China: CNFL Championship Game: Hangzhou Smilodons v. Chengdu Pandaman – The shield versus the spear. 

The Chinese National Football League winds up its pandemic season this Saturday, January 9 with a matchup of contrasts as the Hangzhou Smilodons and Chengdu Pandaman clash at Hangzhou Thunder Football Field in Hangzhou in the 2021 CNFL Championship Game.

This will be the first-ever championship game to be played outside of Shanghai. It’s the classic matchup of defense vs offense, the immovable versus the unstoppable, the Wing T versus the Spread, the Shield versus the Spear! The paradox will be broken, one way or another!

There is an old saying in China –  “自相矛盾”. It means attacking one’s shield with one’s spear aka contradicting yourself, and it stems from a 2000-year-old story, “The Spear and the Shield”. A man was in the marketplace boasting that his shields were unbreakable and impenetrable, and his spears were so sharp, nothing could stop them. When someone asked him to test his wares against each other, the man had no answer and thus the phrase was born.

While in this case no one being contradictory, but a shield and a spear will certainly be tested against each other, and one will be broken.

#1 Hangzhou Smilodons (5-0)

Road to the Championship:

Regular Season: W @ Shenyang King Kong 15-0, W vs Shanghai Street Cats 21-14, W vs Guangzhou Apaches 37-23, W @ Foshan Tigers 29-0

Playoffs: W vs Qingdao Conquerors 20-6

Hangzhou is the shield. The finest defense in the CNFL this season, Hangzhou has only allowed an average of 8 points per game this season. Against the Guangzhou Apaches, it was the Hangzhou defense that made the difference, turning a close game into a rout with an avalanche of turnovers and big plays in the second half. Proving that the shield doesn’t just bend, it can be offensively used to batter an opponent as well. Hangzhou uses their shield as a battering ram by aggressively using the blitz to overwhelm opposing offenses to force turnovers and easy points.

The Smilodon defense is led by their linebackers. Linebackers #58 Storm, #29 Mark, #52 Big Tony, and #94 Martin form the Four Fangs of the Hangzhou defense, and together they’ve allowed the Smilodon defense to feast on opposing offenses this year.

When asked, Chengdu’s quarterback and team captain Ivan Yuan was very complimentary about Hangzhou’s defense, calling Hangzhou’s defense well-skilled, physically imposing, and had a definite size advantage on the defensive line. He also remarked that Hangzhou’s linebackers were fast and intelligent, and Chengdu’s offense would have to put less emphasis on the outside run and more on utilizing their tight ends to match up against the linebackers.

Hangzhou likes to control the time of possession on offense with a steady running game. Against Qingdao, it was RB #50 Wei Shao (韦少) and #7 Li Tuo (托黎) who carried the load offensively as Qingdao only threw the ball seven times. Against Chengdu, Hangzhou will most likely need a more balanced offense and QB #5 Roger will have to get #86 Kevin (小王) and #28 Jarvis more involved in the passing game.

#2 Chengdu Pandaman (4-0-1)

Road to the Championship:

Regular Season: W @ Zhengzhou Steamer 32-28, T vs Guangzhou Apaches 20-20, W vs Foshan Tigers 22-0, W vs Shanghai Titans 36-7

Playoffs: W vs Beijing Barbarians (FF)

Chengdu is the spear. No defense has been able to stop the Chengdu offense this season as Chengdu averaged nearly 30 points per game in the regular season. The explosive nature of Chengdu’s offense was showcased in their opening season tilt versus the Zhengzhou Steamer. Down 22-6 with less than ten minutes to go in the game, the Spear proved its sharpness as Chengdu roared back with four touchdowns to snatch victory.

Just as the spears can be used in different ways, so can the Chengdu offense. Light flexible spears like the Qiang can be used to probe for weaknesses with short jabbing thrusts, Chengdu’s offense can do the same with their short to middle passing game. When the Shanghai Titans tried a 3-3-5 zone in their week 4 matchup, Chengdu’s offense tore them apart as the Chengdu receivers had little trouble finding open windows. Spears like the assegai and the pila can also be used from long range, and Chengdu wielded the deep passing game effectively over the years, and this year is no exception. The Chengdu passing attack is still as high powered as ever with the veteran duo of QB#7 Ivan and WR#11 Rivers Zhang supplemented by fleetfooted players at the skill positions like WR #6 Bao Fengrui, RB #30 Lee, WR #38 Tony, and RB #15 Hins (who is unfortunately not coming to Hangzhou for the title bout).

Hangzhou’s linebacker Storm had this to say about Chengdu and their offense.

“首先,成都拥有一位能力极强的QB,他视野开阔,传球精准,出手极快,阅读防守能力极强。而且他所率领的进攻组拥有多位天赋很高的外接手。这对我们来说是极大的挑战,但能遇到这样的对手我们感到非常幸运,我们将尽我们最大的努力去和他进行比赛。”

“First, Chengdu has an extremely capable QB who has good vision, accurate passes, a quick release, and a strong ability to read defenses. And he leads an offense with several talented wide receivers. It’s a great challenge for us, but we feel very lucky to come up against an opponent like this and we will do our best to go out and compete against him.”

Despite being the understated part of their team, Chengdu’s defense will also be important in that they have to slow down the Hangzhou running game. Defensive linemen #99 Tan Yuqi (覃玉錡) and #91 Xiao Shuangcheng (肖双成), also known as Dcer and Tank, have held their own against bigger offensive linemen from Beijing and Shanghai, and the Pandaman will need them to play big once again. If the Pandaman defense can force Hangzhou into throwing situations, it will give their top defensive back, #22 You Maohong(由茂宏), also known as Ultrahot, opportunities to make big plays.

 

Allen Hu
Allen Hu is a Chinese-American who grew up playing American Football in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. He primarily spends his time in both the United States and China
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