Aviators Fall to Flamethrowers in Season-Opening OT Thriller
Sunday afternoon marked the beginning of the 2016 AUDL season for the Los Angeles Aviators, but based on the flow and final result of the game, you could have placed it right in the middle of the 2015 season and nobody would have batted an eye. The defense created turnovers left and right, the offense lacked aggression and composure, and multiple leads were squandered along the way. All these and more culminated in the San Francisco Flamethrowers defeating the Aviators in overtime, 19-16.
On Saturday night, the Flamethrowers overcame a bout of traffic and a fired up San Diego Growlers squad to earn a 25-23 victory in overtime. Powered by their characteristic pressure defense, the Aviators took advantage of an expectedly-sluggish start by the Flamethrowers to take a 7-4 lead early in the second quarter. The first half ended on a last second shot by San Francisco that two Aviator defenders whiffed on, landing into the waiting hands of Flamethrower Greg Cohen for a 9-9 tie at the break.
Los Angeles came out of halftime rejuvenated and energetic. Coach Franklin Rho reminded his team, “The battle is not with San Francisco. The battle is with ourselves.” The Aviators overcame themselves enough to start with three straight break points, staking them to a 12-9 lead. The Flamethrowers followed up by managing to put two throws together to get them into the end zone, pulling them back within 2. Those first four points of the second half took a mere 3 minutes off of the game clock. The ensuing two points took the entirety of the rest of the 3rd quarter. Several turnovers by both teams, a timeout used by each, and the last 9 minutes of the quarter saw just one more score, by San Francisco, and ended with the Aviators still clinging to a 1-goal lead. Thus began the 4th quarter.
After two scores by captain Zac Schakner and another by rookie Trevor Smith, Los Angeles took a 15-13 lead with 2:53 left in the game. San Francisco’s Nathan White hit Joel Schlachet to pull back within one with 2:23 left. Receiving the disc, up by 1, with just over two minutes left is a very advantageous position for a team. Until said team commits one more costly error. The Aviators ran the clock for over a minute, slowly moving the disc up the field. Steven Brooks gained possession 15-20 yards outside of the end zone. The 7-second stall count rapidly approached, and he was forced to punt the disc, giving the Flamethrowers possession and 80 yards to go for the tying score. With the confidence, focus, and sense of calm expected from a championship-caliber team, San Francisco moved the disc downfield at ease, punching in the tying goal with 17 seconds left. One last hail mary huck downfield by first-year Aviator Jack Marsh fell short of the end zone, sending the game into overtime.
The Aviators received the pull to start the five-minute overtime period. For every pass that was completed upfield, there was a backwards dump pass and one or two swings. The disc was unable to move forward, and San Francisco eventually had a layout D that immediately turned into a score and 1-point advantage. On the ensuing possession, Mitchell Steiner had a pass tipped by San Francisco’s Nathan White that fell to the turf and was instantly turned into another Flamethrowers goal. Those two scores came just 20 seconds apart, creating a 17-15 lead. San Francisco capitalized on two more handler errors by the Aviators, giving them four straight break points to start the overtime period and push their lead to 19-15 with just 48 seconds left. The Aviators managed a Husayn Carnegie-goal before the clock ran out, but the effort was too little too late by then.
With imminent victory in their grasp, only one play away from being sealed up, the Aviators were instead forced to resign to heartbreak and disappointment. The locker room postgame was uncomfortable, but Coach Rho was positive in looking forward: “We have to look at ourselves, be honest, and tighten a few things up… We put ourselves in position to win the game on multiple occasions. We’re doing the right things, just lacking in experience.” That experience will be gained quickly as the Aviators are just 6 days away from their next game, at home against the San Diego Growlers, on Saturday, April 9th.
Amidst all the doom and gloom, there were plenty of highlights. Jeff Silverman had two more of his LeBron James-like rundown defensive blocks. Rookies Trevor Smith and Brent George showed that they are going to be key contributors on defense and offense, respectively, as the season goes on. Bryan Nguyen’s athleticism was on display on multiple skies and layouts. The 16 goals were spread over 12 players, and 14 different players had defensive blocks. This is not a team that relies on one player to get the job done, and that will only be a strength as the wear and tear of the season takes place. If the 30+ turnovers can be limited (cut in half?), you better believe the Aviators will be a force to be reckoned with in the West division this season.a
-Jacob Baumer, Beat writer for the LA Aviators
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