Thunderbirds Shock Minnesota, Defeat Defending Central Champions on the Road

ST. PAUL -  The Pittsburgh Thunderbirds entered into their road match-up against the defending Central Divisional Champion Minnesota Wind Chill as massive under dogs and prevailed by a score of 16-15 on Saturday night.

Wind was a major factor with recorded gusts exceeding 30 miles per hour at times swirling diagonally across the field. Goal posts were toppled over, corrugated plastic A-frame advertisements were flung into the field of play, and no player hat was safe. The tricky wind and stifling defense saw both teams record a combined 53 total turnovers. Of the 53 turnovers in the game, 30 of them were unforced (the Frisbee was not touched by a defender).

The Thunderbirds last claimed victory in Minnesota on Saturday, June 23, 2018 when they defeated the Wind Chill 29-28 in overtime when Jimmy Towle through a forehand to Max Sheppard in the end-zone with 0:03 seconds left.

This time, it was Max Sheppard delivering a 55-yard forehand huck to Pete Zaccardi, who managed to stop rotation of the disc before having it stripped out of his hands by Wind Chill defender Matthew Johnson. While the referees were deliberating the call, Johnson acknowledged the strip/foul, and invoked the integrity rule, which allows a player to overturn any call made by an official if the official’s call favored the player’s or coach’s own team.

Thunderbirds sports photographer Alex Jurkuta was able to snap a photo of the play, confirming Johnson's hand had made impact with Zaccardi's hand and Frisbee after Zaccardi had already stopped rotation of the Frisbee.

Pete Zaccardi makes the game winning catch in the 4th quarter | Photo Credit: Alex Jurkuta

It was Zaccardi who secured not only the final score of the game, but the first goal too, bolting deep vertically which Connor Newell found on a 55-yard backhand into the wind. It was at a time when the Thunderbirds offense was broken twice in a row to start the game, and made the game 2-1 Minnesota.

Jon Mast reflected on the auspicious start for the Thunderbirds saying, "Starting the game and giving up two straight breaks is tough. My initial thoughts were honestly 'Oh no, not again...' but after our D line came out and executed the offensive point it gave me confidence and I focused on taking it one point at a time."

Charlie Vukovic after the game joked about being down 0-2 to start the contest, "I thought it was going to end up like the last two times we played Minnesota at their home stadium". However Vukovic's thoughts did not impede his play on the field, as he would fire up the team with 10:17 left in the 2nd quarter, ripping down an errant throw in the wind for a Callahan, (when the defensive team intercepts a pass in the opposing end zone, earning the defensive team a point and restarting play with a pull) to extend the Thunderbirds lead to 6-4 at the time.

"My immediate reaction was grinning with pride," assistant coach Nick Bozich commented on Vukovic's Callahan. "That was our third break in a row and Charlie pulled all three killer shots after working hard for weeks to adjust his pull. Hard thoughtful work paid off and I'm glad he was the one to cash it in."

Charlie Vukovic celebrates his Callahan | Photo Credit: Alex Jurkuta


In the last match-up in Minnesota for the Thunderbirds, the Wind Chill exploited the Thunderbirds with sharp, deep, uncatchable pulls, pinning the Thunderbirds back in the back of their own end-zone on several occasions. However, the Thunderbirds would exact their revenge, managing to land several Vukovic pulls in the back-corner of the Wind Chill end-zone, resulting in a 3-goal barrage from the Thunderbirds, increasing their lead from down 4-3 to up 6-4.

"Charlie had an awesome game," Malachi Marshall exclaimed. "His pulls were huge contributions to a few of our breaks including his Callahan. On top of this he had two blocks and an assist. His energy and work ethic [pushed] all of our D-lines to be better."

A massive momentum shift came at the end of the first half. With the Thunderbirds up 9-8 and pulling to the Wind Chill with 0:48 seconds left in the 2nd quarter, Wind Chill center handler Tristan Van De Moortele dropped the centering pass, allowing the Thunderbirds the opportunity to go up two scores from the 1-yard line. However, Newell would float a forehand just outside the reach of a bidding Michael Dillard, and the Wind Chill would receive new life, marching the Frisbee down the field and scoring to tie the game up 9-9 with 0:03 seconds left in the first half.

Entering the 2nd half, the wind would continue to wreak havoc. Two scores would occur between the 12:00 mark and the 5:19 mark. On the first possession, five turnovers on a total of eight throws would occur before Jon Mast would find Sheppard for the goal with 9:10 left in the 3rd quarter to take a 10-9 lead. Six more turnovers would occur in the next point before the Wind Chill would set-up a Leo Sovell-Fernandez to Greg Cousins goal to tie the game at 10-10.

Will Hoffenkamp for the Thunderbirds would later put an end to the turnover woes for both teams, connecting on a 65-yard backhand bomb to Anson Reppermund, who had to judge the funky flight path of the Frisbee into his arms over a defending Tyler Thomegreene to keep the Thunderbirds slim lead.

The Wind Chill had a chance to knot the game back up at 14's when Reppermund dropped the Frisbee from Anil Driehuys 3-yards outside the end-zone with 4:52 left in the game, but the Wind Chill immediately gave it right back when Tanner Barcus swung the Frisbee to Bret Bergmeier who flubbed and dropped it in their own end-zone. Driehuys would calmly pick-up the Frisbee and toss it lightly into the hands of Sheppard to increase the lead to 15-13.

The two goal lead proved to be an important insurance goal, as the Wind Chill would tie the game back at 15's with 2:08 left in the game.

That would be the final Wind Chill goal of the game however, as Zaccardi would haul in the aforementioned game winning score from Sheppard with 0:18 seconds left.

With one final possession, the Wind Chill had a glimmer of hope, when Vukovic, who had been perfect on his pulls all game long, sent one out of bounds, allowing the Wind Chill to set-up their offense for one final strike. Sheppard would bury any hope the Wind Chill would have of a comeback though, swatting the Frisbee down with his right arm hard into the turf to secure the victory.


Max Sheppard celebrates the win after recording the game winning block | Photo Credit: Alex Jurkuta


The story on the game was wind management. "Offensively, the biggest factor was in pull receptions. We're confident throwing in the wind and I don't think it effected our play a whole lot outside of that, "center handler for the Thunderbirds Mast commented. "Some of those bladey-nose-opened-up type of pulls were hard to predict but we did a fantastic job."

The game was a win for the UFA as well. A crowd of over 1,000 got to witness an incredible game down to the last few seconds. "I have a lot of respect for the crowd and venue they have in Minnesota," said Newell. "It's always fun to play in front of big crowds who are aware of what is going on [the field] and Minnesota is right up there with the best away venue I've been to over the years. The beer garden, food trucks, and activities make it seem like fun for all ages and being able to steal a win and silence those fans felt really good."

"The Windchill are great hosts," added Mast. "They do an amazing job with the gameday experience and their fans always have great energy."

Next-up for the Thunderbirds is a challenging double-header weekend where they will face the Detroit Mechanix at home followed by a trip to Toronto to face the Rush.

"Taking out Minnesota was an important confidence boost," said Mast looking ahead. "We know our first two games are not who we are and we showed our true selves on Saturday."

Tickets to the Friday home game in Pittsburgh at Highmark Stadium at 7PM can be purchased here for only $15.00. Groups of 10+ can get tickets for $10.00.

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Article by: Andrew Gardner