Photo by Scobel Wiggins – UltiPhotos.com
17 – 16
Portland had two break possessions on the first point of the game and failed to convert. Seattle took a 1-0 lead. Portland tied at 1-1. Then Seattle tallied a hold and two breaks to take a 4-1 lead at which juncture Portland called a timeout on offense with 2:14 left in the first quarter. While the Stags would go on to tie at 9-9, 12-12, 13-13 and 14-14, they never held the lead, and lost 17-16.
That’s the capsule recap of this one. With that as background, let’s dive into the particulars.
To start, the telling side of this game was defense. While the offenses were competent throughout (with caveats of not converting particularly well on break opportunities, and with a couple of mutually ugly points), there was persistent defensive pressure with intermittent runs of great defense from all involved.
The base defense for both teams was to sag off handlers and resets a lot on defense and then close down aggressively to the mark as necessary. This muddles the offensive cutting lanes and slows down easy continuations while forcing the offense to complete more passes and demanding that each throw be accurate. The last of these is achieved only when the sagging defenders trail cuts aggressively to disallow the pre-catch deceleration of the offensive player, thereby constricting the size of the target area.
Specifically to start the game, there were two great Seattle defensive plays arising from this style of defense:
As Timmy Perston catches the under here, his man (Ben Beehner) is giving a cushion of about six yards. Beehner starts to close down, checks over his shoulder, and continues closing until he is marking quite tightly to pressure the reset. Upon throwing the reset, Perston starts to release upfield into the defender’s body, which the defender slid with on the first step. Perston takes this as a cue to cut for the swing pass. Then, if we look at the four players involved in the give-go, the player with the best vision is the Seattle defender, who can clearly see the other three. The mark can see the thrower, Perston can see the thrower and the mark and it is unclear if the thrower can see the defender, who may be hidden by the mark. In any case, Perston cuts into the backfield and then rounds his cut to get to the far side of the field, at which point the thrower puts the disc up. Beehner watches all of this happen and takes the opportunity to shoot the gap for the catch block. Not until after the throw is released does the defender lose sight of Perston. This leads to a smooth 9-throw, 62-yard, 30-second counterattack goal from Seattle.
After that goal, before the next pull, Portland took their first timeout. Forcing a team to take a timeout between points on offense is a small but potentially important victory in MLU. Since timeouts can be used to sub on a new seven or, if called after you score, pull from midfield. Decreasing the flexibility of your opponent is the first step to breaking them like a twig rather than letting them bend like a branch.
This next defensive play was slim seconds after the Stags’ Raphy Hayes earned an emphatic catch block on a Rainmaker huck into double coverage and then centered the disc. The Portland side is interested in taking their time, sticking to simple offense and ensuring that they value the possession Hayes has given them. Instead, Danny Trytiak makes a prescient read and peels away from the clearing Portland player who turns to look away from the thrower. The thrower, the Portland cutter and Trytiak are looking to the breakside. Being that the cutter and Trytiak are on the openside, this means that the thrower has compromised his openside vision sufficiently such that Trytiak read the offense and interrupted it with a better cut. If the downfield Seattle defender had prevented this cut individually with underneath coverage, the throw would not have gone up, and Seattle would have been less likely to force a turn here.
The clutch play of note is Mark Burton (who starts on the mark) starting his cut as soon as he saw Trytiak’s positional advantage before the block. This immediate attack pressures the Stags defense which creates the space necessary to quickly convert this 3-on-2 fast break.
Later in the first half, as in nearly any loss in ultimate, unforced errors at key moments changed the game.
Portland pulled with 1:31 left in the first half, game tied at 9-9. One throw into their possession, Trytiak rips a huck just out of the reach of a diving Brad Houser. Portland has 1:20 to score and begins to work the disc up the close sideline, then resets twice to lose 12 yards in exchange for access to the other side of the field. On the first throw up the far sideline, it looks like a wise choice as Raphy Hayes has taken advantage of a huge cutting lane to gain 25 yards. What’s more, he has a couple of cutters in support pushing downfield to provide both upfield and crossfield options. However, the plastic proves unkind and caroms off of Hayes’ phalanges. Now Seattle has 49 seconds and 42 yards separating them from a one-point lead going into half. They take a 39-second, 9-throw possession capped by a 30-yd give-go goal to Gavin McKibben courtesy of a slick slicing forehand assist from Jeff Pape.
