Who are Brazil’s main contenders for the BFA Title?

The 33 team Brazilian American Football League, BFA, is heading towards midseason with the Galo FA, winners of the last three titles, on a three-year, 38 game unbeaten streak. Let’s take a look at the front runners for the 2019 BFA crown as the race gets tighter and the main contenders start to detach from the rest in each of the four conferences

THE BIG FOUR

GALO FA: promoted as second-tier national champions in 2016, and BFA (national first-tier) champions in 2017 (under the name of Sada Cruzeiro and the coaching of Dan Levy), Galo Futebol Americano did the deed once again in 2018. This time, Lex Braga (defensive coordinator in 2017) steered the team as Galo beat the João Pessoa Espectros on their rival’s home field.

It was a never-to-be forgotten Brazil Bowl, a 17-13 thriller that would crown a long-term project for the team

As Braga and MVP quarterback Alvaro Fadini departed and headed to Austria and the Cineplexx Blue Devils, helping the team win the Silver Bowl, the team from Belo Horizonte has spent the 2019 state league and the first two games of the BFA, trying to figure out who was the best candidate behind center. Having lost their number two quarterback, Maycon Dacaza, Galo swapped all three QBs in the opener against Vila Velha Tritões. In the away game against Ribeirão Preto Challengers, new head coach Rodolfo Ruiz Morales seems to have picked recently acquired Yaggo Brito over long-time third-stringer Arthur Antunes and state championship superstar rookie Erick D’Paula.

Despite adding four wins to the streak this year, tying the national record of 38 games undefeated, the Galo are still trying to find their identity, with a new coaching staff, new playbook, new quarterbacks and new system. Right now seems to be the best moment for every-year-favorites and new dark horses to try taking over the throne!

JOÃO PESSOA ESPECTROS: If you talk about one big contender you have to talk about the perennial Northeastern Conference champions, João Pessoa Espectros. Having lost the last two title games to Galo FA, this year seems to be the year for the Espectros. After their long-time star quarterback Rodrigo Dantas suffered a torn ACL, the eight-time northeast champs went big and signed Alex Niznak for the starting job. The Central Michigan University prospect has played in Japan and Sweden, besides conference rivals Recife Mariners. 

The defeat in the last December title game still hurts. The 2018 Brasil Bowl was played in João Pessoa, Paraíba, and despite the home-field advantage the Espectros lost again after a Parris Lee come-from-behind touchdown with under two minutes to go in the last quarter. The last time the Espectros lost two bowl games in a row (2013 and 14, against the Crocodiles), they beat the same opponent in the following year finally becoming national champs. Could that be a good omen for the long awaited second title? It surely could, but the same duel can’t be repeated in the final match. If Espectros and Galo do become conference champions again, their rematch would take place in the national semifinals, and João Pessoa hosts the game one more time. 

TIMBÓ REX: Two-time champions at the national level and current Southern Conference champions, T-Rex always earns the spot among title-contenders. With spotless regular-season campaigns in the last two years, Timbó started the 2019 BFA title race on the wrong foot. A stunning 10-6 loss to recently-promoted Gaspar Black Hawks surely put the red-and-black side into a new perspective, but the five-time Santa Catarina state champs quickly shook it off and overwhelmed local rivals Jaraguá Breakers. Scoring 50 unanswered points and giving up only one first-down (within the mercy-ruled two-minute warning) the Rex regained their title aspirations.

With a new offensive coordinator in experienced journeyman Dennis Prants, T-Rex looks forward to a playoff run and a chance to play in Brazil Bowl once more, having missed it in the last two years. The loss to Galo FA in last year’s national semifinal game and the chance for a rematch in this year’s final are still in the back of every Timbó player’s mind, but, after a bad start, the coaching staff is well aware that the biggest focus should always be the next game, not the last. The highly-balanced southern conference requires full power all season long, and poor exhibitions such as the season opener aren’t the right path towards a third title.

