Seven On The Line: Week 6

June 4, 2024
By Evan Lepler

Tuesday Toss: Week 6 | Part 1

1. Indy’s Unforgettable Walk-Off 

With a couple seconds left and the score tied at 20, the frisbee found veteran AlleyCat Travis Carpenter near midfield. Ordinarily, that would be normal, with Carpenter, competing in his 130th career UFA game, quarterbacking the critical moments of a close game. 

But this had not been an ordinary or normal week for the now 31-year-old, who’s been affectionately called “The Kid” since he first made the AlleyCats as a teenager back in 2012. 

“It was 50/50 at best if I was even going to be able to play in that game because of the birth of my daughter,” said Carpenter. “My wife spent 40 hours in labor, then my daughter spent two days in the NICU, then one extra day in the hospital room with us. So it was nearly a full week of living in that hospital room. Finally got discharged 24 hours before the game and got about 3.5 hours of sleep during our first night home with Renee. I am still kind of in shock that my wife gave me her blessing to play!”

For most of the game, it appeared Carpenter and the AlleyCats would avoid serious late-game drama. Turns were at a premium, and the visiting Chicago Union only had registered one break through the game’s opening 47 minutes. But with Indy leading by one in the final minute, Lucas Coniaris misfired on a huck for the AlleyCats’ seventh turn of the game, enabling Jake Rubin-Miller to get the block and allowing Chicago to score the equalizer with just 23 seconds left in regulation. 

“Coniaris’ decision to huck was shocking,” said Chicago’s Andrew Sjogren. “I knew we were getting that block when it left his hand. And I knew we were going to score once the offense got back on the field. I was expecting overtime and I think we would have prevailed in the extra period.”

But the two longest tenured AlleyCats still had time to collaborate on another all-time moment, and Carpenter launched a hopeful hammer toward Cameron Brock, who was sandwiched between Union defenders. 

Here’s how Carpenter remembered the final sequence.

“Chicago really dropped the ball when my man left to double team Xavier [Payne],” he said. “There was still 10 seconds left when he did that. I immediately took advantage and took off up the line to get closer to the end zone for the final shot [...] I caught it and looked to the clock and saw a full six seconds. I know that Xavier and I are the two best suited players to take that final shot, and he was behind me. So I decided to take a breath and scan my options. I immediately saw both Rick [Gross] and Cam in the opposite corner, so I knew that was going to be a great option and would still be there in 2-3 seconds after I scanned the field. Jack Havey streaked up the closer sideline, and I slightly considered throwing a laser flick to him if I could make it uncontested. As I wound up, the defense shifted pretty hard, so I pump-faked instead and then knew for certainty that the cross-field throw to Cam and Rick was our best shot. I intentionally chose a hammer because I wanted something that would be likely to get tipped. I did not want to risk them getting a catch block if they won the positioning battle. I knew it was two vs. two over there, and I liked those odds and dropped it in there right in the middle of all four of them and held my breath. Rick smartly played the backstop position in case it was tipped backwards or the jumpers did not get up high enough. Then Cam did a great job of bodying out the defender right under the disc, which allowed the disc to get knocked down to him. Seeing him stand up with that disc was pretty awesome.”

Indeed, the UFA’s all-time goal-scoring king, Cam Brock, had a score unlike any of the previous 626 in his career. He’d snagged a game-winner with one second left before, but his 627th career goal was the first time he gave his team the lead with no time left on the clock. Jesse Johnson and Nate Astrom were the two Union defenders in the mix, and at least one of them definitely got a hand on Carpenter’s hammer, but the disc never found the turf.

“It seemed like we both touched it and it fell straight down into my lap/gut,” said Brock. “I immediately clamped my elbow on it. It all happened so fast, it’s hard to get it straight.”

There’s no doubt it was a storybook moment for the Cats, and especially for Carpenter, who now has 320 career assists, ninth most all-time. As for whether or not he’ll still be called “The Kid” now that he has a kid, that actually came up in the postgame huddle. 

