Shanghai Warriors, Hong Kong Warhawks lead in early American Football League of China season

The American Football League of China’s fourth season kicked off on August 13th in Hong Kong, and a number of games have been played so far as the season really starts to heat up. The host Hong Kong Warhawks staved off the Guangzhou Apaches 24-18 on opening night, while game two of the young season saw the Chongqing Dockers pull out a hard-fought 16-12 triumph over the Chengdu Pandamen in a West division showdown on August 20th.

The next weekend saw the Shanghai Warriors open their title defense with a 28-12 victory in Beijing against the Iron Brothers on August 27th, while the host Shanghai Titans posted their second straight double-digit victory over the Shanghai Nighthawks, 32-8, the very next day. Three more games were played the following weekend, and as the season enters its fourth week, all but one team (the Chongqing Centaurs) now have a league game under their belt.

Hong Kong Warhawks 24, Guangzhou Apaches 18

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Photo: Lampson.Y Design & Photo

The first game, played under the lights in the confines of the Happy Valley Racecourse, was close throughout, as the underdog Apaches gave the hosts everything they could handle. The Apaches started fast, and raced out to a 12-0 lead by halftime. The Warhawks fought their way back however, and tied the game at 12 following rushing touchdowns from James Park (#24) and Ka Chun Yip (#9), a draftee of the CAFL’s Dalian Dragon Kings.

Yip would finish the game with 125 yards on the ground on just six carries. Matt Liao’s (#15, 7/18, 86 yards, 2 TD 1 INT) two second-half touchdown passes then gave the hosts a 12-point cushion. Weibin Li (#81) came up with an amazing grab in traffic for a score with about two minutes remaining in the game to draw the Apaches to within 24-18, but the Warhawks recovered the ensuing onside kick, and ran out the remainder of the clock to move the hosts to 1-0 on the season, going into their rivalry game against the Hong Kong Cobras on September 17th.

Chongqing Dockers 16, Chengdu Pandamen 12

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Against the Chengdu Pandamen, former NFL defensive tackle Marques Slocum (#1) helped lead the Chongqing Dockers to a 16-12 victory on August 21st, and was the focal point of the Chongqing’s offense. Slocum rushed for two long touchdowns in a mostly defense-oriented matchup, the first of which gave the Dockers an early 8-0 lead in the first quarter, and the second of which doubled the Dockers’ lead to 16-0 in the third quarter.

The Pandamen hit back with two quick touchdowns to pull within 16-12, but a Dockers fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter would seal the game for the hosts. The Dockers will next face off against the Chongqing Centaurs on Sunday, while the next game for the Pandamen will also come against the Centaurs, on September 24th.

Shanghai Warriors 28, Beijing Iron Brothers 12

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After a disastrous preseason, the defending AFLC champion Shanghai Warriors opened the season with a win, albeit a shaky one, against the newly-formed Beijing Iron Brothers.

The visitors started hot out of the gate, as safety Carsten Haeusler (#15) stepped in front of a screen pass and raced 35 yards into the endzone untouched on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Danny Zhang (#6, 4/12, 30 yards, 1 TD, 11 carries for 64 yards, 1 TD), who had never played the position before, rushed for a score and threw for another to Haeusler (2 receptions, 26 yards, 1 TD), before Dennis Bridgeforth II (#27) recorded the Warriors’ fourth pick of the first half and wove through the Iron Brothers’ offense 45 yards to lead the visitors into the halftime break up 28-0.

Beijing opened the second-half by picking at the Warriors’ defense using an effective short-passing game, and it wasn’t long before quarterback Kvein An (#12, 7/19, 87 yards, 2 TD 5 INT) fired off two quick touchdown passes, the latter on a 36-yard strike over the middle to Yu Fu (#19), who finished with a game-high 4 catches for 72 yards.

The Iron Brothers would not make it any closer than 28-12 however, as they were plagued by the turnover bug all afternoon, committing a mind-boggling ten throughout the game. The Warriors were also held back by untimely turnovers and penalties, but were able to preserve the win thanks in large part to the hard running of former Shanghai Nighthawks running back Andrew Crook (#87, 15 carries, 103 yards).

Beijing will next travel to Hefei to take on the newly renamed Crocodiles on September 17th, while the Warriors will face the Shanghai Titans tomorrow at 12:45pm.

Shanghai Titans 32, Shanghai Nighthawks 8

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The marquee matchup of the season’s first two weeks took place at Zhangjiang Sports Center in Shanghai, a rematch of the 2014 AFLC Championship Game at the same exact venue. The Shanghai Titans beat the Nighthawks 26-14 in the preseason, but this game was not as close.

With seven CAFL draftees, the Titans deviated from their usual run-heavy scheme, as quarterback Taylor Yu (#15), drafted by the Shenzhen Naja, bombarded a hapless Nighthawks secondary for 5 touchdown passes. Yu (18/38, 239 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT) and the Titans jumped out to a 26-0 halftime lead, and never looked back, as Matt Smith (#3, 7 catches, 89 yards, 3 TD), Frank Ma (#11), and CameShuron bert (#4, 5 catches, 78 yards, 1 TD) all recorded first-half touchdown receptions.

The Nighthawks’ fumbling woes continued from last year’s championship game, as they coughed up the ball on four occasions, in addition to two interceptions thrown by quarterback Billy Qin (#18). Their lone bright spot was linebacker/running back Dante Hauff (#51), who was productive on the ground early in the game, and recorded the Nighthawks’ lone score when he picked off Yu and rumbled 30 yards down the sideline to make it 32-8 late in the third quarter.

The Titans will now take on the Warriors at Zhangjiang Sports Center on Saturday, September 10th, while the Nighthawks will have slightly more rest before matching up against the  UFudanniversity Dragoons on Sunday, September 18th.

Recap of last weekend

Rounding out the action from the first three weeks of AFLC regular season play were three games over the weekend of September 3rd and 4th. The Hong Kong Cobras opened their 2016 campaign with a narrow 9-0 triumph over the stingy Guangzhou Apaches, who have now reached the halfway point in their regular season schedule at 0-2.

With the view of Fudan University’s Guanghua Towers in the background, the Hefei Crocodiles fended off a last-gasp Hail Mary from the Dragoons, coming out on top 22-20. The Guangzhou Tigers won their first league game at China’s first and only football-specific field, the Foshan Skyway Center, with a convincing 36-20 result over the Hong Kong Combat Orcas.

Two key games this weekend

Looking ahead, the Shanghai Warriors will visit their crosstown rivals, the Titans, on Saturday in a major early-season clash that will most likely have major playoff implications, while the Centaurs will kick off their first season in the league with an all-Chongqing matchup against the Dockers on Sunday.

There haven’t been any big surprises yet on the young season, but that could change on September 17th in the typically heated Hong Kong derby between the Warhawks and Cobras.

Photo credit: Lampson.Y Design & Photo

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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