Titans, Warriors headed for Shanghai Showdown in Chinese title game

The American Football League of China semifinals featured three Shanghai teams with two now headed for the championship game. The Shanghai Titans  took down the Shanghai Nighthawks while the Shanghai Warriors took care of business in Chengdu against the Pandaman.

Both teams will be looking to become the first team in league history to win two championships when they face each other in the title game in two weeks.

Shanghai Titans 27 – Shanghai Nighthawks 14

On a chilly day in Shanghai, the Titans emerged victorious by taking an early lead, and maintaining it by mixing up an effective mid-range passing game and running game. The Titans started off the game driving right down into Nighthawks territory, and took a 6-0 lead on Kyle Moran’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Jibril Rasheed (#16, 2 receiving TDs). Later in the quarter, Matt Smith (#3) fielded a punt, broke one tackle, and found space down the sideline, returning it 54 yards for another Titans touchdown. There was controversy on the play as to whether or not Smith’s knee touched the ground as he was catching the punt, but the referees did not rule he was down, and the play stood, giving the Titans a 14-0 lead.

The Nighthawks would hit a big passing play on their next possession however, as Clarence Jeffery (#11) found Justin Chun (#83) deep down the middle for a 46-yard gain. Zhang Tianshou (#44) then carried the ball into the end zone from 4 yards out to make the score 14-6 Titans. Just before the end of the half however, the Titans would strike again, as Moran threw a short pass to Eason Chen (#47), who dodged multiple tackles and dove into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown to make it 21-6.

The Nighthawks would once again draw to within one touchdown in the third quarter. On a Nighthawks punt, Smith took the ball, and trying to avoid a Nighthawks player, ran backwards into the end zone, where he was tackled by Josh Hoko (#5). The officials ruled that Smith fumbled the ball, and Justin Chun scooped the ball up in the end zone for a touchdown. The call was yet another controversial one in a game full of them, but this one went the Nighthawks’ way, making the score 21-14. But the Titans would answer right back, as they drove down the field, and Rasheed once again burned the Nighthawks, breaking numerous tackles and producing possibly the play of the year on a 19-yard touchdown reception from Smith.

With the score 27-14 in favor of the Titans, the game was called early in the fourth quarter due to a fight that broke out resulting in multiple player ejections. The Titans will now play the Shanghai Warriors, in what will be their second straight title game appearance, looking to be the first team to win back to back championships in AFLC history.

Shanghai Warriors 26 – Chengdu Pandaman 8

The Warriors traveled to Chengdu, and knocked off the previously undefeated Pandaman, using a bend-but-don’t-break defense and an effective rushing attack as well as clutch plays in the passing game. The weather was perfect for football, and the visitors started off on the right foot, forcing a three and out on Chengdu’s first series of the game. On the next play, Mike Li (#55, 4 tackles) rushed into the backfield to block the punt, and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety. The Warriors marched right down the field on their first possession of the game, and scored when Chris Gardner (#2, 110 passing yards, 2 TD 1 INT, 30 rushing yards, 2 TDs) ran into the end zone untouched from 2 yards out, giving the Warriors an early 8-0 advantage.

Throughout the rest of the first half, the Pandaman began to move the ball fairly effectively, as running back Floyd Simmons (#5, 1 rushing TD) helped the hosts advance downfield with medium-range gains. The Warriors would clamp down on defense when Chengdu approached the end zone however, and forced multiple turnovers on downs. With about a minute remaining in the half, Gardner quickly moved the Warrior offense with two long runs, and then hit Curtis Good (#1, 2 catches, 29 yards, 1 TD, 8 tackles and 1 INT on defense) over the middle for an 8-yard touchdown to give the visitors a 14-0 lead at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the Warriors again put together a drive, as Good and Danny Zhang (#6, 4 catches, 60 yards) each came up with big catches to set up a 4-yard touchdown run for Gardner that gave the Warriors a commanding 20-0 lead. Chengdu answered with a long drive of their own, as quarterback Ivan Yuan (#7) found wide receiver Rivers Zheng (#11) for a 41-yard gain, and Simmons finished off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run that finally put the Pandaman on the board, making it 20-8. Both teams would struggle on offense in the fourth quarter, but a Pandaman turnover deep inside their own territory midway through the quarter would seal their fate. With a short field to work with, Gardner found a leaping Johnson Lu (#11) in the front of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 26-8. Good made an interception on the ensuing Chengdu possession to close out the game, giving the Warriors their second straight road playoff victory, and third Championship Game appearance.

Danny Zhang is a Chinese-American college student who grew up playing American football in the Boston area. He has a keen interest in the development of the sport in China, where he has recently studied, worked, and experienced football’s rapid