“People will still call me that from time to time,” he said. “But at the end of the game, I came over to the team huddle, and the whole team paused and said Travis, we have been talking, and we all agreed that it is time for your nickname to change from ‘The Kid’ to ‘The Daddy!’ So that was pretty hilarious.” 

2. One Day Later, Cats’ Clobbered by Nearly Perfect Pittsburgh

Even with ‘The Daddy’ home with his baby, the AlleyCats still felt confident heading to Pittsburgh, knowing that the Thunderbirds were also missing stalwarts like Max Sheppard, Carl Johnson, and Chris Graber. But the AlleyCats could not replicate Saturday’s magic, and the T-Birds methodically maneuvered the disc with patience and precision for 48 minutes in an historic offensive performance. 

The Thunderbirds completed 98.2 percent of their throws, went 22-for-22 in the red zone, endured just five turnovers, and never trailed in their 26-18 rout over Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon at Highmark Stadium. Pittsburgh led 6-4 after one, 12-8 at half, and 20-12 through three, with Will Hoffenkamp and Anil Driehuys leading the way. Together, the handler duo completed 101-of-102 throws for 840 throwing yards and 13 assists. And as Ultiworld’s Better Box Score Metrics points out, Hoffenkamp’s lone turnover was an end-of-quarter throwaway that did not give Indy a chance to break. 

“Anil and Hoff played an amazing game in the backfield,” said Thunderbirds veteran Jonathan Mast. “The talent those two bring is incredible. You want a shot placed anywhere on the field? They’ve got that. I’m loving the opportunity to get them the disc in those advantageous spots. Then our cutters did a wonderful job with timing and execution and threatened multiple spots at once.”

Pittsburgh’s five turnovers were the fewest for any team in a regular season UFA game that went the full four quarters in league history. It was also half as many miscues as the Thunderbirds’ previous low for turns in a game in franchise history, which dates back to 2015.

“It’s funny, I really wasn’t aware of how pristine we were playing until near the end,” added Mast. “We all were just locked in to every single point and stayed disciplined with our cutting patterns and shot selections. We’ve been experimenting with what lines work best, and now especially with Carl and Shep down, we banded together even more. Post Toronto game, captain Jimmy [Towle] gave a heartfelt challenge. We know we’re capable of so much more than we’re outputting. Being selfless, trusting one another, taking accountability, and enjoying the challenge of getting closer as a unit. I think that really showed up [on Sunday against Indianapolis]. Much love to Jimmy and his leadership.”

By going 22-for-22 in the red zone, the Thunderbirds matched DC’s UFA record for most red-zone conversions without a single mistake. DC also went 22-for-22 in a 2021 home game against Boston. 

Did the Thunderbirds surprise even themselves by delivering this rare and exquisite pristine performance? 

“I don’t know,” said Mast. “I guess you could say I’m surprised looking back at it, but it didn’t feel crazy. Frisbee is frisbee and we put in five quarters of solid work, from warmups to the final buzzer. That’s what we need to bring to every single rep at practice first, and then to every single rep in our next game. It’s repeatable.”

3. Chicago Edges Madison By One

Before falling at the buzzer on Saturday night, the Union came from behind to squeak by the visiting Madison Radicals on Friday evening in Evanston, overcoming a three-goal deficit to win 20-19 in a game where D-lines accounted for 19 total breaks. 

“It was great to get our first home win for the fans,” said Sjogren, who caught seven goals over the course of Chicago’s 1-1 weekend. “Our fans have made Martin Stadium a great atmosphere for frisbee. Our D-line is incredible! The defense caught fire in the third quarter and started punishing the Radicals…It was good to win a division game where our O-line didn’t play well at all. Sometimes, you have to win ugly in the Association.”

Ben Preiss led Chicago with three assists, two goals, and two blocks, while Nate Astrom produced four goals, one assist, and one block. In addition, 10 other members of the Union each recorded one block apiece on Friday night against the Radicals. 

“It would have been great to [also] win the Indy game, but we’re 4-2 while integrating a lot of new pieces,” said Sjogren. Our O-line hasn’t performed well yet, and we’re still in good shape for the playoff race in the division. Once we get the offense figured out, we’re going to be scary.”

