Riptide get edged by Growlers
For the second home game of the 2015 season, the Riptide faced off against the San Diego Growlers on Sunday afternoon. With a pull time of 1pm, the game was perfectly placed between a Mother’s Day brunch and a Sunday BBQ for the Riptide fans. The day was overcast but warm, with no wind to speak of. It was perfect conditions at Swangard stadium for what was sure to be an exciting game.
San Diego was 1 and 4 coming into the game, but the Riptide was not sure what to expect: this is the inaugural year for the Growlers, with the two teams having no previous record or history. All previous games of the year were against opponents which the Riptide either knew well from the previous season or the club circuit. San Diego had similar results against the Bay Area teams to the Riptide’s results over the AUDL opening weekend, and had just come off their first victory against Seattle the night before. Clearly, they were ready to fight for it, and didn’t fly up the coast to hand the Riptide an easy victory.
Sitting at 1 and 3 before the opening pull, the Riptide were looking to head towards earning a spot in the top half of the western division and take their first home victory. The pre- game injury report wasn’t good news for either the O or D line, however. Starting D-liner Brian Baker, the most experienced player on the team, was out for the match. From the O line, standout Andre Gailits was prevented from playing by what will hopefully be a short-lived injury. In the previous four games, only core handlers Joel Bellevance and Kevin Underhill had more touches on the disc, and Gailits’ position at third for goals and fifth for assists demonstrates what a key receiver he was for those four games. Regardless, both sides of the line have deep benches, with talented players clamouring for playing time.
The game started with the Riptide on offense, and it wasn’t the cleanest on-field play seen we’ve seen from them. However, Vancouver has shown several slow starts this season, with the exception being in their away game versus Seattle, not getting into their groove until a few points in. After a couple unforced errors, the Growlers played quick offense to earn their first break of the game only minutes into the game. However, one poor point was all it took, and the Riptide shook it off and regrouped on the jog back to the line. The second O point was a textbook demonstration of what the Vancouver does best- cohesive, dynamic handling followed by a couple big 10 and 15 yard gainers by key cutters Edward Guo and Darren Wu, and they brought it down for the score without a loss of possession. For most of the remainder first quarter we watched what appeared to be two disciplined, cohesive O lines trading points.
Halfway through the first quarter, the D line lost another core member when Richie Tam got sidelined by one of the Growlers. He left the pitch with a dislocated shoulder and did not return for the remainder of the game, much to the disappointment of his fans. The best defensive play of the quarter didn’t end up coming from either D line. Gagan Chatha, after being unable to bring down an errant throw, almost immediately chased down a Growler huck and made a massive layout D! His bid seemed to get horizontal at chest height, in what was an extreme demonstration of athleticism. His play helped earn his team the point, but it wasn’t the much needed defensive break which could help turn the tide of this offensive shootout. As the time wound down, the score was 8-9 and the Riptide were receiving with ten seconds on the clock. A hail mary shot by Norris was all that there was time for, and unfortunately the defense brought it down, ending the quarter. The Riptide had only four turnovers all quarter, two of which were in the first point, but the Growlers were evenly matched with three.
As the second quarter began, a rare unforced error by the Growlers put the Riptide in the position to get a defensive break. The D line worked it up the field on a quick transition, before calling for time in front of the red zone to get the O line on the field to finish the job. The boys made their fans sweat with two scrambling turnovers in a row, but Kevin Underhill wasn’t about to let a timeout go to waste. With speed and excellent positioning, he pulled down a run through D, and used his momentum to flip the disc to John Norris who hit receiver Derek Fenton deep. As Fenton celebrated, the score board flipped to 10-10, and the Riptide had finally earned that first break back.
A few points later, it seemed as though a second one might be handed to us. The Growlers threw it away and simultaneously called for an injury sub, allowing O-line handler Underhill to sub on the field for the possession. However, the Riptide could not capitalize on the opportunity, and after another turnover conceded a quick goal. Perhaps they were shaken up, because another tight 50 50 throw was brought down by a Growler in the very next O point. The growlers used a time out to put their O line on the field and did their job, pushing their lead to two points over the Riptide. We did the exact same thing two points later, tying the score back up, which is where it stood at halftime.
While the first half was quite back and forth, dominated by the O lines with a few breaks, neither team appeared to have the upper hand at any point. Growlers’ #84 Jesse Cohen and #49 Matt Parisi had a number of scores in the endzone, but the Riptide were matching them now, with scores fron Fenton, Guo, and Chatha.
The second half, on the other hand was defined by short point runs by both teams, with one and then the other appearing to have the game in hand. The Riptide offense opened up a bit, and became more flashy with bombs and crossfield looks, especially of the stunner variety. More hammer-scores were thrown in the second half of this game than in the rest of the season so far, half of which went from Derek Fenton to Gagan Chatha; though Joel Bellavance pulled out a few heart-stopping stunner shots as well. Bellavance had a strong game, leading the team in assists and setting the Riptide’s 2015 season record for the most assists in a game.
The first point run by the Riptide began with a defensive break, the first one earned by the D line without the O line stepping in on a time out. A monster grab by Alex Davis on the end zone line helped bring home that score. Spirit of the game affected the play for the first time this year, with Josh Ackley of the Growlers overruling an unfair strip call much to the appreciation of the Riptide sideline. Someone called out ‘Thanks for being a bro, #20!’, but that may have been the last moment of camaraderie all game. The spirit of competition took over, with both teams feeling like they had a victory in their sights. The third quarter ended 23-22, in favour of the Riptide, and it was anyone’s game for the taking.
When the Riptide took their final timeout with 8 minutes left and did not manage to convert it to score, the fans started to worry. A few poor decisions and throwaways by top handlers were instigated by stagnancy in the cutters, but were errors the Riptide could not afford. San Diego leapt on the opportunities with simple, clean offense, and that was all it took. The Growlers pulled away just enough that the Riptide couldn’t catch them, despite a final wave of strong offensive play from our boys.
The final score was 27-29 for the Growlers, which was a tough home field loss for Vancouver. Hopefully they pull something out of it at practice this week that they can use for fuel in the game next weekend.
The Most Valuable Spirited Player of the Game awards, sponsored by the Vancouver Ultimate League, went to Growlers’ #84 Jesse Cohen, and Riptide’s #23 Fred Lam.
We will be hosting the Los Angeles Aviators for the first time this year, and raring for our first home victory. Don’t miss the showdown- show up at Swangard next Saturday for the 6pm game!