Author Archives: Joran Palacio

CAFL Super Series IV Recap

Super Series IV was the most upset-filled slate of week of football this season has seen yet. This week saw the China Bowl matchup set, thanks to a couple surprising Qingdao and Guangzhou wins.

Beijing Lions 70, Dalian Dragon Kings 25:

The most surprising part of this game was that Dalian actually lead during the game. At the end of the first quarter, the Dragon Kings (0-4) led 13-7. From there, like everyone expected, it was all Beijing (4-0).

When trailing 19-14, Beijing went on to score 55 straight points, and ultimately never looked back getting the huge 45 point win and capturing the much deserved No. 1 seed in the China Bowl on Nov. 6 in Shanghai.

The Lions were led by the dynamic duo of Luke Collis and Collin Taylor who hooked up for two touchdowns and 56 yards. Taylor said on the This Week in AFL podcast he planned on Beijing scoring a lot of touchdowns, and he was absolutely right. The Lions put up 70, setting a new CAFL record. They also set a record for largest margin of victory, with the 45 point drubbing.

Dalian’s struggles continue as the offense can not keep up with anyone else in the league. The Dragon Kings have only scored 77 points across their four games, averaging 19 points per game. In an arena football league 19 points is unacceptable, and it looks likely that Dalian will finish the season without a win.

Qingdao Clipper 51, Shanghai Skywalkers 49:

This was the most anticipated game of the week heading in and it delivered, becoming one of the most tightly contested this season, challenging for the “game of the season” title.

This entire game was back and forth until Shanghai (2-2) took a 35-20 lead to start the second half, but Clipper (3-1) quarterback Bryan Randall scrambled into the endzone from thirteen yards out.

Three plays later, the turnover bug caught Shane Austin again as Rayshaun Kizer picked him off. Randall ran the ball into the endzone again and all of the sudden that two possession lead evaporated.

The two teams traded scores until Shanghai held a 49-48 lead. Shanghai’s drive stalled late in the game and Qingdao got the ball back with a chance to score and win the game. The Clipper got inside the 10 yard line but a couple incompletions later it was fourth and goal.

Instead of sending out the offense to try and power the ball in, head coach Rod Miller sent out the kicking team to attempt to make the first ever field goal in CAFL history. From 21 yards Qingdao kicker Chao Ran Li put it through the uprights, as time expired to win the game for the Clipper.
Since the Power beat the Naja on Sunday, the Clipper will face off against the Beijing Lions in the first ever China Bowl on Nov. 6. Shanghai has to be the disappointment of the season. They looked to be the strongest team in the league, but will miss the championship.

Guangzhou Power 47, Shenzhen Naja 39:

In perhaps the most shocking game of the week, the Power (2-2) got the eight point win over the Naja (1-3) in the Super Series finale on Sunday, in front of the Guangzhou faithful.

The game was pretty closely contested until the Power jumped out to a 26-7 advantage. The two sides traded scores until the score read 40-21 at the end of the third quarter. To kickstart the fourth Dak Britt found Xinhe Xu for a 12 yard score to pull within 13. The Naja then got a stop on defense thanks to the second Terrance Smith interception of the game, which led to more Naja points, only trailing by a possession.

The ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Naja and a play later Shenzhen scored on a 42 yard pass from Britt to Sze Ting Liu to bring the score to 40-39 Power, with little time left. Shenzhen had to go for the onside one last time, this time however, the Power recovered, and scored one last insurance touchdown to put the icing on the cake, for the 47-39 victory.

The Power played spoilers this week, had Shenzhen won, it would have created a scenario where three teams could have been the No. 2 seed. But because they won the entire playoffs are now set in stone. The Beijing Lions will face the Qingdao Clipper in the China Bowl.

The Shanghai Skywalkers will face off against the Guangzhou Power in the battle of the third and fourth seeds. Lastly, the Shenzhen Naja face off against the Dalian Dragon Kings in the fifth vs. sixth seed matchup.

These games are all two weeks away, on Nov. 6, so with one more week of regular season play left it will be interesting to see how careful the top two seeds are with their starters.


CAFL Super Series II Recap

Neither of the two Super Series have disappointed, as this past weekend’s slate of games were filled with a pair of nail biting matchups, between teams trying to get their first win and teams scratching and crawling their way to stay undefeated in the early stage of the season.

Shanghai Skywalkers 45, Guangzhou Power 32

In the first game of the weekend we saw two teams who lost by a combined four points in Super Series I face off and try to get their first win of the season.

Shanghai, led by Shane Austin at quarterback, scored on their first possession but after that, Cameron McGlenn and the rest of the Power defense came up big in the first half, intercepting Austin twice and turned those extra two possessions into points scoring both times taking a 26-19 lead into the half.

