The American Football League of China’s quarterfinals took place on Saturday November 28th, and featured two games with plenty of offense, and arguably the biggest upset in the league’s history. Here is a recap of the action.
Shanghai Warriors 40 – Shanghai Titans 23
The Warriors swept the season series with the Titans for the second time in three years, eliminating the visitors with the help of some spectacular offensive fireworks. Tim Gomez threw for all six of the Warriors’ touchdowns, as for the second time this season, the Titans simply had no answer for the Warriors’ aerial bombardment. Marking his first significant playing time of the season, wideout Chris Gardner caught four passes for the hosts, three for touchdowns, including possibly the catch of the year in the AFLC when he climbed the ladder over two defenders in the corner of the end zone and pulled it down for the score. Also hauling in one touchdown apiece for the Warriors were Kevin Cook, Qiming Xiao, and Alex Spang to round out the scoring.
Much like in the first meeting of the two sides, the Titans were able to keep it close in the first half, thanks to big plays. After Xiao pulled in a score on a corner fade route to give the Warriors a 16-0 lead, running back Jerry Zhang, the Titans bell cow at the position the entire season, broke off a long run of over 50 yards to halve the deficit. The Warriors answered when Kevin Cook took a short pass down the left sideline and eluded numerous defenders on the way to the end zone, but with 35 seconds to play in the half, wide receiver Qi Zhang struck back for the Titans with a long kickoff return for a touchdown, drawing the Titans to within six, 22-16, at the break.
Gardner, a former wide receiver at Carleton College in Minnesota, took over in the second half however, as he helped the Warriors pull away from their cross-town rivals. Much less of a threat through the air, the Titans were unable to catch up, as cornerbacks Curtis Good, Ayumu Iwai, and Anthony Tsao limited contributions by the Titans’ speedy wide receivers throughout the game. The victory gives the Warriors a 5-1 record against the Titans in league games all-time, and a rematch with the Chongqing Dockers awaits the Warriors in the semifinals.
Chongqing Dockers 20 – Hong Kong Cobras 6
Against all odds, the Dockers went on the road with only 18 players available, and shocked the number one seed Cobras for their second playoff away victory in a row. Chongqing used a heavy dose of converted defensive tackle Marques Slocum, as well as the smaller, faster Weijie Liu in the running game to pick up timely first downs throughout the game. The Cobras were forced to deal with the absence of their top three offensive performers. Starting running back Acton McKenley was out injured, and starting quarterback Elias Hammiche and the team’s top wide receiver Thomas Man were unable to suit up due to personal reasons. Despite being the hosts, the Cobras were unable to overcome the loss of their main offensive threats, and sputtered offensively for much of the afternoon.
Slocum plunged into the end zone from short yardage on the Dockers’ second possession, setting the tone for what would become a physical affair throughout. Ximeng Liang started in Hammiche’s absence at quarterback, but the Cobras switched to a more predictable, run-oriented offense, allowing the Dockers to stack the box on defense. The hosts nevertheless evened the score at six apiece midway through the second quarter on a quarterback keeper by Liang, who avoided two tackles on the play.
After a scoreless third quarter, Chongqing began the final period with a long drive. A minor injury to Dockers quarterback Hao Lu caused linebacker Tim Stuart to be inserted into the game as the signal caller, and he called his own number on a play-action fake, rolling to the right and running through three tacklers on his way to the decisive score of the game. Dockers linebacker Neal Zhang picked off Liang on the ensuing Cobras possession, and Chongqing pounced, as Stuart dove across the goal line on a quarterback sneak to put the visitors up 20-6. The next Cobras possession ate up a large chunk of the clock, and after a failed fourth down conversion deep in Dockers territory, the visitors were able to kneel twice to preserve possibly the biggest upset in the AFLC’s three-year existence.
Hong Kong Warhawks 62 – Guangzhou Tigers 0
The host Warhawks continued their dominance at home, snuffing out any hope of a Guangzhou upset with a superb performance in all facets of the game. Matt Liao made his first-ever start at quarterback with starter Jason Yeung out injured, and was able to rely on the steady production of Warhawks running backs like Ka Chun Yip and Nga Lok Chan for support. Liao finished the game with two passing touchdowns, but it was the Warhawks running backs that really shone on this night. Five rushing touchdowns were scored by five different players, including Yip, who recorded his 11th score of the season.
The Tigers had to respond by going to the air early to cover the deficit. By abandoning their more than adequate running game, quarterback Haicheng Chen and the Tiger offense was forced out of its comfort zone. As has been the case in every meeting between the two teams, the Warhawks secondary feasted. This time it was cornerback Ka Hung Li’s moment in the spotlight, as he led the Warhawks defensively with two interceptions, and put an exclamation point on the Warhawks’ first ever postseason game.
In the fourth matchup, the Guangzhou Apaches forfeited due to a lack of available players able to travel to Shanghai for the game against the Nighthawks who thus advanced to the AFLC semifinals.