The San Diego Bolts were crowned champions of Gay Bowl 14 in brilliant fashion, as they beat the Phoenix Hellraisers, 51-50, in overtime of the championship game of the Open A Division.
Two teams from Denver - Mile High Club Blue and Mile High Club White - faced off in the championship of the Women's Division, with MHC Blue coming out on top in the finals, 39-26. Denver Mile High Club Pink won the women's championship last year.
The Atlanta Storm came back to beat the "Cinderella" New York Warriors Pink, 33-27, for the B-Division championship; New York had gone winless in pool play before marching all the way to the finals. For final standings click here for the men and here for the women.
A championship game for the ages
But the game of the weekend was the A-Division championship game that featured an deep aerial assault by the Hellraisers and a continued offensive march by the Bolts. Only one offensive drive had ended without a score when San Diego intercepted a Phoenix pass in the red zone of their first drive.
With under two minutes left in the game the Bolts seemed to have the game locked up, holding a 44-32 lead. A deep 60-yard touchdown pass by Phoenix closed the gap to six.
San Diego took over and depleted Phoenix of their timeouts, then took aim at a game-clinching first down. San Diego put the ball in the air deep down the left side. That pass was intercepted and the Hellraisers had one last gasp.
On the final play of regulation, they scored the game-tying touchdown and were poised to try a game-winning conversion. That's when the entire Phoenix sideline streamed onto the field in celebration thinking they had won the game. That drew a 10-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which led to an unsuccessful try.
San Diego scored on the first play of overtime and added a one-point conversion. When Phoenix scored their touchdown to draw within one point, a Bolts defender illegally batted the ball out of the receiver's hands in the end zone, giving the Hellraisers a two-point try for the win from half the distance to the goal. The pass was out of the back of the end zone, ending the game.
It was the third consecutive Gay Bowl championship for the Bolts. Only one other team - the New York Warriors - have won three consecutive championships. The Los Angeles Motion have the most championships all-time with four.
On a personal note, it was a joy and honor to officiate the A-division championship game. I suppose you could say it was my eighth championship game (ha!) though my first as an official.
For years my participation in sports has been running around in these tournaments, catching passes and grabbing flags. Two years ago I hung up my cleats (at least temporarily) to become a referee. I had been frustrated for years with the quality of officiating and wanted to be part of the solution.
I'm not sure how much part of that solution I've been, but the officiating has improved dramatically. Lance Burage, the head official for the National Gay Flag Football League, has done a fantastic job preparing officials for these tournaments, communicating emphases, interpretations and rules changes. Plus, more officials with high school officiating experience are coming to the tournament, which has raised the level of expertise an professionalism.
Big kudos to all of the officials for a job well done this year!
Gay Bowl A-Division champions
2014 - San Diego Bolts over Phoenix Hellraisers
2013 - San Diego Bolts over Washington Generals
2012 - San Diego Bolts over New York Warriors
2011 - No champion determined*
2010 - Los Angeles Motion over New York Warriors
2009 - Los Angeles Motion over San Diego Bolts
2008 - New York Warriors over Salt Lake City Avalanche
2007 - New York Warriors over San Diego Sharks
2006 - New York Warriors over Chicago Fire
2005 - Chicago Fire over Atlanta Storm
2004 - Washington Monuments over Boston Hancocks
2003 - Washington Monuments over Chicago Spin
2003 - Los Angeles Motion over Chicago Spin
2002 - Los Angeles Motion over San Francisco 69ers
*Final day was canceled due to weather. Semifinalists were New York Warriors, Phoenix Hellraisers, San Diego Bolts and San Diego Toros.