The Radicals had played a night game in Chicago Saturday evening, and had a last minute comeback victory. They traveled halfway to Detroit after the game, and finished the trip on Sunday morning. The Mechanix came into their game on Sunday 0-1, having lost their first week game to the Indianapolis AlleyCats at home. This game was in Detroit also, but there were a couple key differences. The Mechanix were playing a team on their second game in a back to back weekend and Detroit had two important players on Sunday that weren’t at their first game, Ken Porter and Ben Ayres.
Porter brings more elite ultimate experience to the Mechanix than anyone else on the team. This past club season he was a key component in Ring of Fire’s run to the semifinals at the Club Championships. Last week his Mechanix teammate Dave Hochhalter had played a take no prisoners style of play, looking to put up hucks early on often. While it didn’t always work out, Hochhalter finished with 10 assists. Pairing Porter with Hochhalter seemed like an exciting match, since there might not be another player in the league that can match Porter’s athleticism. And though Ayres doesn’t have the club experience that Porter does, he was a key player for the Mechanix last season. Both would prove themselves in crunch time against the Radicals.
The game itself offered a contrast in styles. Detroit’s offense, centered around Dave Hochhalter, was much more focused on the deep look. Madison was happier to take the shorter, high percentage throws, without any one handler dominating the disc. This difference was exemplified early in the game, with the Mechanix down 1-2. Hochhalter put up a huge huck shortly after Detroit received the disc, and it was brought down just outside the end zone. After a couple dumps and swings, Hochhalter had the disc again. He got a little impatient, and threw a bladey flick that sailed out the back of the end zone. Madison then worked the disc down the field, and took the 3-1 lead.
Hochhalter was playing every point on offense for the Mechanix, and a few points on defense too. Porter was primarily playing defensive points, and would hardly play any points on offense until the 4th quarter. The second quarter saw Madison start throwing a lot more zone, perhaps in an effort to save some of their legs after a taxing victory over the Windy City Wildfire the night before. While the zone was fairly effective in slowing down the Wildfire the night before, playing indoors, Hochhalter was able to complete crossfield hammers to open up the field for the Mechanix. In an effort to take away the hammers the Radicals threw a lot more double teams than the Mechanix did, but those double teams frequently resulted in fouls, giving the Mechanix a free ten yards.
Down 14-16 in the third quarter, the Radicals worked the disc down the field with short in cuts, but were having trouble punching it in, which was a recurring theme for Madison in this game. Though Detroit didn’t play great defense early on in points, once Madison got near the end zone things became much more difficult for their offense. Sometimes Madison would complete ten or more throws on the end zone line and then end up turning the disc. They turned it again this time, and Porter called a timeout to bring in Detroit’s O-Line. Detroit moved the disc down the field, and Dave Hochhalter threw a hammer break to Mark Worsfold for the score to make it 17-14, it was his sixth assist, and he finished with seven.
The first three quarters Dave Hochhalter had been making most of the big plays for the Mechanix. In the fourth quarter that changed. Ken Porter’s defense reached another level, he bid and skied his way to several clutch d’s. Unfortunately, the Mechanix weren’t always able to capitalize on those opportunities. After getting big to intercept a Madison swing pass, Porter dumped the disc only to have his teammate make an errant throw right away for the turn.
With Madison’s end zone offense improving in the fourth quarter, Detroit started to let them back in the game. Up 21-19, the Mechanix were stalled on the Radicals end zone line, and the Radicals brought the game within one. The teams traded the next several points, with Nate Thibedeau catching a point to bring Madison within one, 22-23, with a minute to go. Detroit started playing the next point conservatively, not their usual style, content to lose yards as long as they maintained possession. With 35 seconds remaining, they called a timeout. Hochhalter had the disc coming out of the timeout, and Madison set up a double team around him. Hochhalter decided to throw a dangerous hammer right away, which resulted in a turn. Madison quickly converted a huck to tie it up, leaving 22 seconds on the clock, but Detroit couldn’t bring down their last second shot to the end zone. That meant the game went to a five minute overtime period.
The story of the first overtime was the mistakes Detroit made and the big plays they made to make up for those mistakes. They took the lead 24-23 on a huck from Hochhalter to Ben Ayres. On the next point Porter got a big d to give them back possession, only to have Detroit throw a turnover coming out of a timeout. But Detroit got the disc back again, this time with a strong defensive play from Eric Hubbard. Near the Madison end zone Andrew Lucarotti had trouble finding anyone open, and put a high stall prayer to the end zone for a turn. Madison finally marched the disc down the field, with Mike Swain getting open in the end zone to tie the game with 18 seconds left. Detroit was unable to answer back in time, and sudden death double overtime was upon us. Detroit received, then a floaty swing to Hochhalter stayed in the air for too long, and Madison had the disc within 20 yards of Detroit’s end zone. At the most crucial time in the game Ken Porter made a huge defensive play on Dave Wiseman in Detroit’s end zone. Porter had to leave the field with an injury afterward, but Detroit got what they needed from him. The Mechanix moved the disc quickly down the field, and Ben Ayres got open in the end zone to score the first and final point of double overtime, to win the game for the Mechanix.
The game’s end result ended up posing more question than answering them. The Madison Radicals had just come off a dramatic victory against the Windy City Wildfire in Chicago. Then they lost to a Detroit team that had lost to Indianapolis by six the week before. The nature of this game was different though, since Madison was playing dreaded back to back road games. Of the four teams in the AUDL that played back to back road games this weekend, they went 1-3. The only winner in the bunch was the Toronto Rush, who barely beat the Philadelphia Phoenix 26-25, in a game they were heavily favored in. The Wind Chill lost to the Revolution after beating the AlleyCats, and the Dragons lost by 16 to the Hammerheads after losing by 9 to the Empire the night before. What’s interesting is how strong this pattern is already, when it wasn’t present at all in the AUDL last year. Last season team’s went 6-7 on the second day of back to back games. It will be interesting to see whether this is the beginning of a trend or a blip, but you can be sure that every AUDL team will be circling those two game weekends on their calendar.
The other question is just how good are the Mechanix? Having Porter and Ayres in the lineup certainly helped them on Sunday. But, they have yet to play outside. Will they be able to adjust? Their zone offense has consisted of lots of big hammers and lofty blades, which won’t work as well outside the friendly confines of the Ultimate Soccer Arena in Pontiac. And this week we saw Porter play almost exclusively on the D-Line. Was that just because he had yet to get enough practice time with the O-Line? Or will Porter remain on the D-Line, only playing offensive points in late game situations? He certainly showed his value defensively this week, but he’s also a tremendous cutter, so it will be interesting to see whether he starts playing on the O-Line at least as much as Hochhalter has been playing on the D-Line. The Mechanix scored a big victory Sunday, but if they hope to contend for the playoffs these are questions that will need to be answered soon.
Feature photo by Kelton Kaye