This weekend, the Wildfire took on the Madison Radicals in back-to-back games at Lane Tech Stadium in Chicago on Friday and at Breese-Stevens Field on Saturday evening.
The first match proved a very exciting game, with both teams trading one- or two-point leads for the entire contest. This game marked the return of No. 51 AJ Nelson from his knee injury, who proved pivotal to the Wildfire. Fittingly, he scored the first point for Chicago off a huck from No. 36 Tim Fergus.
In the first quarter, the Radicals scored almost all of their points by hucking to the endzone and making impressive, athletic grabs for the score. They played a tight zone on the Wildfire, who, in contrast to the Radicals, threw a lot of small throws around and through the zone, working it downfield for their scores. It was the most patient play we have seen from the Chicago men all season. The first quarter ended with a tie score at 5-5.
The second quarter saw a departure from this patient play by the Wildfire, and the Radicals took their biggest lead of the game (4 points). While the Wildfire would begin the second quarter much in the same way they began the first– No. 02 Mike Shiel hucks to No. 51 AJ Nelson for the score– the hucks this quarter weren’t connecting. The Wildfire had wonderful moments of patience, particularly from the handlers, who we saw dump-swing the disc until good options arose. However, once a downfield cutter got the disc, it was as if exhaustion from cutting while the handlers worked the disc clouded their judgement, and several hucks didn’t connect, or dumps back to the handlers were completely miscued. This would allow the Radicals to go up by as many as 4 points (8-12). The Wildfire would re-collect themselves near the close of the quarter with some impressive defense by No. 00 Goose Helton and some crazy “nifty” hammer throws by No. 45 Brett Matzuka, but the Radicals would lead 10-13 at the end of the first half.
The Wildfire regrouped during halftime and returned to the patient offense we saw in the first quarter. The Wildfire would continue to slowly chip away at the Radicals lead, making the Radicals really work to make any defensive plays (almost all Ds by the Radicals in the third quarter were layout Ds). The Radicals continued to capitalize on transition D setups by the Wildfire, scoring off hucks that came immediately after the pull or immediately after earning the D. The Wildfire patience paid off, and they closed the third quarter trailing by one point (16-17).
The fourth quarter was all fireworks from both teams. After quick turns from both sides, the Wildfire tied the game at 17-17 on a sick put from No. 51 AJ Nelson to No. 36 Tim Fergus. On the next point, No. 00 Goose Helton had an incredible layout catch block and then scored on an assist by No. 04 Alex Drlica-Wagner to take the Wildfire’s first lead of the game, 18-17. The Radicals would tie the score and then take the lead 18-19 after a dump-miscue by the Wildfire. The Wildfire would then regain the lead 20-19, and the teams would trade points until the Radicals tied the game at 22s. With 1:39 left to play, No. 51 AJ Nelson would put up a huge hammer, with hopes to take the lead. Unfortunately, a Radicals player would make the D and allow the Radicals to score, taking the lead 23-22. While the Wildfire would receive the disc with 58 seconds on the clock in hopes to tie and take the game into overtime, the Radicals played stifling defense, and the Wildfire were unable to convert, losing a heartbreaker, 22-23.
No. 51 AJ Nelson had an incredible first game back from his injury, scoring 7 points for the Wildfire. No. 45 Brett Matzuka also had a great game, putting on a show with crazy hammers over the Radicals’ zone.
It is worth mentioning that No. 24 Patrick Kaufmann did not play after an injury in a prior game, and No. 19 Jack Shey was unable to be at the game. The Wildfire would head into Saturday’s game in Madison missing both Kaufmann and Shey, and adding No. 18 Cullen Geppert to the list of missing personnel.
On Saturday, the Wildfire headed into Madison, hungry to avenge their one-point loss from the night before.
The first quarter was filled with miscues and missed opportunities by both teams, as hucks sailed out of reach and several bailout throws went off as marks got very close to stalling their throwers on several occasions. The Radicals, once again, played a very deep game, scoring almost all of their points on hucks to receivers bidding for the score, or turning on the jets at the last second to run down the disc. The Radicals led the Wildfire 3-7 at the end of the first half, despite impressive play from No. 01 Bob Liu, No. 45 Brett Matzuka, and No. 23 Alex Rummelhart.
The second quarter saw the Radicals pull away with more quick hucks to scores. The Wildfire had a lot of trouble with the Radicals’ zone looks this time, mostly due to overthrown passes, just out of reach for the Wildfire, and hungry Radicals defenders, who generated a lot of turns due to their stifling double teams and close downfield coverage. The Radicals led the Wildfire 7-16 at half time.
In the third quarter, the Wildfire saw glimpses of mounting a comeback, especially after No. 51 AJ Nelson got a D on a swing pass by the Radicals, put his head down, and sprinted to a huck by No. 02 Mike Shiel that looked, like most of the Wildfire throws that game, like it would be just out of AJ’s reach. In an incredible display of athleticism, AJ had a huge bid and got to the disc on a layout score that has since been featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter (#2), Fox Sports, the AUDL top 10 (#1), among many others. At the end of the third quarter, the Wildfire trailed by a considerably smaller margin at 12-19.
The fourth quarter saw both teams trade points for the remainder of the game, with the Radicals pulling out the win 16-24. Wildfire fans saw a return of the patience that paid off so well in Friday’s game in the last point of the quarter, allowing No. 25 Dan Miller to score on a hammer from No. 01 Bob Liu.
If the Wildfire can return to the patient offense we saw from them in Friday’s game against the Radicals, they are poised to do very well in the upcoming games against Detroit and Pittsburgh (June 27 and June 28, respectively) and remain in contention for the playoffs. We wish the Wildfire luck in these upcoming games!