The Russian SuperLeague kicked off this past weekend with eight of the league’s 15 teams in action. Growth has forced an exciting new structure of Russia’s top American football league, so let’s review the action!
Two divisions – the Big 5 and the Volga – saw play.
Big 5 Division
St. Petersburg Griffins 38 – Yaroslavl Rebels 0
The vastly more experienced Griffins proved to be way too much for the young Rebels who had to start their Superleague campaign with an away game against tough opponents. The hosts took them by storm from the very beginning: getting a field goal on their opening drive, scoring defensively on the ensuing possession, and then getting touchdowns on the next four consecutive drives.
Remarkably, all four (two rushing and two receiving) were scored by TE Andrey Ivanov, regarded by many as the best player in the nation at his position despite his relatively short frame. Leading 38-0 early in the 2nd quarter, the Griffins started to pull their starters out, until only the 2nd and 3rd string were left in the game by the start of the 2nd half. They couldn’t sustain the same level of pressure and didn’t get to the end zone again, while the reserve defense played much softer and allowed the Rebels offense to get into rhythm and consistently drive down the field. However, their turnovers ultimately never allowed them to get on the board and the second half ended scoreless.
Highlights: St. Petersburg Griffins v. Yaroslavl Rebels
[tps_title]Big 5 Division[/tps_title]
St. Petersburg North Legion 6 – Moscow United 14
The other game in St. Petersburg was a much closer encounter. Compared to the last year, the host North Legion have not only re-branded (they used to be called the Vikings), but have also revamped their leadership and coaching staff, landing the national youth team coach Maxim Osokin as their HC as well as some of the country’s most experienced assistants. They gave United (which were viewed as a heavy favorite) all they could handle, playing some tough defense and getting on the board first in the 2nd quarter.
Even after that, United were only able to answer with a help of a pass interference penalty on a 4th down, tying the game at 6 at the half. However, the hosts started running out of luck in the second half, fumbling the ball twice and allowing United to convert a fake punt. The guests scored another passing touchdown in the 3rd quarter to take the lead. And although the guests’ missed field goal in the 4th quarter gave North Legion one final chance, they drove down the field but ultimately turned the ball over on downs, stopping short of an upset.
Moscow Dragons 0 – Moscow Spartans 34
On paper, this derby of two Moscow teams looked like an even match up of the two rookies of the Russian Championship series. But a deeper look reveals a big mismatch: the Moscow Dragons are based on one of the most successful youth football programs in the country and didn’t participate last year purely because of the lack of players over 18 to fill their roster; while the Spartans are actually one of the oldest and franchises in Russia that has previously participated in ELAF.
The star of the game was the Spartans quarterback Ivan Goloveshkin who ran for three scores and passed for another one, as his team cruised to a comfortable victory after dominating the trenches.
The Dragons had some limited success with their short passing game, but ultimately couldn’t sustain it under the constant pressure of the opponent that was much stronger physically. However, as the youngest team in the league by a large margin, they can’t complain getting some much needed experience against quality opposition.
Podolsk Vityaz 27 – Moscow Black Storm 0
Another team that switched from ELAF to the Russian Championship this season, Podolsk Vityaz from the Moscow region, hosted the Black Storm from the capital in the final game of the weekend.
Once regarded as one of the top franchises in Russia that won the Championship in 2013 with a roster full of stars from all over the world (they even tried to lure Tim Tebow to play in their Finals against the Moscow Patriots), the Black Storm has been in a state of financial and organizational limbo ever since. With a lot of skill position players leaving for other teams, they now have only one truly strong point left: their dominant and experienced offensive and defensive lines.
However, they didn’t prove to be much of a challenge against Vityaz, who were used to this kind of smash mouth football in the ELAF and were also extremely tough and aggressive at the line of scrimmage. That allowed them to shut down the guest’s offense, while being able to have a very balanced attack of their own, distributing the ball among their weapons very evenly while also adding a defensive touchdown of their own.