The Shanghai Warriors are returning to the American Football League of China (AFLC) championship game after downing the Chongqing Dockers 44-30 on a windswept Shanghai University field. The Warriors lost the 2013 final to the very same Dockers so this game was sweet revenge.
In the final on January 16, the Warriors will face their nemesis, the Shanghai Nighthawks who qualified by virtue of two playoff forfeitures.
Shanghai Warriors 44, Chongqing Dockers 30
Using a heavy dose of Kevin Cook (#44), who lined up in the backfield for much of the game, the Warriors cruised through their AFLC semifinal game against the visiting Chongqing Dockers on a chilly afternoon on the campus of Shanghai University, as the game was more lopsided than the score would indicate.
Cook was unstoppable for the hosts, racking up 126 yards on 16 carries with four touchdowns on the ground, to go with two catches for 35 yards and an additional score through the air. The Dockers were led by running back Marques Slocum, who picked up 51 yards on six carries, but also lost a fumble, one of four lost fumbles and six overall turnovers by Chongqing on the afternoon.
The Warriors set the tone early, as on the second play from scrimmage, Cook broke numerous tackles on his way to a 37-yard scoring run down the left sideline. On the ensuing kickoff, linebacker Franklin Zhang (1 tackle, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble) jarred the ball loose from Chongqing kick returner Lei Feng, but the Dockers were able to recover. Slocum took the carry on the Dockers’ first play, but Warriors linebacker Brian Stewart planted him at the line of scrimmage, knocking the ball free, and this time the hosts were there to pounce, as defensive end Neo Gao dove on the loose ball. Six plays later, quarterback Tim Gomez (12/22, 134 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) crossed the goal line for the Warriors from three yards out, giving them a double-digit advantage.
The Warriors have benefitted and suffered from momentum swings stemming from touchdowns scored just before halftime this season, and this time around it was the former. Gomez was picked off by his counterpart at quarterback Hao Lu, who also plays defensive back, and he returned the pass 25 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter to bring the Dockers to within 18-8.
But just like in the Warriors’ first game against the Shanghai Titans back in October, Gomez was able to pick out a receiver in the end zone on the final play of the half, and wide receiver Qiming Xiao (3 catches, 52 yards, 1 TD) pulled in a jump ball in double coverage to give the hosts a 26-8 lead at the half.
Former Michigan Wolverines tight end Carson Butler (#7) looked to swing the momentum himself for the Dockers, as he took off on a 48-yard run on their first play of the second half, with Cook making the saving tackle. Butler, lining up under center, outflanked the Warriors defense on a quarterback keeper keeper to the right from 12 yards out to finish off the drive on the next play.
Cook would soon respond in resounding fashion for the Warriors however. The hosts looked to have turned the ball over on downs on a fourth and goal when Cook failed to reach the end zone on an option pitch, but Butler was flagged for a facemask penalty, giving the Warriors first and goal from the three. Cook burrowed his way across the goal line on the next play for a 32-16 Warriors lead.
On the ensuing Dockers possession, former Ball State and Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Wendell Brown (2/7, 62 yards, 2 TD passing) was hit in the backfield by Warriors defensive lineman Jimmy Christensen and fumbled, and linebacker J.P. Neal was there to cover up for the hosts.
Multiple Chongqing defensive linemen jumped off-sides on the very next play, giving the Warriors a free play, and Cook made them pay, hauling in a 27-yard score down the seam. Cook found pay dirt for the fifth time on a direct snap from two yards out early in the fourth quarter to put the game away at 44-16, as two Dockers touchdowns later in the period were too little, too late.
Championship game preview
Championship game details and an in-depth preview is to come for this titanic clash, in what will undoubtedly be the biggest game in the brief history of American football in China.