LIVE STREAM: Russia – Championship Game – St. Petersburg Griffins v. Moscow Patriots – Sat. Sept. 2 @ 3p (2p CEST, 8a EDT)

The 2017 season has seen plenty of qualitative growth for the Russia-based League of American Football. The level of play, fan exposure and outreach have all seen visible improvement, but now the competition comes down to the final showdown between the St. Petersburg Griffins and the Moscow Patriots this upcoming Saturday at Sapsan Arena in Moscow. Let’s see how the teams got there and what to expect from the game.

Moscow Patriots

The perennial champion figures out to be a favorite for the title in Russia year in and year out. This year, they’re taking part in their Final number 14, looking to grab the championship for the 13th time. While this number of victories might suggests a lack of motivation by the experienced squad, undoubtedly the Griffins will not get any slack on Saturday – they have a special place in the Patriots history as the only team that managed to beat them in the final game back in 2015.

Having not lost a game on their way to recapturing their title in season 2016, in the 2017 regular season they did, however, suffer a defeat against the new rising power in the Moscow Spartans in a close defensive battle. Other than that, their season has been pretty smooth so far, and they didn’t appear to lose a step in any other game; that includes a dominant regular season victory over the Griffins in St. Petersburg, as well as the semifinal game against the Steel Tigers in a far-away city of Perm.

Steel Tigers can’t find a running lane among the swarming Patriots defenders / photo courtesy Polina Stepanyuk

Boasting probably the best wide receiver duo in young Alexander Belov and the 2016 Offensive POY Denis Pisarev, who catch the balls from the nation’s most experienced QB Igor Chernolutsky, they have a great mixture of the young talent and experience. Their defense, on the other hand, has been greatly improved by the top-notch transfers in the past couple of year and became the most dominant unit in LAF this season, having conceded only 20 total points in seven regular season contests. On both sides of the ball, they appear to be in a much better shape than they were when they lost in the 2015 Final.

St. Petersburg Griffins

After many years of contending, the Griffins were finally able to capture their long-coveted first title in 2015, but the following season has largely been disappointing for the St. Petersburg team. Having been decimated by injuries and a quarterback carousel, they made the playoffs but didn’t advance beyond quarterfinals, where they lost to the Moscow Spartans. That gave way to a rebuilding process that lasted well into 2017 season.

Entering this season with a revamped offensive and defensive systems, the Griffins went through some growing pains throughout the regular season, having had a couple of close games against the inferior opponents and losing to both the Patriots and the Spartans at home with a large margin. Despite the fact that they were clicking more and more as the season went on, they were not considered a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs, as it was widely assumed that it will all come down to the 2016 rematch between the two Moscow squads. However, they stunned the undefeated Spartans in the semifinals 13-12.

Griffins defenders holding their breath in the final moments of their 1-point playoff victory / photo courtesy Mikhail Klaviaturov

With an option offense led now solidly led by the 2015 Final MVP Anton Bagautdinov at quarterback, and an aggressively blitzing 34 defense, they posses a similar philosophy on both sides of the ball: utilize their speed advantage to the maximum and create favorable mathups at the perimeter. When they executed this strategy to perfection in the semifinals, they managed to slay the giant and defeat the title favorite Spartans. But in the Final, they will have to play a better game still, if they are to have a chance.

Watch the game live here, USD 5. Moscow Patriots v. St. Petersburg Griffins, Saturday, September 2, 3p (2p CEST, 8a EDT) Sapsan Arena, Mowcow 

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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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