Playoffs kick off with a bang in Russia

The first round of the playoffs in the League of American Football of Russia has exceeded all the possible expectation. Having pitched together the teams from the different divisions, including some pairs that have never played each other before, it gave the fans many reasons to follow the games and see where their teams truly stand in the nation. But it didn’t end there, as most games became very tight and weren’t decided until the last possessions, bringing about all the excitement that you can expect from playoff football.

St. Petersburg North Legion 27 – St. Petersburg Griffins 30

ЛАФ-2016. Плей-офф. 1/8 финала. «Северный Легион» — «Грифоны». Эпизод матча. Фото: Леонид Анциферов / First & Goal

Photo: Leonid Antsiferov / First & Goal

The perennial derby of St. Petersburg only happened in the playoffs this season, as the North Legion decided to drop out of the Premier Division in Russia for 2016 and didn’t see the Griffins in the regular season. But an elimination game is as good a time as any to renew a long-standing rivalry.

After returning the initial kick-off for a score, the Legion saw their offense shut down in the first half, as the Griffins took a 10-7 lead into the break, which they later increased to ten points on two separate occasions thanks to the touchdowns by running back Andrei Mansurov and tight end Andrei Ivanov, each of whom has scored twice. But the Legion never gave up and kept fighting, eventually scoring twice in the fourth quarter to come within three points.

But the biggest drama was still ahead, as they got the ball for one final possession inside the two-minute warning. Moving the ball effectively, they managed to get well into the range of a field goal that would’ve sent the game into overtime – but decided to try to win it right then. The decision turned out to be fateful, as Denis Halturin of the Griffins intercepted Dmitry Shorikov’s pass in their own red zone to seal the game and see the reigning champions through the next round.

Sevastopol Titans 3 – Moscow Spartans 13

Иван Головешкин

In the first playoff game to ever be held in the Crimea, the local Titans hosted the Moscow Spartans, who had to travel for more than 2000 kilometers to reach the Black Sea city of Sevastopol. That caused a relatively slow game on both sides of the ball, as neither of the offenses was able to get into any kind of rhythm and was prone to turnovers.

As a result, the score was a low 6-3 for the Spartans as late as in the fourth quarter with all points off of field goals. Then running back Sergey Zhigarev of the guest team finally managed to find paydirt for the only touchdown of the game.

The Spartans will now face the Griffins in the second round of the playoffs in Russia for a rematch of last year’s semifinals. The winner of the game will travel to Belarus to face the Minsk Zubrs in a game for a spot in the Finals.

Perm Steel Tigers 12 – Podolsk Knights 13

The ELAF graduates from Podolsk had to travel all the way to the Ural mountains for their match-up against the Steel Tigers, who were dubbed as one of the most intriguing new teams to enter LAF this season. And the game did not disappoint.

Both teams were playing defense-first football, and only managed to trade touchdowns in the second quarter. However, Perm missed their extra point, which didn’t appear to be a fatal mistake at the time, especially since they scored again in the beginning of the third. Having failed their two-point conversion, they took a 12-7 lead into the final quarter, in which the Knights quarterback Pavel Levashov found Sergey Yakushev for their second score of the night to put his team up by one point (with another failed two-point conversion).

With enough time left on the clock, the Steel Tigers had two more possessions to get back into the game, but turned the ball over both times to lose by just one point to the vastly improving team from Podolsk.

Nizhny Novgorod Raiders 52 27 – Chelyabinsk Tanks 6

Артем Стасько («Танки») в матча с «Рэйдерс 52», 14 августа 2016 г. Фото: Дарья Конкина

Artem Stas (“Tank”) in a match with “Raiders 52”, 14 August 2016 Photo by Daria Konkin

The last game of the opening round in Russia saw the young Tanks who made the playoffs for the first time, face the much more experienced Raiders 52. Coming off a long road trip, they didn’t start well defensively, conceding two big play passing touchdowns to Nizhny Novgorod’s quarterback Kirill Zavyalov in the first quarter. They were able to get into the game later on, but without any offensive efficiency, lost the time of possession battle. That wore their defense down, and in the fourth quarter the Raiders 52 scored two more to put the game away. That came at a cost, however, as Zavyalov (who added another touchdown on the ground) got injured and might now miss the next playoff game.

The Raiders 52 will now host the Podolsk Knights in round two. The winner of the game will travel to Moscow to face the undefeated Patriots.

Photo credits: Leonid Antsiferov, Katerina Zotkina, Vladimir Shalimov, Daria Konkina

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