Photo by Jeff Bell for UltiPhotos.com

The San Francisco Dogfish won a thriller last Saturday against the Vancouver Nighthawks, 18-17.  The teams were very evenly matched and brought out the best in each other, going blow for blow right down to the last second of the game.

It was a perfect night for Ultimate, cool with practically no wind, and the sun had just broken through the clouds after a few days of rain. A thousand spectators arrived at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium for the Nighthawks’ home opener. The game they witnessed was probably the MLU’s most exciting game so far in this short season.

The Dogfish had a strong first quarter, generating multiple Nighthawk turnovers to go ahead 5-2. Andrew Hagen got a pair of blocks early on and the D line kept rolling. “We made it a goal to be really fired up on defense right from the start. We were smothering them pretty well and forced them to put up a few deep shots that led to turns,” said Dogfish Coach Justin Safdie.

Starting the second quarter, Beau Kittredge caught a huck from Drew Kim to stretch the lead to four. The Nighthawks then turned the disc over one more time and it appeared the Dogfish were going to run away with the game.

With San Francisco on the goal line looking to bump their lead to five, Vancouver defender Mark Leduc got a killer block, made a dicey pass to Kirk Savage, then took off and managed to stay ahead of the pursuing Dogfish players to catch Savage’s full-field throw for a score.  It was a huge play that got the crowd going and turned the game around for Vancouver. The Nighthawks’ D line used that momentum to draw back to 6-5.

The Dogfish’s Kittredge then responded with a series of throws before halftime that gave San Francisco a 10-7 lead going into the break, but the Nighthawks had begun to contest more plays and the crowd could sense that this was anybody’s game.

After halftime, the Nighthawks switched up their defensive strategy, using a match-up zone and ratcheting up the energy on the mark. Zone is risky without a strong breeze to support it and the evening had been still, but the Dogfish were surprised. Tough, bruising Vancouver marks produced a few stalls and other turnovers. Fueled by their fans and the defensive presence of Morgan Hibbert, the Nighthawks pulled ahead 11-10.

“We didn’t have nearly the same intensity in the second half as we had to start the game. They were physical and started to poach aggressively,” said Safdie. “We didn’t pick up on it and we sent a lot of discs deep into double teams.”

Going into the final period, the Dogfish scored to tie the game at 11-11. Vancouver would score and San Francisco would respond, leading to ties at 12-12 and 13-13. The Dogfish got a pair of breaks to seize control at 15-13, but the Nighthawks came right back and went up 15-16.

Tied at 17s, with under a minute left, the Dogfish recognized an opportunity to manage the clock to their advantage. They worked the disc near the goal and called a timeout with 7 seconds left. The Dogfish drew up a play and got a first throw off to Ashlin Joye, who was immediately triple-teamed by Vancouver. Double-teams are allowed in the MLU but three defenders on the mark is a violation, so the Dogfish set up again with the clock reset to 10 seconds. Joye then threw the game-winner to Nic Schlag with 6 seconds left.

The Nighthawks threw a desperation huck on the ensuing pull that they tried to keep alive by tipping it to each other, but the Dogfish prevailed. The teams left the field to a standing ovation from the fans.

Safdie admitted that the Dogfish had made a conscious effort to shut down Nighthawk handlers, but Vancouver adjusted as the game wore on and were able to move the disc on San Francisco by sending their handlers deep. Offensively, Dogfish throwers succeeded by being patient and moving the disc laterally, switching the field on the Nighthawks and resisting the 50/50 shot.

Game standouts for the Dogfish included Andrew Hagen who was called up from the practice squad on Thursday to bolster the D lines. Ashlin Joye had a number of big plays down the stretch to help deliver the win. Beau Kittredge had another outstanding game but may have pulled a hamstring, limiting his play in the fourth quarter. The Nighthawks got a huge night out of Morgan Hibbert who had two big Ds on Kittredge. Leduc was a monster for Vancouver, catching several goals and both he and Alan Cowan had clutch defensive plays throughout the game.

The Dogfish’s next game is back home against the Seattle Rainmakers at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, starting at 7 PM Saturday, May 4. Don’t miss it!

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