China: Shanghai Titans Start Strong, Succumb to Shanghai Nighthawks’ Power Running Game in AFLC Season Opener

Shanghai Nighthawks 36, Shanghai Titans 12

Depending on who you ask, the Shanghai Titans and Nighthawks occupy two of the top three spots among amateur Chinese American football teams. The 2015 American Football League of China’s opening clash was another chapter in this emerging Shanghai rivalry, and a rematch of the 2014 AFLC championship battle, this one ending up clearly in favor of the visiting Nighthawks. The Titans have yet to figure out how to stop the Nighthawks’ powerful Wing-T offense, even as the Nighthawks did not complete a single pass all game, and after scoring 36 unanswered points to close out the game, the Nighthawks have a strong case as the Middle Kingdom’s number one team.

Shanghai Titans QB Taylor Yu Keeper

The game started off well enough for the home squad in the first quarter, as Titans defensive tackle Derre Kong knifed through the line untouched to bring down Nighthawks quarterback Billie Qin, jarring the ball loose. Linebacker Matt Smith scooped up the loose ball, galloping 32 yards for the season’s first points.

On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Nighthawks running back Zhehao Sun fumbled the handoff from Qin, and Titans defensive end Idris McClain pounced on the ball. The Titans methodically marched downfield, with the drive culminating in quarterback Taylor Yu’s 6-yard scoring strike in the back right corner of the endzone to Frank Ma, putting the Titans up 12-0 after missed conversions after both touchdowns.

Thereafter the Nighthawks started to take control of the game. Led by running backs Tianshou Zhang, John Taggart, and Sun, the Nighthawks utilized their trademark inside power runs by Zhang mixed in with outside sweeps to the fleet-footed Taggart and Sun.

Zhang, who finished with 162 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns, ripped off a 42-yard run down the left sideline on the ensuing drive, and two plays later finished the job himself with a 2-yard plunge. After receiving the second-half kickoff, the Nighthawks again pounded the ball down the field, culminating in Yujia Li’s 8-yard scoring run off left-tackle, and putting them ahead 14-12.

Nighthawks Defensive Line

The Titans began to turn more to the pass, but were plagued by a nasty case of the drops all game long. Jason Rong, who started every game at wideout last season, let two passes slip out of his hands, and Allen Jin dropped a would-be fourth quarter touchdown with good coverage on the play. Running back Jerry Zhang, who finished with 147 all-purpose yards, dropped a fourth down pass with the Titans trailing 21-12, and facing fourth and goal from the Nighthawks’ 4-yard line, negating his own 73-yard reception on a screen pass earlier in the drive.

Nighthawks newcomer Sun would provide the fourth quarter coup de grâce. On their next possession, juking towards the middle to avoid Smith, Sun then burst outside and down the left sideline 47 yards to paydirt, giving his team a commanding 28-12 lead. After a Titans turnover on downs, Sun found space around left end for a 16-yard score to seal the game. Sun contributed 6 carries for 79 yards and the two touchdowns.

The Nighthawks head into their bye week with momentum, while the Titans must next travel to Chengdu on August 29th to face the upstart Pandamen, who upset the favored Chongqing Dockers on Saturday night.

Notes

Former Lincoln University (PA) standout Taggart, who has entered graduate studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, finished with 9 carries for 59 yards for the victors. Jerry Zhang led all Titans rushers and receivers with 51 yards on 10 carries on the ground and 96 yards on four receptions through the air. Yu finished 7/17 passing for 108 yards and one touchdown. The Nighthawks had five players receive at least four carries, and have not attempted more than five passes in a game since October 18, 2014, a 19-12 loss to the Titans.

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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