Three head-to-head games, two 1-point margins, one 2OT result, a 75-72 Breeze lead in overall goals scored, and a 2-1 win-loss advantage for the Rush. That was the regular season. And that 2-1 advantage was the difference between a home Division Title game for the Breeze and another brutal road game in Toronto. The 2016 DC Breeze season ended last Saturday evening in a tight loss to the Toronto Rush, who booked their 4th consecutive ticket to Championship Weekend by the slimmest of margins.
Yes, the Rush took the season series 2-1, and with it home field advantage for the Division title game. If the Breeze could have turned around either of those one-point losses to the Rush this season (one in DC and one in Toronto), both teams would have ended 11-3 and the Breeze would have owned the head-to-head tiebreaker to earn home field in the Division final. And if the Breeze could have found one more point in regulation of this road title game, they would have overcome the road disadvantage and won the Division, anyway. That’s how close the Breeze were to the Final Four; that’s what could have been; that’s a lot of speculation. But still, it was the best Breeze season to date by a good margin as the team hosted an AUDL playoff game for the first time, secured its first ever playoff victory, and made it to their first ever Division Final. It was a big step forward despite being so close to so much more.
Breeze at Toronto Division Final: Full Game Condensed Video
New York at Breeze Division Playoff: Full Game Condensed Video
2016 Season: Schedule/Results
Here’s how the last game played out…
DC started on offense and scored quickly. Toronto returned the score and broke the Breeze to go ahead 2-1. A well placed huck from Jonathan “Goose” Helton to rookie Tyler Monroe who quickly hit Tom Doi in the end zone delivered a second point for the Breeze. Then a long point with multiple turnovers followed, but in the end it went down as a Breeze break and bookends for Chuck Cantone. Cantone had registered a block early in the point and, after multiple throwaways for each side, he eventually caught a Rowan McDonnell throw for the score. DC stayed tight with Toronto throughout first quarter but managed only that one break while giving up two and couldn’t convert the final O-point before time ran out, so Toronto took the opening period, 5-4.
The Rush came out on offense to start Q2 and quickly upped their score to 6. Despite some miscommunication early in the second quarter and a few more turns for both teams, DC stayed close when Markham Shofner pulled out a full field huck to Doi. With nine minutes still remaining in the quarter, Brett Matzuka unleashed a 35-yard hammer to Brad Scott who quickly found Rowan McDonnell in the end zone, tying the game at 6s.
The two teams continued to exchange points, with DC staying on Toronto’s heels as best they could. Clearly fighting uphill, the Breeze began relying more heavily on the air game to amass points as Nicky Spiva found Shofner in the end zone to bring the lead back to only 1, 8-7 Rush. That particular goal got a lot of attention after the game… Rush defender Geoff Powell hit Shofner hard, resulting in a social media storm and eventually a suspension for Powell in Toronto’s semifinal game vs Dallas this weekend. Here’s what DC club team Truck Stop had to say about the play, with just a hint of sarcasm…
— Truck Stop Ultimate (@TruckStopUlti) July 25, 2016
Shofner was clearly not at 100% after the play due to an injured back, but he continued to play roughly half the O-points from there. Russell Howd captured a D on the next point and Goose assisted John Agan to tie the game. The Breeze finally won the upper hand when McDonnell laid out to catch a disc from Brad Scott. The lead did not last however, and Toronto closed out the half 11-10.
The Breeze’s uphill battle continued in Quarter 3 as the Rush scored immediately out of the break. A USA Men’s National team connection from Alan Kolick to Doi delivered a tying twelfth point. Toronto’s defense held the Breeze there for the remainder of quarter, and their offense was only able to amass three more points against the Breeze. The messy, low-scoring quarter in swirling winds ended with another controversial play when Powell dropped the disc with 5 seconds left, and then incurred a delay of game penalty for stepping on the disc to keep Cantone from picking it up and hucking to teammates already sprinting downfield. Everyone was set up for the hail mary by the time the referee blew the whistle to restart play with 0:01 remaining, the half-field floater was swatted harmlessly to the ground in the crowd, and the quarter went 4-2 Rush for a 15-12 game score after 3 quarters of play.
Down by three but by no means out, DC promptly broke the rush to open the final quarter when McDonnell bombed a cross field hammer to Howd. Toronto returned the score to regain their three-point lead, then broke back to go up 4. Matt Kerrigan found David Boylan-Kolchin for another point to make it 17-14 in favor of the Rush before Coach Alex “Dutchy” Ghesquiere called a refocusing timeout. Emboldened, the Breeze promptly registered another break with a Doi-to-Kolick connection after a Brett Matzuka block got the disc back, and continued their newfound defensive fire as both McDonnell and Cantone grabbed downfield Ds. But the D-line was unable to maintain control of the disc after either turn, and eventually gave up the next point to Toronto for another 3-point lead, 18-15. Matzuka found Doi on the ensuing O point, and a Rush throwaway allowed the Breeze to quickly break with Kolick finding Cantone in the end zone after the turn. Break to the Breeze, one point down at 18-17 with 1:34 left! The Rush took the next pull and ran more than a minute off the clock as they methodically worked the disc downfield. With thirty-one seconds remaining in regulation, Toronto found a deflected disc in the end zone for the score and the Breeze found themselves down by two, 19-17. After a strong, late comeback, things were now looking bleak for the Stars & Stripes.
Needing a quick O-line goal for any chance of catching the Rush with so little time left, an injured but laser focused Shofner took the first pass and launched a huge, 74 yard flick huck that brilliantly found Tom Doi in the right corner of the Southern end zone. 19-18 Rush, 20 seconds left, and the Breeze would now have to give up the disc to Toronto.
At this point, knowing it would be verging on trivial for the Rush to run out the clock on a full-field pull, and also realizing the Rush were out of timeouts, DC broke out a seldom seen trick play in the sport — McDonnell took the disc and casually ‘pulled’ it exactly 1 yard into the right corner of the playing field next to his own end zone and the sideline, giving the Rush excellent field position but also only 17 seconds to sprint the length of the field and try to set up their offense with a double team waiting for them in that corner. The Rush got off the first couple throws, but the strategy ultimately worked. They were unable to get into any kind of offensive rhythm, and the 3rd throw (against another sideline double team) was a scoober that appeared to be partially deflected and fell woefully short of its target, dropping to the turf with six seconds left. Timeout Breeze, then it was Matzuka to Goose for a beautiful 68-yard hail mary backhand that floated to a crowd waiting 5 yards deep in the end zone. Cranston came down with the disc in his hand for a buzzer beating score, all tied at 19s as time ran out! This Tweet by the Breeze Gameday crew just about sums up the craziness of those last couple minutes of regulation.
— DC Breeze Gameday (@DCBgameday) July 23, 2016
The Rush won the toss and elected to receive. A quick O-line goal for Toronto followed by a break put them two points up, then the Breeze returned one when Kerrigan found an easy shot to Spiva. Toronto’s offense was ready to grind, and worked the disc upfield to bring their lead back to two at 22-20. DC kept Toronto in their sights and returned the score with just under two minutes remaining in the overtime period. But DC’s defense was not prepared for Toronto’s mounting offensive heat, and the Rush scored again to make it 23-21 with a minute and a half left on the clock. The Breeze couldn’t repeat the heroics of Q4 this time, though, giving up the disc twice on throwaways in the last possession. Blocks by McDonnell and Cranston made it interesting, but it wasn’t enough, and the clock ran out. Toronto clinched the Eastern Division Championship, 23-21 in an overtime thriller, and a thrilling Breeze season came to an end.