the back of the end zone. While Vancouver did manage to work the disc out of the end zone, they didn’t get much beyond that before giving up possession, allowing an Ian Meyer goal from in close to tie it up at 5-5, starting a four-point run for the hosts that lasted almost nine minutes which left them up 8-5 with 2:07 left in the first half.
But Vancouver regrouped, clawing two back in the remaining two minutes while making full use of two timeouts.
After marching down the field to San Francisco’s doorstep, the Nighthawks appeared to turn the disc over, but a timeout call from the sidelines just before the turnover saved possession. Moments later, John Norris took advantage of the second opportunity and hit Wong for the score with 23 seconds on the clock. The subsequent pull saw the Dogfish drop the disc in their own end zone. Peter Yu alertly grabbed the disc and called timeout immediately, eventually allowing Norris to fire to Wong once again to cut the advantage to 8-7 Dogfish at half.
Still riding the momentum from their late first half surge, the Nighthawks wasted little time tying it up in the third quarter. After a beautiful layout for a Morgan Hibbert toss, Yu delivered a perfect flick to a streaking Takuya Saito to make it 8-8. For all the havoc the wind played, it was also integral to a key Nighthawks’ point. With San Francisco up 10-8, Vancouver was looking for a score to avoid falling into a three-point hole once again. Norris spotted Keane Knapp making a beeline for the upwind end zone but his throw appeared to be just a bit too strong. The breeze helped out for once when a fortuitous gust lightly popped the disc up again for an easy catch by Knapp. The teams continued to trade points for the remainder of the quarter, heading into the final frame tied at 12.
After the opening scores of the last 10 minutes, by Wong and San Francisco’s Aaron Caulfield, solved nothing, the Nighthawks were finally able to put some distance between them and their opponents. A three-point run, highlighted by a soaring Bobo Eyrich layout in the end zone on a pass from Jordan Tessarolo, established a lead the playoff-bound visitors wouldn’t relinquish. San Francisco pulled it back to 16-15 with 1:25 left but Vancouver put the nail in the coffin when the duo of Wong and Norris connected one final time.
“It was a very close game, but the team rarely strayed from that vision of what we intended to do,” said Davis. “We had defensive lapses, most notably in the second quarter, but we stayed the course, and that was good to see.”
“With a playoff spot locked up, the team could be a bit looser. We didn’t want to look past this weekend but the general attitude was one of confidence,” said Kevin Underhill. “It wasn’t a complete game by any means and we certainly have things to work on before we play Portland in the playoffs, but it’s certainly nice to finish with a W, no matter how ugly it might have looked at times.”
The game was another record-breaking night for the Nighthawks’ Wong, who eclipsed the previous MLU points mark for a season of 61 by running his total to 64 thanks to his seven points (five goals, two assists). Norris had his second straight strong game for Vancouver, again filling the void caused by Kirk Savage‘s absence due to a knee infection as he put up six points (one goal, five assists). Morgan Hibbert failed to break the league record of 20 Ds he had already tied last week when he failed to notch one this game, but he won’t mind a bit as he looks forward to his and the team’s first taste of playoff action.
In a losing cause, Jackson Stearns (two goals, one assist) and Jordan Jeffery (one goal, two assists) led the way for the Dogfish.
The game signaled the end of the regular season for two teams going in decidedly different directions. The Dogfish will head into their off-season with a 2-8 record and some thinking to do about next year. Meanwhile, the Nighthawks will travel to Portland on June 28 for a playoff showdown in the Western Conference Final.
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