Wroclaw Panthers cap historic season with dominant Polish Bowl victory

In a year where the world has learned to stay six feet apart, the Wroclaw Panthers have proved completely untouchable.

The undefeated Polish powerhouse culminated a historically dominant 2020 season on Saturday, washing their hands of the Bialystok Lowlanders with a decisive 48-12 victory in the 15th annual Polish Bowl. In the Panthers‘ seventh straight national title game appearance and their third consecutive title contest with the Lowlanders, head coach Jakub Samel’s team made excellence look routine as they ground out 522 yards of offense with overwhelming ball control. Against a physical Bialystok defensive line, the Panthers averaged 6.6 yards per carry and only allowed one sack in a total domination of the trenches.

“We worked hard to really focus on that the last two weeks,” German left tackle Sven Breidenbach said of his unit’s physical performance. “We had a talk before the game that we wanted to dominate from beginning to end and make sure everyone knew we can dominate against a defensive line as big and strong as that one.”

Photo: Lukasz Skwiot

While the Panthers offensive line kept their teammates clean, the Wroclaw defense spent plenty of time getting their opponents dirty. After the Panthers opened the scoring on their first drive with a 30-yard Piotr Golacki field goal, Lowlanders quarterback Brandon Gwinner quickly got a taste of what he would be in for when Adrian Brudny collapsed the pocket with what can only be described as an absolute manhandling of left guard Konrad Dzienis. Gwinner managed to step up in the pocket, only to be demolished from behind by Thiadric Hansen, who clearly felt his championship game highlight reel required a hit to match his game changer in the Grey Cup a year ago. Brudny was hurt on the next play, but the Panthers wouldn’t slow down, making Gwinner uncomfortable all game long and recording five sacks.

The Wroclaw offense went to work shortly thereafter. On the next series, Jakub Mazan caught a short pass from quarterback Bartek Dziedzic and reversed field for a 69-yard romp to the Lowlanders ten-yard line. A Wojciech Pacewicz pass breakup in the endzone kept the Panthers to a 27-yard field goal but they would not be easily satisfied. A drive later, Wroclaw got its guards up to the second level on on a beautifully executed inside zone play and Hawaiian running back Ryan Tuiasoa only needed one cut to break it 39 yards for the games first touchdown.

Wroclaw RB Ryan Tuiasoa ran for 125 yards and 1 TD in three quarters of play Photo: Lukasz Skwiot

The Lowlanders responded with a rare drive to end the first quarter and Gwinner opened the second frame with a tough 14-yard touchdown run, keeping it on the read option and powering through three tacklers on the way to the endzone. It would prove only a brief moment of respite. The import fumbled the snap on the point after attempt and the Panthers onslaught quickly resumed, this time through the air. With all the time in the world to throw, Dziedzic waited for Przemyslaw Banat to come open deep and hit him perfectly in stride for a 38-yard touchdown. After shutting down the Lowlanders yet again, the Panthers were back on the march and this time it was Wiktor Zieba’s turn to score, catching a short hook and then powering across the goal line for a 14-yard touchdown. The downpour of points was only stopped when Adam Roszkowski read the Dziedzic rollout perfectly to record the Lowlanders only sack of the game and hold Wroclaw to a missed 38-yard field goal to make it 27-6 at the half.

Any hopes of a second half Bialystok comeback would be quickly silenced. The Panthers set up a wide receiver screen to Jakub Mazan early in the third quarter and the Polish speedster easily ran between his blockers, stiff armed safety Tommy Kaczocha and took the pass 49 yards to paydirt. A Hubert Ogrodowczyk sack got Wroclaw back the ball and Mazan decided to take social distancing literally on his second touchdown of the quarter, leaking in behind the play and catching an easy 23-yard pass in the endzone with nobody else within 20 yards.

The Lowlanders would regain some momentum towards the end of the quarter, but Tobiasz Witallis was able to box out Tomasz Zubrycki for the game’s only takeaway. With backups now in the game, the Panthers line blew open a hole on the left side to allow Damian Kwiatkowski a clear path for an 82-yard touchdown, but that would be called back for an illegal block. Some unsportsmanlike conduct by the Panthers soon gave the Lowlanders great field position for Gwinner to run in his second touchdown from seven yards out.

Wroclaw kicker kicker Piotr Golacki Photo: Lukasz Skwiot

The points would be for little more than show however. The Lowlanders fell short on both the two point attempt and the onside kick, allowing Kwiatkowski to ice a game that was never really in question with a 34-yard run up the middle. Dominating from start to finish, the Panthers uncorked the champagne to celebrate a 48-12 victory.

“It’s a great feeling to finish the season undefeated and to win after a long year,” said Ryan Tuiasoa in the aftermath. “There’s always a lot of pressure on us being the favorites, but I think everybody did excellent to execute and get the job done. This is what is expected of us at Panthers, and it feels great to take care of business.”

Tuiasoa finished the day with 20 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown, along with four receptions for 21 yards in a little less than three quarters of play. Damian Kwiatkowski added nine carries for 79 yards and a score in relief. Neither was good enough to be named MVP as that honor went to homegrown quarterback Bartek Dziedzic, who capped a year that would rival any import by going 19 of 25 passing for 309 yards and four touchdowns. Jakub Mazan was named the offensive player of the game with six catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns, while Winnipeg Blue Bomber Thiadric Hansen was the defensive honoree as he adds a Polish Bowl ring to his Grey Cup hardware from 2019.

Wroclaw QB Bartek Dziedzic threw for 309 yards and 4 TDs Photo: Lukasz Skwiot

The Hansen-led defense was stifling all game long, holding Brandon Gwinner to just 14 of 26 passing for 143 yards and an interception. Gwinner added six carries for 27 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, but his star backfield counterpart, the bruising Brit Glen Toonga, only managed seven carries for 36 yards and three receptions for 11 yards in the loss. Import Tommy Kaczocha led the Lowlanders through the air with five receptions for 69 yards.

With their second consecutive Polish Bowl victory, the Panthers enter a new era in franchise history. After fielding perhaps their most complete team ever and blowing away the rest of Poland, Wroclaw has earned attention and acclaim that no Polish team has seen before. With the club slated to join the new European League of Football for a full German schedule in 2021, the biggest tests still linger on the horizon but it appears the Panthers have rapidly built a culture of excellence to rival any in international football. Right now, they don’t have to anything else to prove until after the champagne dries and the cigars go out.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.