In the second half, Shanghai looked like the team that everyone expected them to be and they dominated the rest of the game. The Skywalkers only gave up six points the entire second half, and poured on the scoring, eventually taking a 37-32 lead.

For the second week in a row the Power offense had opportunities to score and try to get back into the game late, but a few turnovers prevented them from doing so. A Dashawn Johnson fumble and a J.J. Raterink interception gave Shanghai all the power needed to seal the victory for them 45-32.

Next week in Super Series III Shanghai will meet the very talented Shenzhen Naja and Guangzhou will be looking to get their first win against the Dalian Dragon Kings.

Beijing Lions 48, Shenzhen Naja 41

For the second week in a row the Beijing Lions played in the game of the week, this time squeezing out a tight 48-41 victory over the Shenzhen Naja.

The first ever matchup between two unbeatens saw a back and forth first half ensue but three Naja turnovers, thanks to a James Romain interception and fumble recovery and a Torrez Jones pick, saw the Lions take a 28-15 into the break.

However coming straight out of the break Shenzhen picked a Luke Collis pass off and a few plays later Dak Britt ran the ball in cutting the lead to seven. The two teams would trade a couple scores and took a 41-28 lead into the final quarter.

For the second week in a row, Beijing struggled to close out a game as they turned the ball over on downs after a Naja touchdown with only a couple minutes left to play in the game. Seven plays later Shenzhen knotted the game up at 41 after a Britt pass to Shida Wang on fourth down with only 1:55 left to go.

On the ensuing drive the Lions only needed four plays for Collis to find Erwin Sennett Wu for 23 yards and the game winning touchdown.

Beijing escaped for the second week in a row after giving up a lead late in the game and go on to play another undefeated, the Qingdao Clipper. On the other hand Shenzhen will have their hands full with the Shanghai Skywalkers in Super Series III.

Qingdao Clipper 43, Dalian Dragon Kings 26

Qingdao proved on Sunday why they might have the best defense in the entire CAFL, holding Dalian to only 26 points and only giving up 61 total combined points through two weeks of play. On the flip side of that coin Dalian’s offense continues to struggle only scoring 45 points through two weeks of play in two losing efforts.

However for the greater part of the game, these two were locked in a back and forth battle. Perhaps the most dangerous duo in the CAFL, Bryan Randall and Reggie Gray connected for a score taking a 21-12 Clipper lead into the half.

In the third quarter, Talib Wise led the charge in bringing the Dragon Kings back into the game, only trailing by eight at the end of the third quarter, 34-26.

However, Dalian would not see their endzone for the rest of the game. In fact, the only time Dalian saw an endzone in the fourth quarter was when they gave up a safety giving Qingdao a 10 point lead and the ball back. The Clipper held on for a 43-26 win over the Dragon Kings.

Next week Dalian faces off against another winless team, the Guangzhou Power and the Qingdao Clipper host the Beijing Lions at the Qingdao Sports Center in front of the hometown crowd.

CAFL Super Series I Recap

What a weekend of football the 11,500 Chinese got to watch at the LeSports Center in Beijing. The day started with an extremely close contest and ended with an absolute thriller, it is safe to say the first week of Chinese Arena Football can be marked down as a success.

Guangzhou Power vs. Qingdao Clipper:
In the first ever CAFL game the Power and the Clipper were the perfect opener for a wild day of football, this game was close all the way through, with both teams trading scores going back and forth, in the end the Clipper came out on top 38-35.

Clipper quarterback Bryan Randall connected with wide out Reggie Gray for the first ever receiving touchdown in the franchise’s history. The duo connected three more times for scores in the game showing they could be a very dangerous pairing for the rest of the season.

The fate of the game was sealed in the fourth quarter where the Power turned the ball over twice, one of which was an interception by Tanner Varner, the first interception marked down in league history. With 23 seconds left, a Power fumble was the final nail in the coffin, giving the Clipper the win.

Qingdao are looking to jump to (2-0) when they take on the Dalian Dragon Kings next week. Despite the loss, the Power played very well, but have to play even better to beat their next opponent, the Shanghai Skywalkers.

Shenzhen Naja vs. Dalian Dragon Kings:
The second game of the day saw the Naja take on Dragon Kings, and from the start it was apparent the Dragon Kings were missing their No. 1 draft pick, the Naja took this one 47-13.

The Naja ended the first half by scoring 13 points in a matter of 3 minutes to take a 22-7 lead into the half and never looked back from there. The second half saw the Dragon Kings turn the ball over three times, which turned into three Naja scores.

