The first round of the Italian playoffs continues this weekend with the fourth place Bolzano Giants facing the fifth place Bergamo Lions in the second wild card game.
In the only game between these two teams in the second weekend of the season, Bolzano defeated the Lions 23-9. However, Bergamo is a vastly improved team since then.
Bolzano (7-3) enters the game after losing two of the last three games of the year as both the Milano Seamen and Parma Panthers defeated them. The Lions (5-5) are in a similar situation losing to both the Panthers and Milano Rhinos to wind up the regular season.
The Giants had the fourth best offense and defense in Italy, reflecting their position in the standings. Bolzano scored 233 points in 10 games while giving up an average of 12.7. Bergamo’s offense was not far behind averaging 21.7 points a game. But defense might be the difference with the Lions surrendering 199 points all season.
Bolzano quarterback Dustin Hawke Willingham led all quarterbacks in passing yardage with 2,336 yards, and passing touchdowns with 26. His counterpart with Bergamo, Giorgio Bryant, showed his mobility this year rushing for 537 yards and eight touchdowns, good for fourth in overall rushing yards in Italy.
Receivers Mark Simone and Marco Bonacci of the Giants were both among the top five receivers in 2017 which will give the Bergamo secondary problems. Giants linebacker Alex Ferrari topped all defenders in 2017 with 72 tackles.
Bergamo’s front seven were a problem for opposition quarterbacks this season and led the league with 19 sacks. The Lions secondary was also outstanding picking off opposing quarterbacks 15 times, also tops in the country.
The X factor could be Bergamo head coach Adam Rita. He is a veteran of playoff football in the Canadian Football League and Grey Cup champion head coach with the Toronto Argonauts.
The winner of this game advances to the semifinals where they will face the Milano Rhinos. In the other wild card game, the Milano Seamen beat the Torino Giaguari 49-9.