A new season kicks off in Russia with a lot of familiar faces in different places

The 2017 season of the Russia-based League of American Football has kicked of last week with several games featuring many of the most prominent players wearing different jersey and making their impact felt for the first time in the new environment.

Premier Division

The tournament that features the top clubs of the region will not include the Minsk Litwins from Belarus this year, but will nevertheless see some of the best football action in available this summer. As the incumbent champions Moscow Patriots got even stronger with an addition of an American quarterback Wayne Bonsell, their rivals St. Petersburg Griffins as well as the last years runner-ups Moscow Spartans will have to find new ways to challenge them for the title, but not before they take care of the other resurging teams such as the Podolsk Knights, St. Petersburg North Legion, Moscow United, Moscow Bears and the Yaroslavl Rebels.

Moscow Spartans 33 – Podolsk Knights 12

Photo credit: Mikhail Klaviaturov

The Moscow squad starts the season exactly the same way as they did last year – with an important victory over their old rivals from Podolsk. They seem to have found a balance on both sides of the ball, scoring on the ground and through the air, as well as converting a couple field goals and adding a defensive touchdown to boot. The Knights did have a surge in the second quarter when two touchdowns by QB Pavel Levashov made it a one-possession game, but it was all Spartans in the second half as they were dominant in all phases of the game.

St. Petersburg Griffins 10 – Moscow United 0

The cold rainstorm made both team struggle against the elements as much as against each other, as the game turned into a defensive struggle. As both teams braced for the ground game in these conditions and were successful at defending against it, the difference came in through the air: the Griffins were able to capitalize on several long completions (including to their new addition Viktor But, who has been one of the leading scorers in Russia for the past several years while playing for their rivals Moscow Patriots), while the United quarterback Ilshan Kazantsev threw three interceptions.

Moscow Patriots 50 – Yaroslavl Rebels 0

Photo credit: Polina Stepanyuk

This game was played on a neutral ground in the city of Rostov with the aim of expanding the audience of American football in Russia and the combination of nice weather and a large crowd that has never seen the sport before made it for a great show, except for the Rebels who were on the short end of the Patriots effort to show just how serious they are about defending the title that they have recaptured last week. They latter have dominated both on the ground and through the air, where their top offseason acquisitions of Wayne Bonsell and 2016 league MVP Denis Pisarev combined for a score.

Division North

The division was not as competitive as it could’ve been in 2016, with the powerhouse St. Petersburg North Legion sweeping it with a relative ease. But this year, with the departure of the latter to the Premier Division, all of the teams have something to play for and it appears to be one the most competitive one in all of LAF (last year, all of the teams with an exception of the North Legion finished with exactly the same record of 2-2 against each other)

Cherepovets Rhinos 19 – St. Petersburg MUT 8

Both of the teams saw their leading receivers from last season depart to the Premier Division clubs, and the matchup became a struggle between the rushing attacks for the most part of the contest. The Rhinos were able to find more consistency in that aspect of the game, as they controlled the ball longer and saw their running back Vladislav Nikitin reach the endzone twice, as well as being able to capitalize on play-action passes.

Moscow Dragons 9 – Pertozavodsk Gunners 14

Photo credit: Ksenia Aleshina

The Gunners have last participated in the national tournament way back in 2014, having taken two seasons off to rebuild they franchise in the Russian north and came to the league in full arms this year. Lead by one of the nation’s top young QB’s Oleg Kornev and utility back Oleg Tarazalainnen who were able to gain yardage on the ground, through the air and on returns, the visitors controlled the flow of the game until the very end. As for the Dragons, the expectations this year are higher for this team with another year of experience under their belt, and they will surely try to right their ship in the following months.
Division Ural
This year, the easternmost division of LAF features perennial contenders in Ekaterinburg Lightings and Chelyabinsk Tanks, joined by the Chelyabinsk Scouts (who last year played under the name of Team Urals), as well as a new franchise from Kazakhstan in Astana Wolves. With all of the teams playing in other year in and year out, they know each other very well and will surely see a lot of uncompromising rivalries.

Chelyabinsk Scouts 0 – Chelyabinsk Tanks 49

Photo credit: Ekaterina Nikulina

With several key players living the Scouts to the crosstown rivals amid the leadership crisis last year, this game became a very important matchup for the hosts – but unfortunately, all of their effort was for naught as the Tanks have outgunned them in all phases of the game. Having taken the initial kick-off to the house, they have never looked back offensively while controlling the ball for much of the game, without giving the Scots almost any time to catch up.

Division Volga

The smallest division in LAF has three teams this season in probably the top team in the nation outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg in Perm Steel Tigers, joined by Izhevsk, who have only played in smaller regional tournament in the last couple of years, as well as the only returning team from last year in Samara Stormbringers. Last years winners Nizhny Novgorod Raiders 52 are skipping this season to play in the other tournaments.

Izhevsk Steelers 14 – Perm Steel Tigers 34

The game was highlighted by the quarterback duel of the experienced QB Evgeny Zakharov leading Steel Tigers and QB Evegeny Merkushev taking the helm of the Steelers. With both of these players professing a similar style of mobile play, the result came down to the execution by the rest of the offense, where the more experienced Perm squad did a much better job throughout the game. Although both QB’s have scored both through the air and on the ground, the hosts never came closer than one possession early in the 3rd quarter.

After being involved in bringing American football to his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, Ilya would go on to play in the Japanese X-League, helping his side Tokyo Bullseyes advance all the way to the top tier of the league and become the only