by Andrew Lewis
If there was any doubt that the Aviators had the ability to contend for a playoff spot after their 0-2 start, their play over the past two weeks likely has even the most staunch Aviators doubters (cough cough Sam Butler) reconsidering. Let us begin this Aviators roundup by discussing the game that was: the Friday night showdown against division rival Portland Nitro.
Though the game came down to the final possession, the Aviators were largely playing from the driver’s seat. Without even checking the game logs, I’m gonna go ahead and comfortably say that the Aviators’ 14 blocks were a season high, sparked by Mitchell Steiner who boasted 4 of his own (including some pretty stellar bids). This pressure from the Aviators defense showed what the team is capable of if they start to click on both sides of the disc.
Although the final score of 16-17 is among the lowest total for any AUDL game this season, the Aviators offense saw a huge leap forward due in part to how they utilized their deep threats, namely Rookie of the Year candidate Everest Shapiro. Shapiro led the GAME in +/- with 10, hauled in 7 goals, 327 receiving yards, and even 104 throwing yards without committing a single turnover. This game was certainly a statement game from Shapiro, who demonstrated just how efficient of an offensive threat he can be if utilized properly. Shapiro also had the opportunity to remind everyone exactly what made him Tulane’s 2021 Callahan nominee, exhibiting prowess in the air on O as well as D. This was especially highlighted in the second half by a monster sky over two prospective Nitro receivers, where Shapiro occupied air space typically designated only for players named “Jagt”, denying a huck completion by snatching it from the air, pelvis-in-face.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the performance of Brandon Van Deusen, who was included in Evan Lepler’s Week 7 honor roll, a distinction I could only dream of receiving, academic or otherwise. Van Deusen did essentially what he has done all season, quietly operating as an elite disc-distributor and fountain of throwing yards, no doubt a crucial centerpiece in the Aviators’ offensive attack.
The win last week was a statement, communicating to the West division that they do not share company with the likes of the Cascades or Nitro, and plan on causing problems for the Shred and Summit, who consider themselves amongst the upper crust of the league at large (Growlers, you’re not included, play more games please, and Spiders, you know what you’ve done).
Looking forward to this weekend, the rejuvenated Aviators seek revenge on the Growlers, whose Week 2 victory over Los Angeles was, in a word, decisive. However, the loss can easily be explained by an early season lack of chemistry, as well as a distinct lack of Shapiro, both of which will be remedied this coming weekend. In the Week 2 loss, the difference had been a lack of dynamic looks to pressure San Diego’s defense, resulting in a number of breaks that proved insurmountable. With the Aviators momentum in defensive intensity and more dynamic offensive attack, I expect then to even the season record against San Diego and double down on their bid to be considered amongst the top teams in the West.