Photo by Brian Canniff – UltiPhotos.com
After Boston handed the Current a four-point loss in week seven, the league dropped D.C. from the playoff discussion. Three weeks later, the Current — who on Sunday put together their most complete game yet — beat New York 22-20, and clinched a playoff spot in the MLU’s inaugural season.
Down by two midway through the fourth quarter, D.C. came alive with a 5-0 run, bolstered by back-to-back defensive plays, that put New York on their heels and out of the game.
“It was all about will in the end of the game,” said Head Coach Keven Moldenhauer. “Our players knew the plays would be there, we just had to keep willing ourselves to keep running to the disc and playing hard.”
D.C. played fast and confident when it mattered most. In the fourth quarter, they utilized a well-rested starting defensive line against the fatigued New York starting O-line and were able to provide some of the game’s biggest plays when they were most needed.
“We were just trying to go out there and make plays for the O-line,” said Delrico Johnson who, along with a huge defensive block late, provided the play of the game with a one-handed layout grab that put D.C. up 20-19 with less than four minutes to go.
Jonathan Neeley played a huge role leading the defensive line, which played their best fourth quarter of the season in D.C.’s most important game. He finished with three assists and a block — all earned in the final five minutes of the game.
It was Ryan Todd who started the late push for the Current. He threw a quick score to Bobby Gordon to make it 19-18 with 4:44 left. New York turned the disc over with a pass that skidded across the turf well short of its intended target. Neeley found Gordon shortly after to tie things up. After the pull, the defense once again shut down New York, this time in their own red zone, allowing Neeley to find Johnson for the go ahead score.
David Cranston made the defensive play of the game with a layout block that allowed D.C. t0 get their O-line in after a timeout. The Current capitalized as Calvin Oung found a streaking Alan Kolick who made a spectacular grab over two of his own teammates and four Rumble defenders to make it 21-19. A Johnson block after the pull allowed Neely to send the disc in to Gordon, who earned his third goal of the quarter.
“Getting that turn was a momentum changer,” said Cranston. “We knew they were tired and we would eventually get that break at some point. When the crowd erupted, it was a major boost.”
The Current were able to conserve their play makers late by leaning on their bench in the third quarter, a strategy that paid dividends.
“A lot of guys showed us yesterday [against Philadelphia] that we could trust them,” said Assistant Coach Will Smolinski. “They stepped up when we needed them and let our starters rest longer than New York could rest theirs. We owe them a lot.”
D.C.’s usual cast of stars provided the weekly highlights we’ve come to expect. Calvin Oung was the star of the game, finishing with a game leading three goals and seven assists. Markham Shofner finished with three goals and four assists, mostly off of down-field hucks, that kept the New York defense honest.
“We were looking deep early,” said Shofner. “We knew that threatening deep would open things up for us late in the game. It paid off.”
Alan Kolick returned for the Current after suffering a hamstring injury in week eight and was active early directing the offense along with Sean Keegan. Kolick earned the game’s first assist with a lefty flick to Oung to send the Current up 1-0. Right off the pull, D.C. forced a turnover deep in New York’s red zone. Todd picked it up and found Cranston alone in the end zone to go up by two.
New York responded quickly and the game settled down as the Current and Rumble traded scores with D.C. retaining the advantage after the break point.
Oung tallied two goals and two assists in the first quarter to make his presence felt early. Shofner added two assists, a score, and a goal-saving D to lead D.C.
But D.C. couldn’t maintain the momentum gained in the first out of the quarter break. After Brian Marshall earned an assist after forcing a turnover with a layout defense, D.C. unraveled in the second quarter.
New York went on a quick run that sent them up by two before D.C. was able to stop the bleeding. The half ended with New York up by one, 11-10.
New York held onto their slim advantage through the third quarter and into the fourth before D.C. took over.
“There is something to say about momentum late in a game,” Shofner said. “You just start making plays and things just begin to roll from there.”
The team played with the poise that it has lacked at times late in games. Even down two, the team never believed it was in danger of losing.
“We knew we had to stay positive and things would start happening for us,” said co-captain Sean Keegan.
That sort of confidence will be necessary next week as the team heads to Boston for the Eastern Conference Championship game played Saturday, June 29, at 7 pm. Boston finished the season undefeated atop the conference standings and is the heavy favorite to make it all the way to the MLU Championship game, but D.C. will have a say in that first when they meet next week at Hormel Field in Medford, Massachusetts.
“We love being the underdog,” said co-captain Daniel Kantor. “We know we’re playing our best right now.”
“We’re going up there expecting to win,” added Keegan.