4. Madison Continues Mastery of the Mechanix

Just like Indy and Chicago, the Madison Radicals also went 1-1 on the weekend in the Central Division. The Rads outscored Detroit 17-8 in the middle two quarters in their 28-20 victory on Sunday evening at Breese Stevens Field. 

Pieran Robert and Anthony Gutowsky combined to score 11 goals, while Kelsen Alexander, Victor Luo, Pat Shriwise, and Jacob Wham all chipped in with three assists apiece. Detroit’s Jake Felton erupted for seven assists, three goals, and 632 total yards, but the Mechanix rookie also endured seven throwaways. 

The Radicals improved to 3-2, which currently has them a half-game behind 3-1 Minnesota and 4-2 Chicago in the Central race. Pittsburgh (3-3) and Indy (2-2) are both in the mix too, as five of the Central’s six teams are all within a game of one another. 

Beyond the win, though, the biggest news emerging out of Madison was that the team’s long-time Coach and Owner, Tim Debyl, was officially announced as the new UFA Commissioner on Monday, as he replaced Steve Hall, effective immediately. 

“It’s been incredible to watch the league’s growth since 2012,” said DeByl in the UFA news release. “We couldn’t be where we are today without our players, team owners, partners, and of course, the fans. So much of our growth recently can also be attributed to Steve [Hall]. He’s set a foundation for global reach and built the UFA into a truly professional experience for everyone involved. I’m excited to lead the next growth phase of the league.”

And then there’s the Mechanix, who went winless during Steve Hall’s entire commissionership, which began in October of 2018. Detroit’s seven-plus year losing streak reached 79 games in Madison on Sunday. This year, their five losses have come by a total of 58 goals. 

5. Philly’s Crazy Comeback

Trailing 10-2 in the second quarter at home against Toronto after an 0-4 start to the season might have felt like rock bottom for the Philadelphia Phoenix, but the HotBirds rose again, outscoring the Rush 16-6 over the game’s final 33 minutes and six seconds to earn their first victory of the year. Down 13-8 at halftime, Philly pounded Toronto 10-3 over the final couple quarters. 

“I think the change came from being too complacent and relying too heavily on our D-line to get us across the finish line,” said Toronto’s Griffin McKee. “We took some shots that we might not normally take had it been a closer game.”

Paul Owens finished a turnover-free plus-eight for the Phoenix, with four assists, two goals, two blocks, and a game-high 42 completions. Greg Martin and Max Trifillis each tallied three goals and one block. 

In the realm of crazy comebacks, I believe eight is the largest margin in UFA history that a team has overcome to win. I cannot state this with certainty, but I’m pretty sure. There have been a handful of seven-goal comebacks over the past decade, but I cannot recall a team erasing a bigger gap to win a game. Back in 2015, the Spiders trailed by nine against Seattle and rallied to tie it and force overtime, but still ultimately lost in the extra session. 

“It’s unacceptable to come away with a loss after the lead our defensive units gave us,” said McKee. “We’re going to use this as a learning moment and focus on what things we need to adjust in order to close out our leads in the future.”

6. Sturdy Breeze Roll Over the Rush

Before Toronto coughed up an eight-goal lead in Philly, the Rush struggled to stymie DC at all. The Breeze never trailed, were broken just one time—a relatively harmless score that cut the gap to six in the fourth—and endured just 11 total turns in their 26-19 Friday night victory. 

Through the end of Week 6, DC leads the league in both hold rate (76.6 percent) and O-line conversion rate (65.4 percent). 

“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been taking a lot away from some of our closer games, especially regarding the structure of our offense,” Breeze Captain Johnny Malks told analyst Will Smolinski in a postgame interview. “That’s something in the past that we’ve kind of just taken for granted, ya know, having a lot of good players out there, just make it work. And really focusing on that structure is what really opened up a lot of the bigger lanes tonight and allowed us to get in that flow. Also, having a stellar player like Jacques [Nissen] back is never gonna hurt.”

Indeed, Nissen’s 2024 UFA debut, coming just four days after he led Brown University to a national championship at College Nationals, went very smoothly, as the 23-year-old hybrid caught five goals and dished one assist. As usual, Malks anchored the offense with six assists, four goals, and 560 total yards against the Rush. 

