The AFLC Semifinals are upon us, with both games kicking off Saturday afternoon. Before we preview those two games however, let’s take a look back at the quarterfinals:
Shanghai Titans 24, Foshan Tigers 8
The Titans barely edged out the Tigers in their last meeting, in the 2016 AFLC Semifinals, blocking what would have been the game-winning field goal on the final play of the game. This game was not as close, as the Titans took an early lead and dominated throughout the game to book a place in the AFLC’s final four for the third consecutive season.
Quarterback Duan Jun (#5) opened the game hot for the Titans, finding Dominik Pflumm (#13) for two touchdown passes to give the hosts a 12-0 lead in the first quarter. Jibril Rasheed (#16) got in on the action with a 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. After a scoreless third period, running back Lane Shen (#1) put the nail in the coffin with a 70-yard touchdown scamper down the left sideline to put the Titans up 24-2 in the fourth. The Tigers would finally score a touchdown with a minute remaining in the game on a 5-yard run by running back He Peizhang (#9), but it was too little too late. The Titans will now get to play their fifth consecutive playoff game at their home field, Zhangjiang Sports Center, against the Beijing Barbarians this Saturday.
Beijing Barbarians 39, Mountain City Fury (Chongqing) 0
The Barbarians kicked off the playoffs with a dominating performance at home against the McFury, continuing their impressive first year in the league. The Barbarians started the first half relatively quietly, as Shi Wei’s (#88) 10-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Hester (#1) was followed by two field goals, giving them a 13-0 lead at halftime. Their advantage as the home team began to show in the third quarter however, as Chen Chao (#28) and Chang Yunpeng (#37) both recorded rushing touchdowns, expanding the Barbarians’ lead to 27-0. They would keep their foot on the gas pedal in the fourth quarter as well, as Hester found Terry Xing (#87) for two passing touchdowns to finish off the McFury.
Beijing will now take their first long-distance trip of the season to Shanghai this Saturday, for the chance to become the first non–Shanghai team to reach an AFLC Championship Game since 2013.
Shanghai Warriors 26, Hong Kong Warhawks 21
Under the lights at Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong, the host Warhawks gave everything they had in a thoroughly entertaining affair against the defending champion Warriors.
The visitors from Shanghai drew first blood, as quarterback Joe Zhou (#16, 123 passing yards, 3 TD) hit wide receiver Danny Zhang (#6, 4 catches, 56 yards, 1 TD) on a 29-yard touchdown on their first drive of the game. The Warhawks answered right back, as Jonathan Wong (#14) faked a handoff and took off down the right sideline for a 48-yard touchdown run, putting the hosts up 7-6. Back came the Warriors, as Zhou fired a deep pass to Kébé Sanha (#14, 2 catches, 48 yards, 1 TD) for a 35-yard touchdown.
Running back Leung Wing Kit (#85, 2 rushing TDs) started off the second quarter with a 6-yard touchdown run to put the Warhawks back up 14-12, but just before the break, Zhou’s third touchdown pass of the half found Chris Gardner (#2) wide open over the middle for an 8-yard score, with Gardner making a spectacular one-handed catch.
Both teams clamped down on defense in the second half, but it was the Warriors who added to their lead, with Gardner, playing safety, making his second interception of the game and returning it 65 yards to make it 26-14. Leung’s second touchdown run of the game came in the fourth quarter, and the Warhawks had a chance to take the lead late in the game, but a fourth-down interception by Yang Qu (#10) sealed the win for the Warriors. A second long-distance trip in two weeks looms ahead for the Warriors, as they will travel to Chengdu to take on the Pandaman in the semifinals on Saturday.
Chengdu Pandaman 34, Wuhan Berserkers 28
Playing in front of a home crowd, the Pandaman pulled off a come-from-behind victory by making some clutch plays in the fourth quarter against the visiting Berserkers, who many thought were favored to win the game.
After Wuhan took an early lead, Chengdu answered just a few plays later, as Henry Zhang (#14) made an amazing catch in tight coverage, then raced down the right sideline for a 60-yard touchdown to give the hosts an 8-6 lead. The Berserkers struck right back, as Mark Lememea (#88) broke one tackle, then outran the rest of the Pandaman defense for a 43-yard touchdown run.
Chengdu’s next possession put them in an even deeper hole, as linebacker Jason Jeff (#99) picked off a bad pass by Duke Huang (#71) and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown. making it 22-8 Wuhan. Undaunted, the Pandaman continued to air it out, as Huang found Rivers Zheng (#11, 3 catches, 91 yards) behind the defense for a 41-yard gain, setting up Zhang’s 1-yard scoring plunge. Li Yan’s (#30) 5-yard touchdown run on the next Chengdu drive drew them to within 22-20 going into halftime.
Wuhan began the third quarter with an ill-advised fake punt attempt by Lememea deep in their own territory that failed, giving Chengdu the ball in an advantageous position. The Pandaman capitalized immediately, as Henry Zhang bulldozed multiple Wuhan defenders on the way to a 29-yard touchdown run, giving Chengdu their first lead of the game at 28-22.
The Berserker defense would come up big to end the quarter however, as another errant throw by Huang was once again intercepted by Jeff, and returned 62 yards to the house to tie the score at 28-28. The Pandaman responded with a long, clock-killing drive, culminating in Henry Zhang’s fourth touchdown of the game, another 1-yard run. Wuhan would get the ball back two more times in the game, but turned the ball over on downs the first time, then came up short of the endzone on a long pass play as time expired. The victory sends the Chengdu Pandaman to their third consecutive AFLC Semifinals, once again facing the daunting task of having to knock off the Shanghai Warriors.