The San Francisco Dogfish beat the Vancouver Nighthawks this past Saturday 23-13 in San Francisco. There were several factors that both took Vancouver out of their game and allowed San Francisco to play to their strengths.

The Nighthawks had practically played the Dogfish to a draw in their first meeting, and some would argue the Dogfish won simply because they had the last possession. This time the teams again played thrillingly closely for a long stretch, but in the end the home crowd was treated to a satisfying run and saw the Dogfish take complete control of the game.

The teams started the game struggling with the gusty conditions at Boxer Stadium. Both had nearly the same number of wind-driven errors in the first quarter and finished the period tied at 4s. The teams traded points through most of the second quarter and then, with under 4 minutes to go, San Francisco got two quick breaks and went into half up 9-6. There was no reason to believe that Vancouver wouldn’t come right back, and the second half started with the teams trading hard-fought points.

With just under seven minutes left in the third the Nighthawks had possession of the disc with the Dogfish leading 11-8. It appeared Vancouver would get the break they needed to start their comeback. Unfortunately, the Nighthawks called a timeout and allowed San Francisco to put fresh defenders on the field. The Dogfish got the disc back on that point and converted, and the Nighthawks never got another chance to get back in the game. The rest of the quarter saw the Dogfish defensive lines capitalize on just about every Nighthawks mistake and put San Francisco ahead 19-9.

The Dogfish started the fourth quarter continuing to pressure Vancouver and stretched their lead to 21-10 with just under six minutes left. From there on out, the game’s outcome was never in doubt and the final score ended up 23-13 Dogfish. (See Saturday’s game recap for more details.)

Breaking down the victory, there was a clear recipe for Dogfish success. The first issue was personnel. The Dogfish had gotten back a group of their key players who missed two games due to USA Ultimate National Team responsibilities and other commitments. San Francisco had proven in a comeback win over Seattle and a close loss in Portland that they have the horses to compete without these players, but being at full strength gave the Dogfish serious depth. Vancouver, on the other hand, was missing two of the players who are responsible for much of the team’s success–handler Oscar Pottinger and defensive star Morgan Hibbert. The result was San Francisco could play one high-caliber line after another, and whenever Vancouver’s tighter rotation started to make mistakes, the Dogfish always had the athletes on the field to capitalize.

The second issue was the wind. Boxer Stadium hasn’t just been windy, it’s been gusty and inconsistent. This bothered both teams, but seemed to really take Vancouver out of their game. The Nighthawks depend a lot on their deep game for scores, and on high-skilled throws to break down the opponent’s defense. The wind took both things away from them.

The conditions allowed the Dogfish to play to their strengths. San Francisco veteran Russ Wynne put it this way, “The wind made it a more standard game than they were used to [in that] they weren’t able to switch the field with hammers and scoobers like they did when we played in Vancouver. When a team is forced to one side and we can dictate the style of play, we have a huge advantage. We have the speed and athleticism to outwork teams defensively.”

Finally, the Dogfish are benefiting from the development of more of their roster. The absence of their key players in the previous two games gave other players new responsibility on the field, and the team’s success has fostered confidence throughout. Not only are individual players more poised, teammates have more confidence in each other.

The emergence of certain individuals with the added playing time is exemplified in the increased role of Andrew Hagen. Hagen started the season on the practice squad and got called up to fill in for missing players. Not only has Hagen made the case that he deserves to be on the team, the opportunities provided in these last two games established Hagen as a first-line defender. On the offensive side, bay area newcomer Evan Boucher has gone from being perceived as a capable addition, to securing a role as a reliable play maker and mentioned as an MVP candidate.

The season is just past its halfway point and the win over the Nighthawks has allowed the Dogfish to recover from the loss to the Portland Stags and regain control of their campaign for the playoffs. San Francisco is tied with Seattle at the top of the Western Conference standings, but owns the tie-breaker. The Dogfish have this coming weekend off. Their next game is Sunday June 2 at Kezar Stadium, where they’ll have the opportunity to redeem themselves against the Portland Stags.

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