Shanghai Titans Win American Football League of China Crown in Dominant Fashion

The Shanghai Titans captured their first ever American Football League of China championship on Saturday at Luwan Stadium in Shanghai, defeating the Shanghai Nighthawks 28-6.

The Titans broke from their normal pass-heavy offense by methodically running the ball and controlling the clock. Championship game MVP Idris McClain, a former tight end at Division III Amherst College, played on both sides of the ball for the Titans, leading all receivers with 4 catches for 48 yards on offense, and contributing 6 tackles and a half sack on defense. Running back Eason Chen (#47) rushed 14 times for 107 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown to increase the Titans lead to 14-0 early in the third quarter, after having led only 6-0 at halftime.

Nighthawks running back Tianshou Zhang (#44) led his team with 14 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown, but the Nighthawks turned the ball over on downs four times, in addition to an interception and a lost fumble.

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Titans linebacker/wide receiver and championship game MVP Idris McClain

The Titans started quickly on offense, recovering an onside kick from the opening kickoff. Quarterback Taylor Yu (#15), battling an injury, shared duties with backup Gavin Ku (#38, 8/10, 77 yards, 1 TD), and it was Ku who came on to start the game, leading the Titans down the field on a drive which ended with wide receiver Cam Shubert’s (#4) 13-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown, putting them up 6-0. For the rest of the first half however, both teams’ offenses showed signs of life, but failed to mount any more significant threats to score. Both defenses thus shined in the first half, coming up with stop after stop to keep the game close heading into halftime.

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Nighthawks running back Cook Fan (#6)

Chen would swing the momentum squarely in the Titans’ favor to start the second half however. After returning the kickoff past midfield, Chen simply outflanked the Nighthawk defense, carrying the ball down the sideline on his long touchdown run for his 3rd score in 3 postseason games.

Following a Nighthawks turnover on downs, the Titans would march 63 yards in 10 plays, culminating in Jimmy Liu’s (#45, 12 carries, 39 yards, 1 TD) 1-yard touchdown run to give the Titans a commanding 20-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

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Eason Chen (#47) dives for the end zone on a 39-yard touchdown run

The Nighthawks would not quit. A fumble by Titans running back Peter Shi (#25) set the Nighthawks up in Titans territory, and 8 plays later, Tianshou Zhang found the end zone from 3 yards out, cutting the deficit to 20-6. Arthur Wu (#41, 3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) recovered kicker Jackson Chen’s (#89) onside kick for the Nighthawks, giving them another chance to further cut into the Titans lead. But on the very next play, McClain, playing at defensive end for the Titans, corralled running back Cook Fan (#6) in the backfield, and defensive tackle David Hong (#90) forced a fumble, which was recovered by linebacker Derek Shakhshire (#57). Four plays later, Yu re-entered the game at quarterback for the Titans and ran right, breaking three tackles on his way to a game-clinching 29-yard touchdown run, setting the final score at 28-6.

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Tianshou Zhang (#44) scores the Nighthawks’ lone touchdown of the game

Defensively, the Nighthawks were led by linebackers Ilyas Bayraktar (#47, 11 tackles) and Aaron Gu (#36, 7 tackles), as well as defensive end Zhaoyuan Ding (#11, 6 tackles). Cornerback Li Zheng (#36) led the Titans with 11 tackles, followed by 7 tackles each from linebackers Roger Wu (#23), Datong Wang (#9), and defensive tackle David Hong, who added 1.5 sacks.

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Taylor Yu (#15) crosses the plain for the game-clinching touchdown

The Shanghai Titans now become the third different team, as well as the third team in a row, from Shanghai to capture an AFLC championship, following the Shanghai Nighthawks in 2014 and Shanghai Warriors in 2015. The Titans also avenged their title game loss from 2014 to the very same Nighthawks team.

For the Nighthawks, the game marked their third consecutive championship game appearance, but also their second straight loss in the game. Fourteen teams participated in the AFLC’s 4th season this year, marking its largest expansion yet. In the end, it was a well-deserved title for a talented Titans team, who in their 4th season of existence finally reached the mountaintop.

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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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