TUBARÕES DO CERRADO: the current midwestern conference champions are on a roll as they try to repeat. As the conference has expanded again into 8 teams, it’s been divided into two divisions: Central and West. Placed in the first, the Tubarões have run over all three opponents and look poised to beat all three of them again. With a record-setting 79-0 score, followed by 56 unanswered points in the second game, the blue sharks from Brasília gave away their first points in a lopsided win against local rivals Leões de Judá: 46-2.

With the BFA’s leading offense, the 3-0 Tubarões still have a lot to prove, though. The much more balanced West division still has some traditional teams awaiting in eventual playoff matches, like Sorriso Hornets and Cuiabá Arsenal. Despite winning the conference last year, Tubarões are yet to score a single point in BFA national playoffs. After the conference title, they hosted the João Pessoa Espectros in Mané Garrincha (the 2014 FIFA World Cup stadium in Brasília) and lost 19-0. Looking to break the trend, the Tubarões can be the first team in the midwestern region to make it to Brazil Bowl since 2012 champions, Cuiabá Arsenal. Their record so far suggests they might, but the toughest tests still lie ahead of them.

THE DARK HORSES

SANTA MARIA SOLDIERS: After getting a thrilling promotion to the national top tier in 2016, fashioning a surprising 5-1 record and becoming Southern Conference runners-up in 2017, the Soldiers dropped down to a 3-3 record and a 4th place last year. Looking for improvement in the depth chart, the Soldiers recruited over 20 players for the 2019 season, but one player in specific has really turned the table: Glodie Biteke. The stud running back and former soccer player from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, has lived in Brazil since 2013, where, in the midst of tryouts for soccer teams, he started playing football four years ago. Biteke is playing in the BFA Elite for the first time this year and is already the biggest surprise in the conference.

Despite struggling in away games, the Soldiers lead the conference with a 3-0 record so far. Playing with confidence, the green soldiers from Santa Maria have taken down two-time national champions the Coritiba Crocodiles with a buzzer-beater field goal to make it a 3-0 final score. The 41-10 overwhelming win against the traditional Paraná HP also gave the Soldiers’ well-deserved confidence, and they are looking forward to winning their first conference title and putting the state of Rio Grande do Sul in the map of football in Brazil. Given their record so far and how well they’re playing, it might be a bit of an understatement to call the Santa Maria Soldiers a dark horse, but they still have some tough challenges ahead, such as Timbó-Rex and also the unbeaten Gaspar Black Hawks.

GASPAR BLACK HAWKS: Speaking of which, the Black Hawks are the best definition of a dark horse coming into the 2019 season. Although they achieved a flawless promotion to the BFA Elite tier under the head coaching of Rodolfo Ruiz (now in Galo FA) and run-stopping of star defensive tackle Caião Lucas Pereira, the Black Hawks fell against T-Rex and São José Istepôs in the state cup, missing the top 2.

Coming into their BFA premiere, little was known about the team from the small town of Gaspar, and they definitely took advantage of that. The shocking win against T-Rex by 10-6 (the first in the history of this rivalry) gave them the confidence every underdog needs. The Blackhawks now sit in second place in the Southern Conference. The 2-0 record the achieved after beating Jaraguá Breakers by 33-14 is surely no guarantee, and tough times still lie ahead as Coritiba Crocodiles, Paraná HP, São José Istepôs and Santa Maria Soldiers are yet to be played, but the Hawks have faith in their roster and their new Mexican head coach Rodrigo Rios. With Carraro under center, the offense looks promising, and the defensive side is surely ferocious as Caião is followed by Mexican linebacker Miguel Canseco, but the Black Hawks are still looking to prove themselves as contenders.

SORRISO HORNETS:

Joining the BFA for the first time last year, a lot was expected from the Hornets as the BFA began. Mato Grosso state champions in 2017 and 2018, they won national second-tier before joining BFA Elite last year, achieving remarkable 19 straight wins. The streak was broken by a disappointing loss to Leões de Judá, as the Hornets ended up losing two to Tubarões do Cerrado, including one in the Midwestern Conference final.

