Riptide Fall to Unbeaten FlameThrowers in Victoria

By Scott Lewis
Photos by Jeff Bell

On Saturday afternoon the Vancouver Riptide faced their biggest test so far this AUDL season, fielding pretty well their full line-up against the unbeaten San Francisco FlameThrowers. They stayed with San Francisco for most of the game, but a bad spell sandwiched around half-time meant in the end they lost 22-18 to the consensus picks to win the West Division this season.

The game was held at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park. On the ferry ride over that morning, it was warm and sunny and the winds were calm, but as game time approached, it clouded over and the winds freshened, making for difficult throwing conditions, particularly as it was blowing from behind the stands.

Stadium venues always affect the wind in peculiar ways,” said Alex Davis, “and each one has its own signature. There was a third contender both teams were battling yesterday, and that was the wind. It was straight and fast like a wind-tunnel down one sideline, but turned into a gusty crosswind on the other sideline, so a forty yard throw could pass through a whole range of wind conditions on its way to its destination.”

Morgan Hibbert (Vancouver Riptide #8) and Russell Wynne (San Francisco FlameThrowers #7) battle for a high disc during a game between the Vancouver Riptide and the visiting San Francisco Flamethrowers. Victoria, British Columbia. © 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

Morgan Hibbert (Vancouver Riptide #8) and Russell Wynne (San Francisco FlameThrowers #7) battle for a high disc © 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

As a team that trains and plays in the always windy Bay Area, the FlameThrowers are ideally equipped for dealing with the gusts, but it didn’t show at the beginning of the game, as the Riptide started with a break and then got another on a D by Andre Gailits – nice to see him back on the field! – to go up 3-1. But San Francisco battled back, and by the end of the first quarter that had featured several long and error-filled points, the score was tied at 6-6.

The teams seemed to settle in after that and by the time Gagan Chatha passed to Brendan Wong to put Vancouver up 10-9, there had been eight straight points without a turnover by either team. But then came a long point featuring multiple turnovers, a time out by each team, and a chance for the Riptide to get the break and go up by two that was thwarted by a Vancouver pass straight to a San Francisco player in his own end zone when there was an open Riptide nearby waiting for it.

San Francisco eventually scored the point to tie things up, and it was like a switch had been flipped. By the time the Riptide finally scored to end the third quarter down 17-11, they had committed at least one turnover during each of nine straight points, the last eight scored by San Francisco. The Riptide did manage a break early in the 4th quarter to get within four points, but the FlameThrowers got their own break to restore the margin to six and cruised to the 22-18 final score.

Gagan Chatha (Vancouver Riptide #10) with a D during a game between the Vancouver Riptide and the visiting San Francisco Flamethrowers. Victoria, British Columbia. © 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

Gagan Chatha (Vancouver Riptide #10) with a D © 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

“San Francisco is an elite team,” said Assistant Coach Matt Doyle, “and they started to apply more pressure than we have seen this season. That pressure greatly contributed to the errors our team committed through the middle portion of the game. I guess the simple message is that we did not have the belief or confidence in our skill and our system to battle through the conditions and the increased pressure from an elite opponent.”

“Coming into the second half, we came out seemingly flat and unfocused,” added Wong. “We had unforced errors like drops by wide open players or throwing it away in our red zone.”

Davis zeroes in on how each team adapted to the freshening and ever-changing wind.

“In the first half both teams struggled equally against the wind, but we were coming out ahead by virtue of give-go offense and lightly contested in-cuts. By the third quarter, San Francisco adapted their long throws to the conditions, and we didn’t. We don’t regularly face the same kinds of winds the Flamethrowers do, and they started to put out flat hucks that sat calmly in gusts that made our huckss jump up, down, and sideways.”

When throwing conditions become more difficult, the instinctive reaction is for cutters to try to get in closer to the thrower, but of course that is exactly the wrong reaction, because it crowds the throwing lanes and leaves the thrower fewer options.

“When they adapted to our short game,” said Davis “we fell into the quicksand trap of resorting to tighter, closer, and more lateral cuts. We should have worked harder to create more open space and more movement, but we did the opposite; we shortened our spaces, we avoided throwing into the eye of the wind, and we tried to rely even more heavily on our throws. Our offense closed up like an armadillo just trying to weather the circumstances.”

“And San Francisco did a decent job of forcing the disc to a sideline and putting on double teams that we struggled to get through,” added Wong. “Double teams aren’t something we’ve practiced much and i think we were caught a bit unawares.”

“The conditions and the opponent led to some regression in on-field behaviour,” Doyle summed it up. “We have to give respect to San Francisco; they were able to use the conditions to help take away what we wanted to do, and the success that resulted is a testament to their skill and preparation.”

Kevin Greer (Vancouver Riptide #12) with a big sky during a game between the Vancouver Riptide and the visiting San Francisco Flamethrowers. Victoria, British Columbia. © 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

Kevin Greer (Vancouver Riptide #12) with a big sky © 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

In one sense the final winning margin flattered the Riptide, given how thoroughly they were dominated during San Francisco’s 8-0 run. On the other hand, if the Riptide can address the breakdowns that occurred during that run, they’ll have a decent chance of beating the Flamethrowers if the two teams do end up meeting during the playoffs.

“We have to remember to stick to our system and our game plan and execute that,” said Wong. “We have to adjust and adapt to what they’re doing, both on defense and on offense, and make the mental switch to stay disciplined, playing our game and not getting rattled when the opponent throws something new and different at us. We have to be smarter with our choices.”

“I do believe that our team has the potential to compete and beat any opponent,” said Doyle. “In order for us to be successful next time against San Francisco, we will need to work on our internal belief. So I’m looking for more effort at practice, more accountability with on-field decisions, and more trust of teammates.”

Fans during a game between the Vancouver Riptide and the visiting San Francisco Flamethrowers. Victoria, British Columbia. © 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

© 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

Special mention should be made of the Victoria fans.

Too often these days, the folks in the stands clam up when their team is losing and really needs the support, only to become boisterous when their team is doing well and doesn’t need their help. But as the 8-0 San Francisco run went on, the Royal Athletic Park stands did not go silent, indeed actually got louder, admittedly more so when a player with Victoria connections was involved in the play, and that support no doubt helped end the FlameThrower scoring streak.

Greg Cohen was the star for San Francisco on this day, totaling three goals, five assists, and three Ds on the way to a team-leading +10 rating, while Joel Schlachet chipped in with seven goals and an assist

Greg Cohen (San Francisco FlameThrowers #18) with big layout D during a game between the Vancouver Riptide and the visiting San Francisco Flamethrowers. Victoria, British Columbia. © 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

Greg Cohen (San Francisco FlameThrowers #18) with a big layout D. © 2016 Jeff Bell Photo. All Rights Reserved.

William Vu symbolized the Riptide’s uneven game by leading the team in both assists, with five, and turnovers, with four. Gagan Chatha and Brendan Wong had four goals apiece, while Morgan Hibbert as usual had the most Ds, with three, and he contributed nine pulls, with an average hang time of more than two seconds better than any of his teammates.

The Riptide’s next game will be on Saturday night when they host the 1-3 San Jose Spiders at 6 p.m. at Swangard Stadium. It’s a contest the Riptide need to win to cement their grip on the third and final playoff spot in the Western Division.

You can buy tickets for the game against the Spiders, and for the rest of the Riptide’s upcoming home games at Swangard Stadium here.

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