Hangzhou Smilodons capture their first ever Chinese National Football League title

The Chinese National Football League capped off their 2020-2021 season with a championship game featuring two teams making their first-ever championship game appearance, the Hangzhou Smilodons and the Chengdu Pandaman. After an exciting back and forth contest, the Smilodons claimed the title of the best team in China with a 33-24 victory after the most unique season in CNFL history.

The Smilodons started red hot on their opening drive as QB #7 Roger connected with WR #86 Kevin (小王) on a deep pass and RB#50 Wei Shao scored from 15 yards out to finish a shockingly fast 2 play drive. Despite the field not having the typical goal posts you would see in foreign countries, Chinese ingenuity was on display as a soccer net was repurposed as the crossbar, allowing Hangzhou to kick the extra point to make it 7-0.

Undaunted, Chengdu would respond as QB #7 Ivan Yuan threw a pair of touchdown passes. First to #11 Rivers Zhang on a 50/50 jump ball, and then a quick screen pass to #30 Ly (李颜) who was escorted to the endzone by a wall of burly Pandaman. However, Chengdu would fail to convert both 2-point attempts and settled for a 12-7 lead.

Smilodons RB#50 Wei Shao finds running room

Roger would respond with a big-time throw of his own, connecting on a 40-yard touchdown pass to #28 Jarvis as the play-action caught the Chengdu defense by surprise to put the Smilodons back in front, and Hangzhou tacked on a field goal late in the first half to push the lead to 5.

Chengdu had one more chance in the first half, but after marching down to the Hangzhou 7-yard line, the Smilodon defense would hold and Chengdu came away empty after 4 straight incompletions. As a result, the halftime score would stay at 17-12 Smilodons.

Despite the missed opportunity, Chengdu would get the ball to start the 2nd half and this time they scored to retake the lead after Ly caught his second touchdown pass of the game. Hangzhou’s offense would respond in kind with Roger throwing his second touchdown pass of the game, this time to #80 Liu (刘老师), giving Hangzhou the lead at 23-18 after they whiffed the extra point.

The big story in the second half would be Hangzhou’s running game. Whether it be to their superior size or simply attrition, the Hangzhou offensive line began to win the battle upfront, and that ultimately tipped the scales in Hangzhou’s favor. A 70-yard drive consisting of almost exclusively running plays resulted in a field goal to push the lead to 29-18. After Chengdu failed to convert on another 1st and goal, the Smilodons would embark on a grinding, back-breaking, clock-chewing 95-yard drive to ice the game and make it 33-18 with almost no time left.

Ivan’s 4th TD pass of the game to #66 Wuxi would make it 33-24, but a 4th failed 2-point conversion would symbolize the missed opportunities for the Pandaman.

Once again for Hangzhou, it was #50 Wei Shao leading the way on the ground, the workhorse of the Hangzhou rushing attack logged 99 yards on 30 carries. Despite Roger throwing 3 interceptions, his two touchdown passes allowed the Smilodon offense to keep pace with Chengdu before their running game could take over.

Pandaman RB #30 Ly (李颜) being hauled down

On defense, it was the Four Fangs for Hangzhou that led the way. The best linebacking corps in China combined for 24 tackles and two forced fumbles, with #58 Storm finishing the game with 12 and a half tackles.

Despite the impressive output by the Pandaman offense, they’ll look back and mourn the missed opportunities. Whiffing on all 4 of their 2-point conversions and failing to convert on two 1st and goals was the difference-maker. Despite Pandaman QB Ivan Yuan completing 50% of his passes for 365 yards, and 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, Chengdu’s offense was limited to 75 rushing yards while the Smilodons ran for 132.

Despite the tough loss for Chengdu, it was still an amazing season for them. After years of coming up empty in the semifinals, they finally broke through and showed why they are one of the best teams in China. The Pandaman defense did well, intercepting Roger three times, but was burned several times by the underrated receiving corps of Hangzhou, who averaged just over 21 yards a catch.

As for Hangzhou, now the hunters become the hunted. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown, and Hangzhou will be looking to protect their crown next season.

 

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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