Tuesday Toss: The New, Secret Storyline

July 4, 2023
By Evan Lepler

We’re just 11 days away from, potentially, the “Game of the Century.” 

That’s typically a phrase reserved for rare regular season college football matchups featuring the top two teams in the country, but it could also be applied to the 11-0 Salt Lake Shred hosting the 10-0 New York Empire on Saturday, July 15. 

The Shred and Empire both brilliantly navigated through their potential Week 10 land mines this past weekend, and they each need just one more win to set up the riveting collision of undefeateds. Salt Lake will host winless Portland this Friday, while New York has to travel and play 8-3 Colorado on Friday, July 14, on the eve of perhaps the biggest AUDL regular season game of all time. 

That’s the obvious headline as we head down the stretch of the regular season, but there’s another secret storyline that must also be monitored. 

You may remember this Tuesday Toss from nearly a year ago, which detailed the battle for Championship Weekend point-differential positioning that was set to unfold during the final weekend of the 2022 regular season. The clairvoyant column pinpointed how Chicago and Colorado would both try and run up the score as heavy favorites in their last regular season game in order to avoid facing the undefeated New York Empire in the semifinals. Ultimately, it may not have made any difference as the Empire steamrolled everyone, but I still believe the seeding played a small part in New York’s run to the title. 

Fast forward to the present, the possible “Game of the Century,” and prepare for this shocking realization:

When Salt Lake and New York go head-to-head, the loser might actually be the long-term winner.

What? Huh? Really? 

Yes. It’s true. 

And I’ll explain why.

Firstly, this is not speculation that either side would ever consider throwing the game. Regardless of their records, the Shred and Empire both cherish and thrive off the greatest challenges. They are eager to test themselves against the best, and I fully expect both teams to bring their A-game and deliver an exhilarating showcase of ultimate. But the fact remains that, when projecting outward toward Championship Weekend matchups, the number one overall seed might not be the preferred position. 

Every year, the semifinal pairings are decided based upon the regular season records of the four Championship Weekend qualifiers, with point-differential serving as a tiebreaker.

Here’s what the current seedings look like, taking the leader in each division:

  1. Salt Lake 10-0, +48
  2. New York 9-0, +49
  3. Atlanta 8-2, +59
  4. Indianapolis 7-2, +16

But that snapshot of the present is almost certainly going to change, and while we’re admittedly venturing into the realm of projection, I would argue it’s more likely than not that the South Division champ slips to the four-seed while the Central Division champ rises into the three-spot. 

Indy and Minnesota meet this Sunday to likely determine the Central’s regular season champ, and considering both presently have two losses, the winner has a very realistic path to 10-2. In the South, meanwhile, Atlanta has two upcoming battles against 6-3 Carolina. If the Hustle can sweep those two matchups, this entire line of thinking would very likely be rendered moot. However, it’s very reasonable to expect at least one victory from the Flyers, which would leave the South Division champ, whoever it is, with at least three losses. 

Now, with minimal apologies for the sake of manners, it’s time to set aside the subtle insinuations and move toward more direct disrespect.

It basically boils down to this: Would you rather go into Championship Weekend having to beat two teams that can win the title, or would you prefer to face the two-loss Central Division champ in the semifinals and then square off against whoever survived the other more-anticipated matchup of superior division winners?

Look, if you’re a fan of the AlleyCats or the Wind Chill, I’m sorry that I’m not sorry. I just don’t view those teams as elite championship contenders, capable of defeating two other division champs on consecutive days. 

Truly, I’d be delighted if this theory is proven wrong and either Indy, Minnesota, or maybe even a surging Chicago team peaks at the right time to knock off another division champ in the semifinals. But with all the evidence from 10 weeks of ultimate, there’s just no rational way that anyone in the Central should be considered a true title threat alongside powerhouses like New York, Salt Lake, Atlanta, Carolina, DC, or Colorado. 

If the Central champ ends up with more or as many losses than the South champ, then this entire thesis can be unceremoniously placed in the trash. 

But it’s also my job to contemplate potential future storylines, and if the Championship Weekend seedings looked like this:

  1. New York/Salt Lake 12-0
  2. New York'Salt Lake 11-1 or 10-2
  3. Indy/Minnesota 10-2
  4. Atlanta/Carolina 9-3 or 8-4

Would you rather be number one or number two?

Of course, there are countless scenarios where postseason upsets could completely reset this conversation entirely. However, the fact remains that if the favorites get to Championship Weekend, whoever draws the Central champ in the semis will have a distinct advantage.

It’s not something anyone on the Shred or Empire will be thinking about on July 15, but it definitely could be a latent factor in the big picture race towards the title.

The Full Field Layout

Neither New York nor Salt Lake played perfectly in Week 10, but both teams’ records remained unblemished thanks to some splendid fourth quarters. 

The Empire, after leading by as many as three in their first half against the Breeze, fell behind 14-13 with 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter, only to outscore DC 8-4 the rest of the way, prevailing 21-18.

“A team might outplay us for a quarter, but it’s been literal years since I’ve seen us lose two quarters in a row,” said New York’s Ryan Osgar. “Our biggest strength is that, when the pressure is on, we have so many guys who know how to step up in those moments, play without fear, and make plays.”

Osgar finished with eight assists and four goals, as the Empire earned their 24th straight win overall, along with their 27th consecutive home win. Furthermore, despite DC rallying back from a multi-goal deficit to take the lead, New York ultimately defeated the Breeze for the 10th time in their last 11 meetings.

“DC’s defense never quits,” added Osgar. “I really respect their ability to elevate their intensity throughout the game. When two very talented teams play each other over the course of a long AUDL game, there are gonna be runs and swing in momentum. We know this. When you’re comfortably up a couple breaks, it can be hard to generate pressure on defense, but as this game shows, when the pressure is on we can always mash the emergency “DROST” button. Those two guys are such cheat codes and always fund a way to make a big play and set the tone for everyone else on the team.”

