Chinese National Football League kicks off 2020 season with plenty of thrills and surprises

After months of speculation, preparation and anticipation, the Chinese National Football League,CNFL, finally kicked off the 2020 season in mid-August what an exciting first week it was! The five games provided a mixture of expected wins by the favorites, a wild fourth quarter comeback, and a pair of surprise upsets.

Pandaman rally from 16 down in the 4th to beat Zhengzhou

Chengdu Pandaman 32 – Zhengzhou Steamer 28, West Canal Football Park, Zhengzhou

The wildest game of Week 1 took place in Zhengzhou between the Chengdu Pandaman and the Zhengzhou Steamer, where the Pandaman overcame a 16 point 4th quarter deficit and scored the game winning touchdown with 20 seconds left to deny the Zhengzhou Steamer what would have been the biggest win in team history.

The Pandaman were seen as the favorites coming into this game, having been a traditionally strong team the past several years and were even able to play and win a pair of games in the offseason.

Nevertheless, it was a vastly improved Zhengzhou squad that got on the board first when they scored on a rushing touchdown, though they paid a steep price when their starting running back injured his knee on the play and had to leave the game.

The Steamer would convert the two-point conversion to take an 8-0 lead, but the good vibes didn’t last long as Chengdu immediately returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to cut the lead to 8-6.

Zhengzhou’s steady running game would then take control, tacking a pair of touchdowns in the second and third quarters to make it 22-6 going into the 4th quarter, and with Chengdu’s offense sputtering, it looked like the game was going to go Zhengzhou’s way.

The momentum would begin to shift as Chengdu switched to a no-huddle attack with less than 10 minutes left in the game, and the switch was able to produce results as Chengdu’s offense finally scored their first touchdown of the day to make it 22-12 with 8 minutes left.

Chengdu botched the onside kick and Zhengzhou took advantage by grinding 4 minutes off the clock before scoring to take a seemingly unsurmountable 28-12 lead with just 4 minutes left in the game.

But Chengdu’s offense had finally been unlocked, and they wasted no time going by quickly scoring again to make it 28-18. The Pandaman then caught Zhengzhou off-guard on the ensuing kickoff and successfully recovered the onside kick. This led to another quick score to make it 28-24.

The Pandaman’s defense did their part on the Steamer’s next drive and Chengdu’s offense came back on the field with 1:10 left. The Zhengzhou defense which had been phenomenal for 3 quarters, had no answers and the Pandaman took their first lead of the game when they capped off their miraculous comeback by punching in the go-ahead touchdown with 20 seconds left.

It was a bitter loss for Zhengzhou, knowing that they were only a play or two away from what would have been a magnificent victory.

Up Next: Zhengzhou will have to regroup quickly and focus on their next game, a trip to Qingdao to face the Conquerors, who are still smarting after a lopsided loss to the Beijing Barbarians. The Pandaman embark on a road trip of their own as they head to southern China to face the Guangzhou Apaches.

Smilodons Shutout King Kong 

Hangzhou Smilodons 15 – Shenyang King Kong 0, Changbai Island Football Theme Park, Shenyang

After a tough offseason that saw them go winless in a couple of preseason games, the Hangzhou Smilodons were able to get their season off on the right foot as they defeated the Shenyang King Kong on the CNFL’s opening weekend.

The Smilodons stuck to their usual guns. A tough defense that held the King Kong scoreless, and just enough offense that generated a pair of touchdowns to carry the day.

Up Next: The Smilodons return to Hangzhou with a win and their next game will be versus the Shanghai Street Cats. The King Kong will have their work cut out for them as they will have to play host to the Beijing Barbarians, a very tall task indeed.

Barbarians batter Conquerors

Beijing Barbarians 66 – Qingdao Conquerors 8, Olympic Sports Park, Beijing

In Beijing, the Beijing Barbarians got their season off to a great start as they beat the Qingdao Conquerors 60-8 in a matchup of Northern teams.

Up Next: The Barbarians move to 1-0 and their next game will be against the Shenyang King Kong in Shenyang. The Barbarians beat the King Kong handily last season in their regular-season matchup. The Conquerors will be at home, where they will host a Zhengzhou Steamer team that acquitted themselves well in their first game.

Apaches upset Tigers on miracle play

Guangzhou Apaches 8 – Foshan Tigers 6, Tianxing Center Rugby Field, Foshan

The first big upset of Week 1 came in Foshan, as the Guangzhou Apaches beat the Foshan Tigers for the first time since 2016 with an 8-6 victory.

Played under the sweltering heat of Southern China, both teams struggled to move the ball, and it was the Apaches who first broke the deadlock with a safety in the first quarter as they swallowed up a Foshan run in the end zone.

The Tigers responded with a short passing touchdown to take the lead at 6-2, and the score remained this way until deep in the 4th quarter.

Foshan Tigers defender Leona Lin, the only female playing in the game, hauls down ball carrier

Pinned deep in their own territory and facing a 3rd and 10, Cen Zi Le made the play of the game when he was able to snatch a perfectly placed pass over a Foshan defender and break a last-ditch tackle by the Foshan safety to make the game-winning play and most importantly, help his team snap a losing streak to their neighborhood rivals.

Up Next: The Apaches will stay in Guangzhou when they host the Chengdu Pandaman in their next game. Foshan will be also be staying home and they will welcome the Shanghai Titans to Foshan.

Street Cats surprise Titans

Shanghai Street Cats 25 – Shanghai Titans 14, Shanghai World Expo Huangpu Sports Park, Shanghai

The second upset of the week came in Shanghai as the Street Cats surprised the Titans by leading wire-to-wire in a 25-14 upset victory.

The Street Cats set the tone early with a bruising running game behind RB #31 Zhong Zhigang (钟志钢 ) as they scored twice in the first half and went into halftime up 13-0.

The Titans would finally get themselves on the board in the second half thanks to their Wide Receiver Tony, but the Street Cats would answer with 2 more scores to effectively put the game away and the Titans could only manage one more touchdown to make the margin closer.

However, this game will go into the standings as a Titans win, as the Street Cats forfeited the game beforehand and the game was played as a friendly/exhibition instead.

Up Next: The Street Cats’ next game will be in nearby Hangzhou where they take on the Hangzhou Smilodons. The Titans will have to travel down to Foshan to take on a talented Tigers team.

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