menu close menu

A Tale of Two Buzzer Beaters: Part I

The Raleigh, Jacksonville rivalry is one of the best in league, fueled by a long storied history and some of the best games nail biter finishes in the AUDL.

Composure is everything in ultimate. When the game is on the line and you’re far from home it’s easy to let the pressure get to you. The AUDL season is a long fourteen week affair that wears out players and coaches as they take the field weekend after weekend. Maintaining momentum over such a long period of time with such a small turn around between games is still pretty foreign for a sport that thrives on a tournament format outside of the AUDL. The schedule, the travel and the relentless grind of the season is challenging for teams; at it’s worst the season can be downright attritional.

 

When the Flyers announced their schedule and revealed they’d be playing four games against Jacksonville, it became very apparent how important those games would be for Raleigh’s season. It was obvious that if the Flyers wanted to secure a home playoff advantage, it would take more than just beating the Dallas Roughnecks to edge a first place spot in the south. It would take a perfect performance across four games to lock the Flyers into the first place spot. The Flyers achieved this by the narrowest of margins against Jacksonville in two games that truly came down to the wire for Raleigh.

 

To understand the rivalry that exists between the Flyers and Cannons really have to understand the dynamics that have traditionally existed between North Carolina and Florida squads. It almost goes without saying that there has never been much love lost between the players on either team. The physical and emotional play styles of North Carolina and Florida teams have clashed throughout the long history of both ultimate scenes. On  the Florida side there is the long memory of falling short to the Flyers in the first ever Southern Division Playoffs in 2015, a game the Cannons led in until the last moments of the fourth quarter. When the Flyers and Cannons meet, that history bleeds onto the field as emotions flare up, players rise up and the game becomes  a personal contest of wills. No lead is safe and every point counts.

 

     Loved by his teammates and loathed by his opponents, Cole Sullivan is the man powering the Cannon’s offense.

These were the conditions the Flyers walked into when they played the Cannons for the second time in Jacksonville. The first of four meetings between the teams happened in April and Jacksonville had risen right back up to beat the Dallas Roughnecks and get some momentum back under them.

 

Raleigh Flyers (6-1) @ Jacksonville Cannons (5-1)

LIVERaleigh Flyers (6-1) at Jacksonville Cannons (5-1)

Posted by AUDL American Ultimate Disc League on Saturday, May 20, 2017

Week 8 matchup in Jacksonville.

The week 8 rematch against the Cannons was an ugly game. It was a low scoring slog with the Flyers not able to find an offensive rhythm against Jacksonville. The key matchup of the game that the Cannons depended on was Mischa Freystaetter on Jonathan Nethercutt. Freystaetter was moved onto Jacksonville’s D line this year and had found a prime defensive role as a handler defender marking up on Brandon Malecek. Despite Raleigh scoring the first break of the game to get on serve 3-2, a short field block got Jacksonville in control.

 

A subsequent four minute point gave the Cannons a 5-3 advantage with the Flyers visibly flustered at the end of the 1st quarter. Jacksonville continued to fluster the Flyers on D but a hold and a bookends by David Richardson put the Flyers neck in neck with the Cannons. Both squads continued to trade but Raleigh’s offensive pace slowed to crawl over the course of the quarter and ultimately pulled away from the Flyers to take a 12-10 lead into the second half.

 

The game stayed ugly in the third quarter as the Cannons extended their lead to 3. A blown call on a goal by Justin Allen and frustrating deliberation by the referees only heightened the tension and emotion of the game as the Flyers tried to dig out of a three point hole. As window began to close on the possibility of a Raleigh comeback, the 4th quarter would be the greatest test of focus the Flyers encountered during the regular season.

 

The first shift in the momentum of the game came early in the 4th quarter. After getting free of Freystaetter on the backhand side and avoiding a bidding defender, Nethercutt released an easy no look backhand to the end zone as he stared down James Koerner. It may not necessarily have turned the game on its head but it showed that there was still plenty of fire left in the Flyers. The Flyers finally got a break chance on a low laser backhand by Cole Sullivan into the turf with 5:30 left to play. After a timeout the Flyers marched the disc into the hand of Jonathan Helton who unleashed a backhand to Matt Bode.

 

That Jon Nethercutt look-back

Posted by AUDL American Ultimate Disc League on Monday, May 22, 2017

Nethercutt’s look back at Koerner was one of the most iconic plays of the game.

