Start Of Russian League of American Football features new teams, tight games

With the first weeks of Russian League of American Football (LAF) season behind us, it is time to take a look at the first results and early projections. With many new faces participating in the tournament, a lot of noteworthy stories are happening across the region. Let us go by through them division by division:

Premier Division

While neither the Moscow Patriots (2-0), viewed by name as the top team in the country as of now, nor the St. Petersburg Griffins (1-0) faced any difficulties in their opening games, the latter team was hit very hard by an injury plague on the onset of the season (which also included an unsuccessful IFAF Champions League debut): by their third game, they have already lost their top three running backs (two of them for the season, including 2015 league offensive MVP Igor Dementyev), as well as the team’s last season defensive MVP linebacker Mikhail Gavrilov. While they were able to hold their ground so far, the tougher games are still ahead, starting with this weekend’s matchup against Podolsk Knights, who started the season with a disappointing loss to the Patriots.

Russia - Griffins action 2016

St. Petersburg Griffins in action Photo: CNOPT 10

Two of the new teams in the top division of the league faced off. In fact, the game between the Moscow Spartans (1-1) and the Minsk Litwins (2-0) from Belarus was a highly-anticipated matchup that turned into a special teams disaster for the Russian squad: they lost a tight defensive battle 8-6, while failing to convert on a whopping five field goal attempts in the process.

In the meantime, the Yaroslavl Rebels (1-1) have finally won their first game in this division, and did that in a dramatic fashion, coming from a 10-0 fourth quarter deficit to beat the Moscow Bruins (0-2) 13-10 in overtime. The latter team has lost it’s leader Roman Pavlenko to the Vukovi Belgrade just before the season started and now shares the last spot in the division with the weakened Moscow United (0-2), that started the season with some very tough games against some of the best teams and looks competitive despite losing some of their top talent in offseason.

Division North

Having left the Premier Division for a lower now, the St. Petersburg North Legion (1-0) looks like a team to beat now, having dismantled the young Moscow Dragons (0-1). They will probably be facing their toughest challenge of the season this coming weekend, when the Cherepovets Rhinos (1-0) come to town, having (to the surprise of many) thoroughly beaten a team that appeared to be among the top in the division in the St. Petersburg MUT.

Division Urals

The new entrants to the LAF competition, the Perm Steel Tigers (2-0) proved to be as tough as expected, beating the last years divisional champions Yekaterinburg Lightings (1-1) by less than a possession. The latter don’t appear in a lot of trouble though, as their further schedule appears to be much easier than this.

Nevertheless, it is the Chelyabinsk Tanks (2-0) that lead the divisional table right now, having beaten the young entrants in team South Urals (1-1) and the Yekaterinburg Piranhas (0-2). The other new team in the division in the Kurgan Hornets (0-2) appeared competitive in their early games against the divisional favorites and is unlikely to remain at the last place for long.

Division Volga

The three-team division saw both the experienced Nizhny Novgorod Raiders 52 (1-0) and the Samara Stormbringers (1-0) beat the Penza Phoenix (0-2) decisively. It now look that the playoff berth from this division will be a race between these two teams only now, as their first game will be held in two weeks from now.

Division South

One of the biggest surprises of the season so far was found in the Russian South, where the Stavropol Stones (2-0) started the season with a win again a traditional football power from Crimea in the Simferopol Taurus (0-2), while also holding their ground against the Volzhsky Kites (0-1).

Another team from the mainland in the Krasnodar Bisons (1-1) also appear to be as competitive as ever, and together with the main Crimean powerhouse in the Sevastopol Titans (1-0), who won the division last year, they make this division look like the most competitive in the whole competition.

Ilya Kravtsov
After being involved in bringing American football to his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, Ilya would go on to play in the Japanese X-League, helping his side Tokyo Bullseyes advance all the way to the top tier of the league and become the only non-corporate team in X-1. He's currently the defensive coordinator of St. Petersburg Griffins, as well as the head coach of St. Petersburg Valkyries.
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