American Football League of China Playoffs Looming

The American Football League of China enters the playoffs with eight teams qualifying this season.

As expected, the three teams qualifying from the East division all come from Shanghai, while the script was flipped in the West and South, as the Chengdu Pandamen edged out the Chongqing Dockers for the West’s #1 seed, and the Hong Kong Cobras missed the playoffs at 2-2, after two straight undefeated regular seasons in the two prior seasons.

Here’s a look at the action from October and early November.

Saturday, October 15th:

Shanghai Titans 48 – Hefei Crocodiles 0

Multiple players got in on the scoring for the Titans, who have secured the AFLC East’s second seed. After a second straight shutout, Hefei has been held scoreless since its opening week victory over the Shanghai Dragoons.

Hong Kong Warhawks 19 – Guangzhou Tigers 18

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In a pivotal South Division tilt, the Warhawks snuck past the Tigers on Sidney Huen’s (#18) 10-yard touchdown run with under two minutes remaining in a tight contest that may have been the game of the year in the AFLC.

After falling behind 12-7 at halftime, the Warhawks regained the lead at 13-12 on a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Chabland Gabikini (#39). The score would stay that way until midway through the 4th quarter, when Tigers running back Jianbang Liang (#30) broke free of the Warhawks defense for a 36-yard touchdown run, giving the Tigers an 18-13 lead. With one final chance to win the game, the visitors from Hong Kong drove 53 yards in just 4 plays, with Huen eluding multiple defenders on his touchdown run. With the victory, the Warhawks locked up the #1 seed in the South.

Beijing Iron Brothers 28 – Shanghai Dragoons 0

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Beijing quarterback Joe Cheng (#1) threw touchdown passes of 18 and 45 yards to Chao Chen (#27), and running back Brent Michie (#54) ran for two touchdowns to guide the Iron Brothers to a 28-0 victory, and a 2-1 record.

With the loss, the Dragoons fell to 0-3 on the season.

Chongqing Dockers 58 – Chongqing Centaurs 8

china-aflc-oct-nov-2016-action-3Quarterback Kam Liu (#2) opened the scoring for the host Dockers on their very first offensive possession with a rushing touchdown, setting the stage for a long afternoon for the Centaurs. Marques Slocum, playing from the safety position, added a long, winding interception return for a touchdown to his list of highlight-reel plays this season, as the Dockers comfortably cruised to victory.

Shanghai Warriors 20 – Shanghai Nighthawks 6

china-aflc-oct-nov-2016-action-4The Warriors moved to 3-0 with their first ever victory at the Nighthawks’ home field, Luwan Stadium, by relying on what they have become known for; their passing game.

The Warriors struck first in the game, as J.P. Neal (#89) recovered a muffed punt by the Nighthawks, and Andrew Crook (10 carries, 32 yards, 1 TD) rumbled into the end zone from 12 yards out to put the visitors up 6-0. Linebacker Aaron Gu (#36) would tie the game at 6 for the Nighthawks by recovering a dropped snap on a Warriors punt in the end zone. Chris Gardner (#2, 9/16, 161 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) then entered the game at quarterback for the Warriors, and immediately swung the momentum back in their favor.

Nighthawks punter Jackson Chen (#89) fumbled the snap on a punt, and was tackled at his own 1-yard line. Three plays later, Gardner found Alex Spang to give the Warriors a lead they would not relinquish. Gardner would round out the scoring at 20-6 with a 22-yard touchdown toss to Tim Gomez (#22, 3 catches, 91 yards, 1 TD) in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors, now 4-0 after a win at Hefei, enter the playoffs as the East’s #1 seed, and will again face the Nighthawks, who squeaked by the Beijing Iron Brothers 20-14 on October 30th, in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday, November 26th.

Saturday, October 29th:

Chengdu Pandamen 56 – Chongqing Dockers 14

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The Pandamen avenged their loss to the Dockers back in August with a complete domination of the West Division leaders at Chengdu’s Longquanyi Stadium. Chengdu seemed to score at will, as quarterback Ivan Yuan (#7, 9/13, 183 yards, 2 TD) and Stefan Daniels (#2, 3 carries, 62 yards, 2 TD) led the Pandamen in the blowout victory. Chengdu has now become the West’s #1 seed after their 38-6 victory on November 12th against the Chongqing Centaurs.

Guangzhou Tigers 14 – Hong Kong Cobras 0

The Tigers shocked the host Cobras with a methodical running-game, as running back/linebacker Garric Simmons (#89) steadily wore down the Cobras defense throughout the game with tough runs.

The Cobras were shut out on offense for most of the game, besides being stopped at the 1-yard line on 4th and goal in the third quarter. The game was scoreless until just before halftime, when Tigers quarterback Zuoyu Wu (#1, 1 passing and 1 receiving TD) found wide receiver Sidanii Bell (#88) open over the middle, and Bell did the rest, eluding a number of Cobras defenders on his way to a 50+ yard touchdown reception.

The Tigers would land a knockout blow early in the fourth quarter, when Simmons ran right and found his quarterback Wu wide open down the right sideline for another long touchdown pass. With the win, the Tigers clinched a playoff spot, while the now 2-2 Cobras are eliminated from the playoffs following the Guangzhou Apaches 9-3 victory over the Tigers on Saturday.

Sunday, October 30th:

Shanghai Nighthawks 20 – Beijing Iron Brothers 14

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On a blustery day at Fengtai Sports Center, the visiting Nighthawks narrowly avoided a major upset, edging the Iron Brothers 20-14 by sticking with the run game, and scoring the winning touchdown with only five seconds left in the game.

With the win, the Nighthawks grabbed the AFLC East Division’s final playoff spot. Beijing’s first season in the AFLC ended in heartbreaking fashion, but the team exceeded the expectations of many in its first year of existence, ending at 2-2, and almost defeating last season’s league runner-up.

Hong Kong Combat Orcas 10 – Hong Kong Warhawks 0

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The Combat Orcas made history, picking up their first ever league victory with a 10-0 shutout of the Warhawks.

With the Warhawks having already locked up the division’s #1 seed, the Combat Orcas had nothing to lose, and pulled off a shocking upset. While their 28-8 loss to the Cobras ended their season on Saturday, the team made major improvements from last year, and will look to be more competitive in an unpredictable South Division next season.

AFLC Playoff Picture

Looking ahead to the playoffs, the Shanghai Warriors will once again face off with the Nighthawks in the quarterfinals, while the Guangzhou Apaches’ 9-3 overtime victory over the Guangzhou Tigers has given them the #2 seed in the South, and they will host the Chengdu Pandamen in the quarterfinals.

Both games will take place later this month.

Then on the first weekend of December, the Hong Kong Warhawks will host the Guangzhou Tigers, while the Shanghai Titans will host the Chongqing Dockers in a rematch of the AFLC semifinals two seasons ago.

The AFLC playoffs have seen entertaining games and massive upsets before, and the stage is now set for an exciting month of football.

Danny Zhang
Danny Zhang is a Chinese-American college student who grew up playing American football in the Boston area. He has a keen interest in the development of the sport in China, where he has recently studied, worked, and experienced football’s rapid growth firsthand.
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