Growlers Claw Back to Win over the Riptide
An early Saturday morning saw nineteen Riptiders and some staff roll up to the YVR airport. There was no way it was the morning already. A a handful of coffees, breakfast sandwiches and PA notices calling Vancouver Riptide player names to the check-in desk later, the team was boarded onto a 6am flight to Los Angeles. Insert earbuds and shut the window screens. Fortunately for the people seated nearby, the team was too tired to talk much and instead lay heads on tray tables, windows, and each other’s shoulders for the majority of the flight. A quick snooze and a neck cramp later, we were landing at LAX.
With a quick stop at Laguna Beach, the Riptide fueled up with some food and the rays of the sun on the beachfront, and kept on their way to San Diego for a matchup against the Growlers. The last time these two teams played against each other it had been on Vancouver’s home turf, and the game had ended in favour of San Diego, with the Riptide getting edged out 27-29 in the final minutes of the game. Now it would be Vancouver looking for the win on the road. Each team was missing a couple notable presences: Vancouver’s Bryson, Chatha, Guo, Lam, and Yu were all in Oregon with the U23 Canadian Men’s team, handler Tim Tsang would also be unable to join the team for the weekend, and Underhill would not join the Riptide until Sunday’s game, while San Diego standouts Gibson and Lance were not rostered for Saturday’s game. However, neither was without familiar stats sheet frequenters: Mickle and Ackley for San Diego, and Bellavance, Sinclair and Wu for Vancouver would be just a couple of the playmakers in this game.
The team cleated up at the Growler’s stadium field, which was soon remarked as having excellent acoustics: the cheers from their engaged fans would not only be constant, but consistently heard as the concrete seating area significantly enhanced the crowd’s volume! Off the first pull, Vancouver quickly shredded down the middle of the field, breaking through the San Diego zone defense. Mark Leduc would put the first point on the board for Vancouver. The Growlers and the Riptide traded points, with San Diego throwing some over the tops, and Vancouver hucking to their speedy receivers for scores. A few points later, McFadyen threw a beautiful huck to Leduc to take the first break of the game, and Vancouver went up 5-3 over the Growlers.
Even with a smaller roster and without some of the usual playmakers on the field, the Riptide had seemingly found their groove early in the game. After putting a fast defensive line on the field, Mitch Dozzi laid out to make the defensive play, and Myles Sinclair launched the disc to him for the double-happiness: the block and the score! Vancouver now led 6-3. But while the Riptide had speed, the Growlers had height on their side, and scored a quick two points on hucks and strikes, catching overtop of Vancouver defenders. As the clocked ticked on, Joel Bellavance threw a blade into the endzone. It was unsure whether it had been released prior to the buzzer ending the first quarter, but the referees ruled it was a goal, and Vancouver took the first quarter leading by a break, 8-6.
The rhythm that Vancouver had found in the first quarter drifted slightly in the second, with the slight lag being attributed to decision-making on the field. The Growlers came into the second quarter ready to fight, and proved it as they took the first point with a score from their own Wu (#29, Casey Wu), and then the second point following a layout block. Back on serve, Vancouver would have to work hard to regain their lead. Consistent handler movement to break through San Diego’s zone defense would do the trick, finishing the point with a stunner hammer throw to McFadyen for the score. The two team would trade points until 10-10, when McFadyen would continue to stun the sideline, boxing out a San Diego receiver in the air and gaining possession for the Riptide. Vancouver changed their onfield lineup to give their D-line a well-deserved break, and Bellavance would thread the needle and find Leduc in the endzone to make the score 12-10. Vancouver was back on top, but not for long, as the referees became more vocal in the game, and the Growlers took a quick two points to make for an even 12’s. Another quick trade of points, and the clock was running out for the second quarter. Vancouver really loves to make exciting plays near the buzzer, and with just seconds left on the clock, Andre Gailits would move the disc to Bellavance, to John Norris, and then into the a clash of blue and white jerseys. Myles Sinclair would come down with the disc to chalk one up for the Riptide, and now it was 14-13 Vancouver at the end of the first half.
The third quarter would continue to be a trading of points between the two teams, who were playing quite evenly matched. Both teams made athletic plays to gets their points on the board, as none were keen to give up points easily or let the other get them in the same way. The Growlers toed the back endzone line for a score, and the next point, Riptide’s Derek Fenton ran down an errant long throw to keep the Riptide ahead a break. But San Diego took another two points, and the teams were even once more: 19-all and there were just under three minutes left of the clock in this quarter.
If there is one thing a short-roster does, it’s cause teammates to fill the roles of those who are not present. The Riptide was putting in a full-team effort, with lots of touches on the disc*, and team defensive blocks.
As San Diego looked to score and take the lead for the first time in the game, with a hammer into the endzone, Brian Baker helped get some team energy back with a huge layout D in the endzone, and as the disc fluttered momentarily he made an athletic second bid to knock the disc away from the reach of the Growler’s receiver and onto the ground! The score came up to 20-20, and Vancouver looked to make their third buzzer-beater play of the game, throwing a blading huck with less than one second left on the clock. This time, however, it would not convert into a score, and the third quarter would end with the two teams tied at 20’s.
The Growlers, hungry for a win at home, would take the first point out of the fourth quarter and take the lead for the first time in the game. The next points in the game were long, and hot, and had many turnovers from boths teams. You could tell that the onfield players were getting tired, as the number of executional errors increased and receivers had less energy to make athletic plays on the disc to keep possession. Vancouver switched to a zone defense, even after having had success playing man defense throughout the game, and San Diego worked the disc up the field for the score. A turnover from the Riptide on a huck gone too far meant it was Growlers’ disc, and they would call for time to give their players a chance to regroup and refresh. When the disc was checked in, a cross-field hammer made the score 21-23 with San Diego leading, and the stadium resounded with cheers from the stands.
San Diego maintained a two-break lead as the two teams traded points. Within these next few points, “Wu! Wu! Wu!” cheers came from the Growler’s grandstand. While these were very likely for San Diego’s own Casey Wu (who was using his speed in the lanes to get open easily), Vancouver’s Darren Wu was making fantastic catches in the air for the Riptide, and we took those cheers for our own, regardless. The game stood at 23-25 in favour of the Growlers, and while Vancouver had held the lead, although a small one, for the duration of the game up until now, San Diego was simply playing more consistent offense than Vancouver was in this fourth quarter. 23-25 became 25-29, and even though Sinclair had two hanging hucks on consecutive O-points, brought down by Gailits and then again by Fenton, to take the score to 27-30, San Diego responded and increased the gap to 27-31 after a smoking break throw for the score. With just over 30 seconds in the game, Vancouver was tight-pressed to make some magic happen. Each team would score one more point before this game closed out at 28-32, with the Growlers winning it at home. The Riptide hustled hard until the last seven seconds of the game, getting some extra touches on the disc just to make our statistician work a bit harder**. It is safe to say that a lot of electrolytes were consumed during this game…and that’s just a bit of foreshadowing for the Sunday matchup against the LA Aviators!
*Fun Fact: in terms of touches, this game Richie Tam caught more discs in the endzone than he had throws throughout the game, still nursing his shoulder from an in-game injury a few weeks back.
**Joel Bellavance, Kevin Lore, and Derek Fenton collectively had seventeen touches on the disc in the seven seconds between the final pull and the buzzer. Fenton claims he touched the disc last before the horn, but then again, so does Lore.