DC and Toronto will meet again a week from Saturday up north, but first the Breeze will host the Empire in a somewhat bizarre DC-New York matchup. Though it’ll be the 33rd all-time meeting between the two East Division rivals, it will be the first time ever that they are meeting with both teams having lost the week before. The Empire and Breeze opened the 2019 season against each other with both squads having dropped their final game in the 2018 playoffs, but never before in their vibrant history have both sides been coming off a loss so recently. 

In fact, neither DC nor New York has lost back-to-back games since the start of the pandemic, but that will change for one of these teams this Saturday night. 

7. Sol Snag All Four Quarters at Houston

Though it did not entirely heal the pain from the loss against Carolina the night before, the Sol salvaged a 1-1 weekend on Saturday night in Houston, prevailing 25-15 over the Havoc. 

“Playing Houston was frustrating,” said Kyle Henke. “Morale and focus were below average, the stakes felt low, and execution remained spotty. Before the fourth quarter, Jake Radack had a work of encouragement for us to tighten up and consider our upcoming road trip. It was important that we finished that Houston game stronger than we started; we executed much better in the fourth, and I expect we’ll be locked in for this road trip.”

Austin joined Chicago, DC, Indy, and Madison as teams that went 1-1 in the UFA this past weekend. In Week 7, the Sol journey to Atlanta and Carolina for arguably the toughest two-game trek anyone in the league will deal with all season. Although Austin did upend both the Flyers and the Hustle in consecutive weeks in the playoffs last season, the Sol have never won at Carolina and they haven’t won a regular season contest in Atlanta since an overtime victory in 2019. 

“I think we’re all looking forward to the challenge that this upcoming road trip has to offer,” said Henke. 

The Hammer

Turning the page to Week 7, there are another dozen duels on tap, starting Friday night with three absolutely massive matchups, with all six teams either presently in playoff position or coming off a postseason berth a season ago. 

At 8:00 PM/ET, Austin’s at Atlanta. At 9:30 PM/ET, Colorado’s at Oakland. And at 10:00 PM/ET, LA’s at Seattle. 

The team I’m most curious about this coming weekend is the Summit, who presently possess a below .500 record for the first time in franchise history. Colorado’s played three home games, but sits at a disappointing 1-2 with a daunting four-game road stretch upcoming, with trips to Oakland and Salt Lake this weekend preceding an interdivisional journey to Madison and Minnesota next weekend. 

Maybe getting on the road is exactly what the Summit need, considering they have dropped four of their last five at home dating back to last season.

Colorado’s schedule will lighten up a bit for the final five games, but it’s not unreasonable, considering how they looked against the Hustle this past Friday night, to think the Summit could also struggle on this road trip. Last year, Colorado went winless at Oakland and Salt Lake. They will likely be favored even on the road against their Central Division foes, but neither of those games are gimmes, particularly at Minnesota on the second night of the back-to-back without Quinn Finer and Jonathan Nethercutt, who are both expected to be away that weekend  competing with Team USA. 

It feels unfathomable to think that Colorado could slip to 2-5 or 1-6 before they return home to face San Diego on June 21, but I’m here to tell you that either of those records are surprisingly realistic. The final margin of the Hustle game this past Friday was considerably closer than the game actually felt, aided by the three Colorado buzzer beaters, and the Summit have real issues to solve on both sides of the disc as they try to prove they can be a playoff team for the third consecutive season. Their talent suggests that the team’s ceiling is high enough to win in Salt Lake this Saturday, however the Summit have clearly not amounted to the sum of their parts through their first three games. 

Of course, it absolutely will be a delectable doubleheader on this Saturday night, with New York and DC at 7:00 PM/ET preceding Colorado and Salt Lake at 9:00 PM/ET. And the action starts even before that, with Austin and Carolina colliding at 6 and Minnesota matching up with Indy starting at 6:30. 

On the verge of more history, we can only wonder what will happen next.

Whatever happens, we’ll have all the details right here in the Toss next Tuesday.