On Friday, it was Ryan Drost who recorded three blocks, bringing him within two of twin brother, Mike, on the AUDL all-time list. Mike’s got 198, Ryan has 196, and they will almost certainly be the first two players in AUDL history to record 200 career blocks, presumably before the 2023 season concludes. 

Beyond the blocks, the Empire went 7-for-10 on their break chances and 13-for-13 in the red zone. New York frequently capitalized on DC mistakes very quickly, counter-attacking for an important break before the Breeze could even set their transition D. 

“I think the challenging thing with New York is that they are exceptionally talented at capitalizing on small mistakes and punishing them in a hurry,” said Breeze Coach Alex Crew. “I think a game like this showcases the importance not just of O-line O and D-line D, but O-line D and D-line O.”

The Empire were 9-0 before the Shred took the field in Los Angeles later that evening, but Salt Lake would catch and pass New York on the record front with two wins in about 25 hours, starting with a dominant first half in LA. 

Despite getting broken on the game’s opening point, the Shred built a 10-4 lead in Los Angeles, breaking the Aviators six times in the game’s first 21 minutes. Though LA clawed back within one on the opening point of the fourth, they never once had the disc with the chance to tie in the second half, as Salt Lake’s purposeful and precise disc movement kept the Shred ahead en route to a 20-18 victory.

One day later, in San Diego, the Shred again seized control early and closed with a fury, outscoring the Growlers 7-1 over the final nine minutes to prevail 26-16. Salt Lake’s D-line produced 11 breaks on Saturday night, while the Shred had just 10 total turns against the Growlers. 

“Very proud of the boys,” said Salt Lake’s Jordan Kerr, after the two-win weekend. “I think there were a lot of good takeaways, but at the same time, I don’t think we leave satisfied. I think we left a lot on the table. We still have a lot to work on [...] This weekend was a good realization of where we’re at and where we want to be.”

In each of the past six seasons, the team that finished number one in O-line hold rate (including the playoffs) won the AUDL Championship. Presently, the Shred are number three in the league at 74.24 percent, narrowly behind the Atlanta Hustle (74.43 percent) and the New York Empire (74.26 percent). It’s virtually a three-way tie with three weeks left in the regular season, and Salt Lake’s emergence as one of the league’s most efficient O-lines—they ranked 7th in the league in this category last year—is a huge reason why the team is 10-0. 

“A lot of trust,” said Kerr, when asked about what stands out to him about the team’s offense this year. “I love the fact that our team started really early before the season as far as establishing lines, kind of what we wanted to accomplish and the systems we wanted to run. We all bought in to what Coach [Bryce] Merrill wanted, his vision, and we’ve kinda rolled with it since. Obviously we’ve had our ups and downs, but I think it’s starting to really come together at the right time.”

Jacob Miller went 75-for-76 with five assists and two goals on the weekend, while Will Selfridge went 47-for-47 with four goals, three assists, and two blocks, including a spectacular highlight-reel layout denial near the end zone late in the San Diego game. 

Overall, it was a mighty impressive road trip for Salt Lake, who’s won 17 of its last 18 games since mid-June 2022. Offensively, they are fast, dynamic, and skilled. Defensively, they are relentless, deep, and tremendously organized on the counter-attack. They are presently the greatest threat to New York’s aspiring dynasty, and the Shred are pumped to see how they match up with reigning champs, whom they respect but do not fear. 

“They are that top tier,” said Kerr, when asked about the Empire. “I mean, everyone knows it. I think we’re excited to see where we stand. I think we can hang. I wouldn’t be on this team if I didn’t think we can win.”


Before Salt Lake gets its crack at New York, the Colorado Summit will try and rewrite the narrative regarding their championship potential with their own home date against the Empire. And while the Summit suffered three straight one-goal losses in mid-June, they have responded to that skid by crushing their last three opponents by the combined score of 67-40. 

After mauling Minnesota 25-15 on June 24, the Summit pounded Portland 24-16 this past Friday and smashed Seattle 18-9 on Saturday. Colorado was missing plenty of its primary contributors during the doubleheader trip, but it gave others a chance to step up, as the Summit still rolled to a pair of road wins.

“Some folks really owned that opportunity,” said Summit Co-Coach Tim Kefalas. “Sandy Brown now has seven blocks in the last three games and has brought amazing energy in all three. He has firmly implanted himself into the playoff roster conversation. Atkin Arnstein has been playing really well. We have really found our defensive footing again after sputtering a bit during the losing streak.”

Offensively, Alex Atkins and Quinn Finer were instrumental to the Summit’s success in the Pacific Northwest. Atkins tallied four goals, five assists, and five blocks, while accumulating over 1,100 total yards, while Finer registered seven goals, seven assists, and went 5-for-5 on his hucks. 

“Atkins and Finer have both been really stepping more and more into dynamic roles as we have moved people on and off of O,” added Kefalas.

After starting 5-0 and then losing three straight, the Summit now sit at 8-3, with their two wins over the weekend officially locking in their spot in the playoffs. If they can beat New York, the Summit will definitely host in round one. Even with a loss to the Empire, Colorado will still get a home playoff game unless Oakland wins its last four games. 

“It is nice to have a bit of time to exhale and recharge heading into the game vs. New York,” said Kefalas. “We are very happy with how we have stayed growth and process focuses these last three games after the losing streak.”

Coming up later today in “Seven on the Line”, Boston and Philly prepare for their season-defining showdown, Indianapolis’s winning streak extends to seven straight, a huge late-season free-agent addition, and much more.