 Former NGL’s Atlanta Wildcats player and Henderson State University prospect, Terrence Bailey arrived this year to try to get a culture change. The linebacker/safety oversees the Hornets remodeling, as they’ve recruited a lot more players than they saw take off. Bailey will make an immediate impact on Sorriso’s defense, as he can play both inside the box, stopping runs and blitzing, as he can play deep in coverage, breaking passes and picking balls. The defense is also aided by poli-athlete Rodrigo “Hercules” Pinheiro, defensive lineman straight from Turkey’s Sakarya Tatankalari. The “Hercules” nickname wasn’t given out of nowhere, as he was a national javelin throw champion, weightlifting runner-up, and scored a third place in freestyle wrestling.

 Despite the strong start, beating big time rivals Cuiabá Arsenal and Sinop Coyotes, Sorriso saw their team drop a three-point loss to recently promoted Rondonópolis Hawks. The Hornets can’t afford to lose anymore as they face the three state rivals again, playing twice at home. The long awaited rematch against Tubarões do Cerrado might come in the playoffs, but the Hornets need to focus in the next three games first, since three teams have a 2-1 record in the West division, but only two make the playoffs.

 RECIFE MARINERS: The Mariners have been a long time pursuing the Northeastern Conference title, but the João Pessoa Espectros don’t seem willing to drop it. The blue side of Recife’s major dream is getting that spot for the first time and making it to the national semifinals, but every time they face the Espectros in the playoffs and lose, it seems the realistic goal they should set every year is the battle for the #2 seed against the Ceará Caçadores.

 As a matter of fact, that realistic battle has already been won, though. The Mariners, led by former Brown Deer High School quarterback Jake Schimenz, beat the Caçadores in an electrifying 36-34 away win last Sunday, setting the tone for who’s really fighting for the conference title. Traveling to face other local contenders in July, the Bulls Potiguares, the Mariners also beat them, this time by 30-21. Tied for first with one of the toughest schedules in the league, they find themselves with a 3-0 record, Recife plays a couple of games against Cavalaria 2 de Julho before finally hosting the Espectros. Last year, both teams played in João Pessoa in the regular season, as home beat the visitors by 13 points. They rematched in the conference final, but, with QB Jake Schimenz down with a broken fibula, the Mariners couldn’t keep pace and lost 39-3.

 This time, with Schimenz healthy and playing at the Arena Pernambuco (2014 FIFA World Cup stadium in Recife), the Mariners are looking to bring their “A game”. They’ve signed  former Oregon Ducks defensive back and linebacker Oshay Dunmore to play DB and WR. Dunmore has played for the Albany Empire in the Arena Football League, beside playing for the Espectros last year in the BFA. Knowing João Pessoa’s game well, Dunmore might be a turning point in Recife’s conference title pursuit.

 PORTUGUESA FA: The three-time São Paulo state champions in the 2016-18 span, Portuguesa FA (formerly called Lusa Lions) resigned from this year domestic tournament to focus entirely on the BFA League. In the past two years, the garnet-and-green side of São Paulo has missed the playoffs by tiebreakers. A crucial shocking 14-13 loss to local rivals São Paulo Storm in 2017 and a surprising 21-10 loss to Flamengo last year were crucial points for Lusa to miss the playoffs with respective records of 3-2 and 4-2, which was enough for other teams to make the southeastern playoffs in those seasons, beating Portuguesa by strength of schedule. 

 It seems hard to put much trust in whoever plays in the same conference all-star squad Galo FA, but this year really feels like their year. In 2018, they scored 20 points against a powerful Galo defense, the highest throughout the last three years. Lusa’s offense has always been very good, but having added national stud running back Branco Meneses, QB Catullo Goes, and his strong receiver core might have a new escape valve to get the game going. Young and talented linebacker Gabriel Pitta leads a defense that has added multiple pieces and looks to improve, since they had a 2018 season way worse than the year before in terms of points conceded.

 

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