This all served to set the stage for the second half. Seattle was 2-for-4 on first half breaks while Portland was 1-for-5. It felt like the Stags, if they got a break early, could go on a second-half run. If Seattle could just hold on early, they could shorten the game enough that their early lead could hold out.
After the half, the third quarter jumped off with these confident opening statements:
19-pass 1:11 possession for Seattle.
19-pass 1:41 possession to answer from Portland.
Cody Bjorklund, Timmy Perston and Ben McGinn were in for both points.
And this is something to keep in mind as we consider the remainder of this contest. Bjorklund, Perston and McGinn are three of the most effective players on the Portland squad, and three of the top players in MLU. And, as we discussed before the game players were likely to be used on both offense and defense. Perston started five defensive points, McGinn started five offensive points and Bjorklund started two defensive points. On only one of those points did the Stags force a turn, and only McGinn was on the field.
But we’ll come back to this. The fact remains that the opening two possessions of the third quarter were quite controlled possession-oriented points under duress from the defenses. A nice way to reintroduce the crowd to the match at hand. What we’ll get to now is another example of how the outcome of this game was subject to quick reversals.
Seattle catches the pull a couple of yards deep in the end zone with 7:07 on the clock in the third. Portland gambles on an under cut on the second throw to get a block on a pretty well-placed scoober. The whole stadium can feel that the short field opportunity is just the sort of thing that the Stags defense could use to spark a run. Portland centers to Dan Suppnick who holds the disc for a few seconds and then chucks a blade into a crowd of at least 10 players (six of whom are Rainmakers).
Seattle catches the Suppnick heave 79 yards away from a goal with 6:37 on the clock. By 6:16 the Seattle offense has scored using seven passes. Again, aside from the generally smooth offense advancing up the field, the key play belonged to McKibben on a big field-switching throw after a 30-yd give-go between Todd Sliva and Andrew Lynch.
McKibben was 37 for 37 with five goals and zero drops in 20 points played (18 on offense). More than that, he was consistently involved in smoothly redirecting the Rainmakers attack from one side of the field the other. But both with and without the disc, it was his impeccable timing which made the difference.
Just under six minutes later, Seattle received the disc with :23 left in the third quarter and scored what was likely as the most important goal of the game.
Seattle scored going 86 yards in eight passes, left no time on the clock and went up 14-13 going into the final ten minutes of play. Who caught that goal?
After one more period break to collect themselves for the final push, all participants reported for the final act, which serves well as a microcosm of the game:
4th Quarter Minutes Played
|Team||Players||> 9||8||1 – 7||< 1|
This is in part reflective of Portland spending all but 36 seconds of the first 7:43 of the fourth quarter on offense. However, there is more than one way to handle this sort of distribution, specifically as Seattle called a timeout at 4:21 after gaining a break possession during a long Stags offensive point. At this point while the Stags subbed in some defensive players, yet McGinn and Bjorklund remained on the field.
McGinn and Bjorklund proceeded to spend over two minutes playing defense to no avail, despite an apparent block from Bjorklund (called back on a foul which I’m not sure I agree with), and a near-block from Steven Rice before the point ends at 2:17 with a hammer from Seattle to go up two.
On the next point (offense), Bjorklund, Perston and McGinn all trot back in. Portland scores on a Steve Kenton hammer to Perston (who made a sneaky back corner to back corner cut) to cap a 16-throw (two hammer) possession. 1:21 to go and the Stags call their final timeout for a midfield pull.
Perston and McGinn reenter again at this critical moment, down 15-16 needing a break to tie. Oh, back to that 36 seconds on defense early in the quarter: McGinn, Perston and Bjorklund stayed on the field. A serious endurance test in a game, let alone in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. After Seattle works the disc in, out, back in and back out of their end zone, Trytiak unleashes an unmarked 66-yard flick to an *uncovered* Rainmaker. As that throw goes up, Perston and McGinn are 10 and 15 yards deep of Trytiak. The open Rainmaker is neither of their charges, but McGinn and Perston are the first two Portland players down on the disc.
