St. Petersburg Griffins Dethrone Moscow Patriots, Take First Russian Title

Historically, the Moscow Patriots have been a household name in Russian American Football, but the St. Petersburg Griffins outlasted the powerful Patriots to claim their first Russian title 37-21.

The Patriots have taken 11 out of the 13 national championships in the history of Russian American football, the only exceptions being their inaugural season and 2013 when a millionaire Mikhail Zaltsman bought the Moscow Black Storm franchise and brought a roster of the European all-stars for just one season.

The Patriots have always been a powerhouse who’s dominance was unchallenged and unquestioned.

Russian Final 4

This trend seemed to continue this season as well – although St. Petersburg Griffins took a season opener, the Patriots rallied and dominated in the regular season rematch between the teams and looked like heavy favorites coming into their third meeting of the season in the final game.

However, the Griffins, celebrating their 10-year anniversary this season, were not to be denied their long-awaited trophy.

The game has set a very dynamic tone from the start, as both teams scored on their opening possessions. The Patriots defense has overemphasized covering two of the biggest stars on the Griffins offense in running back Igor Dementyev and tight end Andrey Ivanov, which opened up a lot of room for play-action and read option plays. That lead to wide receiver Daniil Musienko catching a long touchdown pass (his first of the season) on just the fifth play from scrimmage.

But the offense of the reigning champions was not to be outdone, and after their quarterback Igor Chernolutsky (who was named the Championship MVP before the game) found an opening for a scramble on a key third down, they were able to punch it in the end zone to tie the score.

Griffins RB Igor Demetyev stuffed by the Patriots defense

However, after that and through the end of the half, it was all Griffins.

First, they used a botched snap on a punt to start their offensive possession in the Patriots endzone, which quarterback Anton Bagautdinov converted into a score on the ground. Later on, he would add another score on a beautifully executed read-option QB keep, with his overall performance earning him the Finals MVP award despite the scrunity that he went through during the season for inconsistency.

QB Igor Chernolutsky setting for a pass

In the meantime, the Griffins defensive game plan also started to bear fruit. It became apparent that they intended to stop the high-scoring Patriots passing attack with an aggressive blitz package that didn’t leave Chernolutsky much time in the pocket.

It didn’t help them either that their number one receiver Alexander Khokhlov was injured for the game, but they just could find any offensive rhythm facing a five-man rush for the majority of offensive snaps.

However, the second half turned into a big defensive struggle, as the Patriots started to play with a more defensive balance. That paid off almost immediately when their cornerback Viktor But recovered a fumble that he returned for a score, before forcing another turnover that gave them a shot at a field goal, which the Patriots missed.

In the meantime, the Griffins only managed to muster a field goal of their own in the third quarter to enter the final one leading by 10.

That looked all too familiar to the St. Petersburg squad who faced the Patriots in the last year semifinals and took a 13-point lead into the fourth – only to lose the game by 1 point.

This time around, however, their suffocating defense held on – and even added two scores of its own on interceptions that sealed the game in their favor, despite another Patriot TD in the garbage time.

Griffins CB Igor Golubev comes up with a diving interception

And so, in what seems like the end of a whole era, the perennial champions Moscow Patriots have been dethroned.

It remains to be seen how they will be able to regroup and rally for the next year, whether the Griffins would be able to maintain this level of play and whether someone else would rise to challenge either club next season.

But for now, it’s time for the celebration in St. Petersburg with their first title, and for all the American Football fans to remember this game for years to come.

St. Petersburg Griffins, the 2015 Russian Champions

St. Petersburg v. Moscow Patriots Highlights:

St. Petersburg v. Moscow Patriots Full game:

Ilya Kravtsov
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 non-corporate team in X-1. He's currently the defensive coordinator of St. Petersburg Griffins, as well as the head coach of St. Petersburg Valkyries.
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