Final Regular Season Weekend for China’s AFLC as Playoffs Loom

AFLC Set for Playoffs

After the final round of games on Halloween weekend, the American Football League of China – AFLC –  is set to move on to its next stage, the playoffs. The #1 through #6 seeds received byes to the quarterfinals, consisting of, in order, the Hong Kong Cobras, Shanghai Nighthawks, Hong Kong Warhawks, Shanghai Warriors, Shanghai Titans, and Guangzhou Tigers. Seeds 7 through 10 will play a first round playoff game, and these teams are the Guangzhou Apaches, Chengdu Pandamen, Chongqing Dockers, and Hong Kong Combat Orcas. We take a look back at how the final round of regular season games played out:

AFLC North
Shanghai Titans 20 – Chongqing Dockers 0

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All it took was one play to swing the momentum in favor of the visitors. After a hard-fought, scoreless first half, Titans running back Jerry Zhang (13 carries, 164 yards, 1 TD), who had been held to five yards on four carries in the first half, took the handoff on the second play of the second half, burst through a gaping hole on the left side of the line, and outraced Dockers defenders 69 yards to the house. Wide receiver Matt Smith caught a 21-yard fade route in the left corner of the end zone from quarterback Taylor Yu later in the quarter, which put the Titans up 12-0, and receiver Frank Ma added a fourth quarter receiving score from 31 yards out to put the game out of reach at 20-0.

Offensively the Dockers moved the ball at times, led by running back Wendell Brown (15 carries, 104 yards) and Justin Flowers (14 carries, 61 yards), but could not generate enough offense when it was needed most. Smith, cornerback Sibo Chen, and co-captain linebacker Datong Wang all recorded interceptions for the Titans. The game also marked the return of the Titans’ starter at running back the previous year, Erick Velasco, from a broken arm, but it was Zhang’s day to savor, as he finished the four game regular season as the Titans’ leading rusher, with 497 yards on 63 carries and six touchdowns.

The Dockers will visit the Chengdu Pandamen on November 14th as the #9 seed in the first AFLC playoff matchup, and a chance to advance to the quarterfinals, where the #1 seed Hong Kong Cobras await.

Shanghai Nighthawks 32 – Shanghai Warriors 30

China - AFLC - Shanghai Nighthawks - Warriors
The Nighthawks home-field dominance at Luwan Stadium continued, as they edged their biggest rivals the Warriors by two under the lights. This may have been the game of the year, as two of China’s best teams traded blows in a back and forth affair.

The hosts drew first blood on a one-yard plunge by running back Tianshou Zhang (16 carries, 112 yards, 1 TD), but the Warriors answered right back when quarterback Tim Gomez (7/21, 142 yards, 1 TD; 12 carries, 74 yards, 1 rushing TD) scampered in from two yards out on a free play when the Nighthawks jumped offsides. On their ensuing possession, Gomez launched a 47-yard bomb down the right sideline to receiver Alex Spang on a wheel route, putting them up 16-8 late in the first quarter.

The Warriors moved ahead by 16 in the second period when safety Leo Liu recorded his first ever interception on an ill-advised throw by Nighthawks quarterback Billie Qin, and raced up the left sideline 60 yards for another score. From thereon out however, it was the John Taggart show as the Nighthawks running back caught a swing pass and rumbled 18 yards to the end zone just before the end of the half. Taggart (13 carries, 133 yards, 2 TD; 4 catches, 46 yards, 1 TD) then opened the second half by breaking loose through the heart of the Warriors defense for a 65-yard touchdown, and with the two-point conversion, the score was once again level at 24 apiece.

Spang began the fourth quarter in the backfield, and gave the visitors the lead again on a 1-yard run, but Gomez’s failed quarterback keeper on the conversion attempt would prove to be costly. Taggart would score again on an 18-yard run off right tackle, and as has become his specialty in the Nighthawks’ double wing offense, Zhang burrowed his way through the pile for two points, and a 32-30 advantage.

The Warriors’ final glimmer of hope came when Gomez rolled right, back to the left, and found receiver Xi Chen for a long gain, but Gomez was ruled to have stepped completely over the line of scrimmage prior to the pass, and the visitors would turn the ball over, giving the Nighthawks yet another victory on home turf, and the #2 seed in the playoffs. Warriors linebacker J.P. Neal also recorded nine total tackles, including two for loss, in the losing effort against the team he captained to an AFLC championship a year ago.

AFLC South
Guangzhou Apaches 32 – Hong Kong Combat Orcas 6

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The Apaches finally recorded a win, and the Orcas finally scored their first points of the season in a battle of previously winless teams. Fullback Ricky Xu ran it in to open the scoring for the host Apaches on their first drive of the game, but what happened next was historic for the Orcas. After methodically moving the ball down the field, quarterback Jonathan Wong hit receiver Harry Cheng on an out route for five yards and the Orcas’ first ever AFLC points.

The rest of the game mirrored how the season had gone up to that point for the Orcas however. Apaches running back Matthew Bunney scored 3 touchdowns on the ground, and Xiaoyu Huang added a 48-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper to pave the way for a comfortable victory in the end, as well as the 7th seed heading into the playoffs. The two teams will meet again on November 14th at the same location for their first-round playoff game, with a chance to meet the 2nd seeded Shanghai Nighthawks in the quarterfinals on the line.

Hong Kong Warhawks 48 – Guangzhou Tigers 24

China - AFLC - HK Warhawks - Tigers
The Warhawks ran away with this one in Guangzhou on Halloween night, as running back Ka Chun Yip and quarterback Jason Yeung continued their strong play. The Tigers, meanwhile, showed why they may have overtaken the Apaches as Guangzhou’s top team by scoring the most points of any opponent against the Warhawks this season.

Since the Warhawks won by a margin of over 21 points, and the Warriors lost by two points, the Warhawks become the number three seed in the AFLC, beating out the Warriors in point differential by one point.

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