Riptide ground Aviators
The Los Angeles Aviators flew up the coast to challenge the Riptide on Saturday evening. This was Vancouver’s third home game, with the Riptide still looking for their first victory on home soil. The roster for the night looked strong, but the higher-ranked Aviators were not going to be easy prey.
Los Angeles was coming off a big win against Seattle and a tight loss against the undefeated San Jose Spiders. The Spiders are currently the top of the league, and Los Angeles gave them their most contested game so far, falling only 19 to 20 in a hard fought battle. San Jose is undefeated, but narrowly so, and every other team has lost at least two of their five or six games. The battle for the three playoff bids will likely come down to the very last games for this extremely competitive Western division.
With that in mind, every victory matters, and both teams played that way Saturday night. The Riptide roster benefited from the return of Andre Gailits to the offensive line, after he sat last week’s game due to injury, as well as the much-anticipated addition of Rumi Tejpar, who made his first appearance of the season. Tejpar was an impact player on both the O-line and the D-line. Derek Fenton, usually playing a two-way role on the field, played exclusively as a D line cutter. By the final quarter, the O-line was tighter than it has been all season, with only 4 cutters and 4 handlers making an appearance.
The first half began in a similar manner as the last few games, with both the Riptide and the Aviator O-lines trading points. Each significant break from either team was matched in kind, keeping the score even throughout the half. Regardless, a few stand out performances from Riptide players made it clear that the team was playing with a higher level of intensity and plenty of heart.
John Norris played a spectacular first half, and it could be said that it was his most impressive play so far this season. While emotional intensity can often translate into hotheaded choices and turnovers, Norris instead produced a collection of impressive grabs and a 100% pass competition rate.
With a similar level of intensity, the D-line managed to produce a couple breaks early in the game with heads up defensive plays by Marc Leduc and Malcolm Bryson. The Riptide used one of their timeouts early to get the O-line on the field and convert one of the opportunities into a goal. Two points later, Bryson proved that the D-line could capitalize on turns as well, scoring the second break of the game and bringing the score to 6 – 4 for the Riptide.
The Aviators were not going to leave the score deficit unanswered, however. Before the first quarter was up, LA capitalized on every less than perfect throw the Riptide put up with bids to earn the Ds. They converted a break of their own, and the quarter finished tied at 6-6.
The second quarter was much of the same, with exciting play from both teams. The Riptide defense was forcing the Aviators to work for every score, tiring out their offence and forcing difficult cross field throws. Both teams paid for their errors with breaks, and as the intensity ramped up on the field the referees began to hand out yardage penalties for contact fouls at every opportunity. The half finished with the Riptide down by one, at 11-12, but feeling like the victory was theirs for the taking.
Coming into the third quarter, the talk on the sideline made it clear that there was plenty of pride on the line, with the Vancouver team feeling they should not be sitting at last place in the Western conference. They stepped back on the field after half ready to earn that jump in the rankings. The Riptide’s decision to switch Tejpar from the O-line rotation and onto the D line early in the second half was an effective one, as he shut down key Aviator’s cutters. The third and fourth quarters flew by, with both teams trading points and the play getting scrappier as the time wound down.
Despite the closeness of the game, the Aviators made a spirited call in the endzone by contesting a referee’s foul call. This call conceded a goal to the Riptide, but stayed true to the origins of ultimate instead of to standards in other professional sports. Can the AUDL maintain an atmosphere where these types of calls continue to happen? There are few moments in professional sports where players are unwilling to sacrifice sportsmanship for the sake of the win, but this was one of them.
With two minutes left in the game, the Riptide O-line had made a few undisciplined turnovers and the team was now down by two points. With the Riptide O-line receiving the pull, they had to shake off the turnovers and play their game. The Aviators attempted a junk zone defense to slow the Riptide offence, but Gailits found a pocket just behind the front wall of defenders and helped his handlers work it all the way down field in less than 30 seconds. Darren Wu finished it with a goal assisted by Norris, bringing the Riptide within one of the Aviators: 21-22. It was up to the defense to get the Vancouver squad back in the game.
Alex Davis called a line of trusted defenders, and put his faith in baiting the difficult throws. His gamble paid off, and Bryson used his speed and excellent positioning to bring make the most important defensive block of the game. The Aviators had put up a huck, and Bryson tipped the disc as both the Riptide and Aviators took to the air to make a play. As the disc hit the turf, the Riptide called for a time-out, stopping the clock and getting their O-line on the field. The Riptide would have 24 seconds to move the disc all the way downfield and score.
Tejpar put up a huck, and Wu caught at the endzone. The referees called it not in, and Wu rushed it back to the endzone line and desperately looked for a receiver. In an attempted throw to Bellevance, Wu was D’d by the Aviators on the endzone line. In that moment, the game seemed over as the clock ticked below ten seconds and the disc was in the Aviator’s hands. However, LA boosted the disc, almost in a premature celebration. Underhill ran it down, caught it, and turned to face downfield all in one motion as the clock hit 3 seconds. He put up a last second backhand to a collection of waiting receivers and defenders. As the fans held their breaths, Gagan Chatha wowed the crowd with a stellar catch over the heads of both teams. The Riptide were still alive, and had forced overtime! 22-22.
As tradition would have it, nothing is straightforward with the Riptide, and so it was somehow unsurprising when the Riptide conceded a break halfway through the five minute overtime. Once again down by two with two minutes left, it was déjà vu all over again. However, the D-line was truly able to step up and save the day repeatedly. Huge defensive plays by Davis, Tejpar and Chatha kept the Riptide in the game.
Fittingly, it was stunner shots which sealed the Riptide victory. In the final two minutes, it was as if the team finally found their sweet spot both offensively and defensively. Cross field hammers from Joel Bellevance and Fred Lam brought the victory home for the fans. It was an exciting finish, and a satisfying one for the home team. After a five point run, the Riptide won their first home game 27- 24.
This weekend the Tide will play a double-header, starting in Seattle for another rematch against the Cascades. Follow that game on Twitter, or make a Seattle weekend of it! On Sunday May 24th, the Riptide will play the San Jose Spiders at Burnaby Lake West Sports Complex. Ride with the ‘Tide all weekend, either online or in person. We hope to see you there!