In a certain sense, this is justification for their remaining on the field for such a high percentage of play. In another sense, it is indicative of how most of the day on defense went for the two-way players on Portland: A lot of used energy and very little to show for it.
For the next point, with the Stags on offense, Perston, McGinn and Bjorklund return as Portland takes far too long to score, leaving an impotent two seconds on the clock which proved only long enough for a clock error rather than a shot at a comeback. This is the way an excellent 2015 campaign comes to a close for Portland: Just out of time, reminded that the regular season is just a preamble to the binding results of the playoffs.
The question becomes, in a significant sense, how best to distribute the stress of a playoff game amongst the players on a team? These two teams had quite clear distinctions in their approaches. Take a look at the playing time distribution:
Both teams relied on a very tight O-Line:
– Seattle played eight players between 12 and 18 of their 18 O points (66.67% -100% of O points)
– Portland played seven players between 12 and 16 of their 18 O points (66.67% – 88.89% of O points).
But the difference at the top of the D-line is striking:
– Seattle played one player (Clay Dewey-Valentine) on 12 or more of their 18 D points (14 = 83.33% of D points)
– Portland played six players on more than 12 of their 18 D points (13 – 18 = 72.22% – 100% of D points)
And the effect below that top tier is further evidence of a significant difference in approach:
– Seattle played 12 players between five and 12 of their 18 D points (27.78% – 61.11%) and none of those players played more O points than D points.
– Portland played five players between five and 12 of their 18 D points (27.78% – 44.44%) and three of those players (Perston, McGinn, Bjorklund) played more O than D.
The Rainmakers used the depth of their roster more effectively than any other team in the MLU over the course of the regular season. It is no surprise that this continued in the playoffs. While their win is an upset in every sense of the word, the team has been building a very strong side over the course of the season by cohering under the guidance of their clearly well-prepared coaching staff.
Seven On & On Anon…
1. Take a Second Look
Yes, this is that play that got on SportsCenter. But I want to dive back into the video vault for a moment. After Woodside goes full Woodside, the camera stays after the quarter ends. Watch the left side of your screen. A disc! It really does come back like a boomerang when thrown correctly! No… wait… that’s not being thrown correctly at all. There is something more sinister here. That plastic is being treated like an abused puppy. Or kicked like a beloved soccer ball. But not at all like the treasured flying plate it is. I gotta tell ya, ref: You’re on the bad list. I, like you, have no idea what the long-term repercussions are of presence on that list, but you be sure to let me know. Pick the thing up and carry it. Or toss it on over. You can do whatever you want except disrespect the plastic. Treat your discs kindly and they may return the favor. Treat them elsewise and you might as well feed a Mogwai after midnight.
2. Portland’s Offensive Offense
|Players||Cmp. %||% of Throws||% of Inc.|
|McGinn, Bjorklund, Kenton, Matt Melius|
|Perston, John Seimer, Aaron Adamson||35/43||81.40%||19.00%||47.06%|
3. Portland’s Defensive Offense
Suppnick was 3-for-8 on the evening (37.5%). In 2015, he never logged fewer than 12 throws, never lower than 83.33%, and had thrown more than two turnovers only once this season (Week 2). In this game, he threw more incompletions than completions. In addition, he and Topher Davis combined to go 9-for-17 (52.91% Cmp, 7.56% of throws, 47.06% of turns). In case you weren’t taking notes: Perston (2), Seimer (3), Adamson (3), Davis (3) and Suppnick (5) combined for 16 of 17 Stags turns on the night, or 94.11%.
4. In a related news item:
Woodside was held without a catch for the first time in 2015.
7. Everybody on D!
Zero of 17 Portland players played fewer than three D points (including mid-point subs).
Seven of 23 Seattle players played fewer than three D points (including mid-point subs).
Midfield Heave as Time Expires: Heal up, Woodside.