The Flyers began to chip away at the Canno’s lead when they needed to the most. With the score 19-18 and four minutes left to play the Flyers needed to get back in control of the game. A Cannons turnover at half field gave the flyers the chance they needed to tie the game as Nathan Goff wrapped a perfect short forehand off the backhand sideline to Danny Schmitt. 19-19 3:33 left in the game.

 

With the clock ticking down into the final minutes, Jacksonville ran into trouble. After fielding the pull, Bobby Ley hung up a backhand huck for Chris Baroque that floated long enough for two Flyers to contest the huck. Noah Saul knocked the disc away and worked the disc down for the break and the lead. The Flyers’ defense now had one job; prevent a quick score by Jacksonville on a deep look and put as much pressure as possible on the Cannons’ offense. The Flyers backhand defensive look had been their bread and butter all game. The Cannons were forced to work downfield on the backhand side and could not find a way to break around the Flyers marks downfield on the flick sideline. Two near layout ds and a possession saving catch by the Cannon’s Cole Sullivan illustrated just how hard the Cannon’s had to work to come up with what would prove to be their last goal of the game.

 

Lateral throws against tight backfield D are tough to execute. Cole Sullivan saved possession on his layout during the final minutes on what would be Jacksonville’s last goal of the night.

 

Ultimately, it would come down to the Flyers offense to execute on the last regulation point of the game. Considering just how difficult that had been for the Flyers all game, and given the 0:47 seconds that remained on the clock, there was no guarantee that the Flyers would avoid overtime as the pull went up. The Flyers quickly ran into difficulty moving downfield as the Cannons contained Raleigh’s offense behind half field. Terrence Mitchell, who’d had a very quiet game up to this point, somehow maintained possession past a bidding Jakeem Polk who poached off of Jacob Mouw to try and get the block the Cannons needed. Terrence dished back to Mouw, Mouw to David Snoke. Mouw unlike his fellow o line cutter had been loud all game, reeling in three goals in the deep space. Chaos had temporarily set in on the Cannons defense due to Jakeem’s poach on Terrence. Terrence came under unmarked with ten seconds left, while Mouw took off deep.

 

In hindsight, Terrence was looking to score. He had ten seconds left to score, he was unmarked and the disc wasn’t even past half field. He wanted to get the disc to the end zone. True, there were three Cannons defenders now defending only two Flyers. True, one of them was Polk. But Terrence wasn’t thinking about Polk. He unleashed a forehand which ominously sailed shy of the end zone. Helton however was there, and Polk immediately applied a mark to stop a look into the end zone. Helton had four seconds on the clock. He had two defenders trying to stop Mouw, but Mouw had a small window to cut to at the back of the end zone. That was all Helton needed. Four seconds isn’t a lot of time to set up a quick shot to the end zone, especially against a big physical mark like Jakeem Polk. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Goose Helton was a two time league MVP. It’s hard to know how much of Helton’s execution in those crucial final seconds came from his long experience in the league. You can never count that out when the game is on the line. 

 

The Raleigh Flyers' drive at the buzzer to win their sixth straight game and take over 1st place in the South.

Posted by AUDL American Ultimate Disc League on Monday, May 22, 2017

 

Polk had come in just too fast towards the the flick sideline and was overcommitted to stopping a forehand. Goose pivoted and with one second on the clock unleashed a backhand to Mouw. The throw was perfect. The two Cannons defenders had bit too far towards the front of the end zone while Mouw took off to collect the pass against the back sideline. Mouw went up with two hands to collect the goal that would be one of most iconic moments for the Raleigh Flyers. As the stunned Cannons walked off the field the Flyers sidelines erupted in celebration. Mouw sprinted down the line clutching the disc in one hand as the Flyers celebrated an improbable and unbelievable win.

 

It’s not easy to beat the Cannons in Jacksonville. It take more than just talent and game planning to get the job done against a tough opponent with something to prove. It takes composure and resilience that you didn’t always find on the Flyers in past seasons. Trust, build over hours of practice and training, takes over in situations where your execution has to be perfect. When the numbers are stacked against you, when there’s no time left on the clock, execution is all that matters. Composure is not a natural skill that players are inherently imbued with. It takes hours, months, years to develop. It can only be demonstrated in moments when we are tested,  when the numbers don’t look promising and our backs are against the wall. But that’s the culture in North Carolina. Great North Carolina teams have loved the slop. They own it. They feed on it, and it’s in those moments that players truly define themselves. Composure is everything in ultimate. You don’t find it just anywhere. 

 

To be continued…

Hugo Sowder, Flyers Media, Author @ Ultiworld

July 3, 2017 | Uncategorized | Comments Off on A Tale of Two Buzzer Beaters: Part I

Comments are closed.