China: Division Titles clinched, CNFL playoff bracket begins to take shape

Last weekend three more league games were played in the Chinese National Football League. Two out of the three games would decide division champions and a few pieces of the playoff bracket would be firmly put in place, while the result of the third game allowed a team to achieve a milestone first-ever win in team history.

Shenyang King Kong 52 – Tianjin Pirates 0, Shenyang Agricultural University, Shenyang

In Shenyang, the Shenyang King Kong managed to earn not only their first victory of the season, but their first ever win as a team with a 52-0 win over the Tianjin Pirates.

The King Kong (1-3) showed a balanced offensive attack for the first time this season, while the Pirates did themselves no favors, fumbling twice that the King Kong defense would recover and return for easy scores.

For Shenyang, this was by far their most complete performance of the season. They will have one more chance to continue to build upon this first win and finish the season strong when they host the Beijing Iron Brothers on a TBD date.

For the Pirates, they end their season with yet another severe loss in a season to forget. As one of China’s oldest American Football teams and one of the original founding members of the AFLC/CNFL, they will be looking to rejuvenate themselves in the offseason with some new talent and are looking to comeback stronger next year.

Beijing Barbarians 48 – Qingdao Conquerors 0, Liyi Sports Park, Qingdao

In the second game taking place in the North Division, the visiting Beijing Barbarians crushed the Qingdao Conquerors to wrap up an undefeated regular season and clinch the North division title.

The Barbarians’ offense looked very strong against Qingdao as running back Cao Yu had three rushing touchdowns and a rotation of quarterbacks combined for two more scores through the air. A punt return for a score also added to the margin of victory.

In contrast, the Barbarians defense proved as impenetrable as ever.  The consistent pressure by the Beijing defensive line disrupted any offense Qingdao might have had, although the Conquerors offense had several missed scoring opportunities that they will need to connect on in the post-season.

With this win, the Barbarians (5-0) finished the regular season undefeated and clinched a first-round bye. Beijing can rest easy knowing they will be home for the quarterfinals, where they will host the winner of a wild card game set between the second seed from the East and the third seed from the South.

For Qingdao (3-2), while two crushing losses to the top teams in the North to end the regular season might have been a tough pill to swallow.  They now have a taste of top-flight football, and will still be heading to the playoffs as either the North’s second or third seed and will be playing a team from the West Division in the first round of the playoffs.

 Shanghai Titans 14 – Shanghai Warriors 10, Guojin Sports Center, Shanghai

 

The biggest game of the regular season lived up to the hype as a hotly contested game came down to the wire as both defenses ruled the day.

The game couldn’t have started worse for the Warriors, as the Titans got on the board early when they returned the Warriors’ first punt back for a touchdown and a pick-six by Dominik Pflumm saw the Titans jump out ahead 14-0 before their offense had even touched the field. After another interception on the Warriors’ next offensive drive set up the Titans’ offense inside the Warriors’ red zone, it looked like the highly-anticipated game would turn into a rout.

However, the Warriors defense kept them in the game for the next 25 minutes, as they stonewalled the Titans offense throughout the first half. Despite the Titans defense intercepting a third errant pass from a struggling Warriors O later on, the Warrior defense held firm and even made a big special teams play of their own when they blocked a field goal attempt. The bleeding was safely staunched as the score at halftime remained 14-0.

The Warriors’ defense continued to make plays in the third quarter as a botched snap on a Titans punt gifted the Warriors a safety and finally got them on the scoreboard at 14-2. Then later on in the quarter, their Offense finally showed signs of life as quarterback Chris Gardner hit Peter Cappaert on a beautiful long pass for a TD, and the Warriors would convert the 2 point try to make it a 14-10 game.

However, that was all they could get as despite their struggles on offense; the Titans stuck to a running game that, while largely stymied by the Warriors defense, did its job as the Titans chose to bleed precious minutes off the clock and rely on their dominant defense to win the game. A desperate last chance on the Warriors’ final possession of the game saw them cross mid-field into hail mary territory, but on 4th down, the Titans dropped 8 men back and created enough pressure with only 3 down linemen to force an errant throw to end the game.

Despite having one game left, this victory over the Warriors meant that for the third year in a row, the Titans (3-0) have clinched the East division championship and the title of “Beasts from the East”. They will be guaranteed home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and after a first-round bye, their first quarterfinal matchup will be against either the 2nd seed from the North or the 3rd placed team from the West. The Titans can’t afford to relax however, as they know all too well that in the past two years they have been division champions over the Warriors only to fall short in the championship game.

Interestingly enough, since 2013 when the league was founded, no Shanghai division champion has ever gone on to win the title. The Titans will be looking to break that streak this year.

But before they can think about the playoffs, the Titans still have to finish their regular season by playing a second Shanghai rival, the Street Cats, who are playing for their playoff lives.  While the Titans will be heavy favorites going into that game, they can’t afford to be caught looking ahead as the Street Cats look like the textbook “trap game”.

For the Warriors (3-1), they will end their regular season at 3-1 and 2nd place from the East. They will host the 3rd seed from the South in a wild card game, and if they win, they will be traveling throughout the rest of the playoffs, and their first game will be to Beijing to face the undefeated Barbarians in the frigid Northern cold. The Warriors can take heart; however, as the past two years, they also had to travel, and the hard journey forged them into champions.

Three games, 2 division titles in the books! The CNFL playoffs have become clearer as the first two division champions are crowned in the 2019 CNFL season, and potential playoff matchups are forecasted, but each team knows they have to take it one game at a time! With playoffs just around the corner, the CNFL regular season winds down as every game begins to matter!

AFI
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