It was deja vu all over again for the DC Breeze on Sunday evening, in more ways than one. For the fifth time in the last seven head-to-head meetings, it came down to the wire against New York. And for the second night in a row, the Breeze led for the majority of the contest only to allow an opponent to come back and eventually take the lead. But compared to Saturday evening in Philadelphia, last night would turn out better for the DC team.
Delrico Johnson secured a 14-10 lead as the third quarter ended with a huge sky block in the end zone on Chris Kocher’s buzzer-beater throw. But that was only the beginning of the end-of-third-quarter heroics, as a DC high school coach won $5000 by hitting a stationary mannequin from 50 yards away in the DC Breeze #5kToss challenge series! Then it was on to the final quarter…
By the time the clock read 25 seconds remaining, the lead had all but vanished at 16-15. Still, the Breeze O-line had the disc and only needed to run out the clock. Instead, a David Bloodgood cross caught too much wind and New York won the 50-50 to get the disc back. With no timeouts remaining, they frantically marched it up field and punched in the tying goal with under two seconds remaining. Overtime.
New York got the disc in the first overtime, and eventually held serve on the first possession after two turnovers by each side. Needing a hold from the offensive line, DC tentatively worked it down Hotchkiss Field, ut Jeff Babbitt of the Empire came off of his man to make a diving block in front of Tyler Monroe on a Max Cassell throw. The potential game-winning block, however, took the wind out of Babbitt (three goals, four assists) and forced the officials to call an injury timeout. With the clock stopped at 35 seconds, DC had a chance to set up their defense.
Against the Philadelphia Phoenix on Saturday, the Breeze were unable to get the disc back. This time they did. Trapped on the sideline, New York had nowhere to put the disc. On a high stall, Rowan McDonnell read a deep upline cut, came off of his own cutter and got the block. Then off the turn, Jonathan Neeley picked up the disc found Alan Kolick , who put it in the back of the end zone for the game tying score to Monroe.
“I knew he was locked in on the upline cut. I broke early when it was released. It was into space so I knew I could make a play on it, I just wanted to make a clean bid,” McDonnell said. “And Alan is the best player on the world, he made it happen to Tyler Monroe.”
From here the two teams headed to a winner-take-all double overtime. Fortunately, the Empire selected to receive to start the overtime period. This allowed the Breeze to put out their O-line on universe point. The offensive unit worked it up the field methodically until Nathan Prior tested the waters deep.
Prior (one assist), who has yet to throw an incomplete pass in 2017 (139/139), launched his first deep shot of his rookie campaign. He spotted the tallest Breeze player on the field, Lloyd Blake, and the versatile 6’5″ handler made a full extension layout to snag the disc only a yard outside of the end zone. New York’s defense quickly raced downfield and set up before Blake could find an open teammate, and he wisely called the team’s lone timeout of the 2nd OT period. After the stoppage and with time to set up a designed play, Blake found a wide open Max Cassell five yards deep in the end zone for the game winner.
“Nate took a really bold shot,” head coach Darryl Stanley said. “Its the first one he’s taken all season and Lloyd made a fantastic adjustment to catch that disc… Nate wasn’t going for a home run, just trying to float it out there.”
Coming into the final point of the contest, the O-line was broken seven times, three of them in the fourth quarter. In overtime, the first point took nearly three minutes, with the offensive unit being subbed in to hold possession. Still, the O-line could not punch it in. But in the last and most important point of the game, they came through with no turns, four passes and a sudden death, game winning goal.
“Either you feel confident, or if you don’t, you recognize it and tell yourself to be confident,” Neeley said. “There aren’t too many people who get to play in an overtime game with it on the line.”
New York (2-5) desperately needed this win in the standings, and they played like it for most of the contest. Now halfway through the season, the Empire are still looking for a 3rd victory and are at risk of missing the postseason for the first time in their history. Making his Empire debut, Ben Jagt had an impact but was unable to show up on the score sheet. Sean Keegan (one goal, four assists) played his second game of the year, but eventually left the game with a left wrist injury.
One thing is certain though — the always impressive New York D-line played one of their best games all season. In addition to the comeback, they opened the contest with three breaks in the opening quarter.
This double overtime win was the third game in the past two seasons to go the full distance between the Empire and Breeze. In the seven games in 2016 and 2017 combined, the Breeze have won all seven, yet five were by a single point.
“There is something in the water I guess that both teams drink when we matchup,” Neeley said. “They have a very good way of attacking us as soon as we turn the disc over and they tend to be very good at it in the fourth quarter and overtime. Their pressure never stops. I don’t think they stop believing and when they do get turns, they’re off to the races… I think the big task is to avoid turning it into a narrative where something ‘always happens’ when we play New York. The more productive thing is to identify what was good and what needs changing in the choices we made in yesterday’s game and to address those actions as we move forward.”
Cassell led the team with five goals including the double overtime game winner. Cassell and Jeff Wodatch (four goals, two assists) combined for half of the team’s goals. Blake was an incredible 53/54 passing in addition to his game-saving catch, and as mentioned above, Prior continued his perfect passing record with a 40/40 performance.
Both teams came into this contest looking to improve their defensive conversion rate, and both teams were successful. DC and New York scored seven breaks.
It was a perfect rebound win for the Breeze (6-3) who now trail the Toronto Rush by a half game in the standings. The two squads square off next Sunday, 2:00 pm at Hotchkiss with the division lead on the line.
“This is better for our morale than the other way around,” Stanley said, referring to the possibility of the scores being flipped in the two weekend games. “But no, 1-1 isn’t good enough.”