In a history making moment the Naja saw quarterback Tao Yu run in a touchdown becoming the first quarterback to do that in the league’s very brief history.

With only six points scored in the second half it is clear that the Dragon Kings offense is really missing Joe Hills. Hills was the team’s first round draft pick but decided not to make the trip out to China electing to stay home in the U.S.

Next week the Naja will be put to the test as they go up against the Beijing Lions. The Dragon Kings will be looking to turn things around in front of the home crowd at the Dalian Superdome when they take on Qingdao.

Beijing Lions vs. Shanghai Skywalkers:
In the first weekend of the season, football fans might have seen the game of the season. In an overtime thriller, the Beijing Lions held on to beat Shanghai 54-53.

For the entire game Beijing had the lead, the Lions played in front for the entire way. At the end of the first quarter, they had a 20-6 lead. Then at the half, the Lions led by eight taking a 27-19 lead into the break. Both teams scored once in the third to take a 34-26 game into the final quarter.

Then, at the death, down by eight points with just 16 seconds left on the clock, Skywalkers quarterback Shane Austin tucked the ball in and ran into the endzone, a two point conversion later and the two teams were tied 47-47 at the end of regulation. The two were heading into overtime, a rarity in the AFL, let alone the CAFL.

On the first possession of the overtime period the Lions drove down the field and scored on a Chris Dieker run, an extra point later Beijing reclaimed their lead, 54-47. On the ensuing drive Shanghai took the ball and scored themselves but Skywalkers coach Derek Stingley decided to go for the win and went for two again. This time, however, the Lions defense made the stop and won the game 54-53.

The Lions will face off against another 1-0 team in the Shenzhen Naja next week, and the Skywalkers are looking to get their first win of the season against the Guangzhou Power.

Overall, the first weekend went extremely well for the CAFL, the eyes of the world were watching and were impressed, now the question is, how does the league respond to a great first week of play?

CAFL Season Preview

In less than 24 hours, the world will witness the dawn of a brand new league, the China Arena Football League. The CAFL features six teams in its debut year including the Dalian Dragon Kings, Shenzhen Naja, Qingdao Clipper, Guangzhou Power, Shanghai Skywalkers, and the Beijing Lions.
Every city will play host to three games per weekend dubbed a Super Series, culminating the weekend of Nov. 5 when the league crowns its first champion in the China Bowl in the Shanghai Oriental Stadium.

Beijing gets the honors of hosting the first slate of games in the debut season for the CAFL on Saturday, hosting three games, Guangzhou vs. Qingdao, Dalian vs. Shenzhen, and Shanghai vs. Beijing.

The teams have a combination of Chinese born talent and players from the Arena Football League that have made the trip from the United States. However, this first team features not a single AFL player on their roster, now.

Dalian Dragon Kings:
In the CAFL Draft, the Dragon Kings used their first round pick to secure Jacksonville Sharks wide receiver Joe Hills. Hills broke all kinds of records in the AFL in 2016 and was named AFL Offensive Player of the Year. However, news has come down that Hills will not be making the trip to China after all.

This leaves Dalian to be a giant question mark. Next to nothing is known about this team due to there not being a single AFL player on their roster, however, lack of knowledge does not equate to this team being bad. In fact, the Dragon Kings may be the team flying the most under the radar.

Shenzhen Naja:
Perhaps the most interesting team when it comes to strategy is the Shenzhen Naja. Head coach JW Kenton moved out to China a full two months before any other coaches did in order to evaluate Chinese talent.

Kenton then took those observations he made and then took it to the draft board with the plan to draft the best Chinese talent possible.

That being said there is still some AFL experience on this team, headed by ArenaBowl XXVIII champion offensive lineman Collin Madison and wide receiver Tristan Purifoy.

Qingdao Clipper:
The Clipper picked quarterback Bryan Randall with their first pick in the CAFL Draft.

Randall went to Virginia Tech, graduating in 2005, earning himself ACC Player of the Year honors in 2004. He has had a couple short stints in the AFL, one with the Pittsburgh Power in 2013 and with the Philadelphia Soul in 2015.

Offensively Randall is joined by wide out Xavier Boyce who caught six touchdown passes in 2015 with the Soul.

The star of this team however, is found on the other side of the ball, the 2016 AFL Defensive Player of the Year Jake Metz will be terrorizing quarterbacks for the Clipper, hoping to recreate what was a magical 2016 AFL season. He led the league with seven sacks.

Guangzhou Power:

The Power might have one of the more well rounded teams in the league, and it starts on the offensive side of the ball.

The Power have AFL veteran J.J. Raterink under center. Raterink is making his return to the 50 yard field after not playing in 2015, this is the same guy who broke Kurt Warner’s passing record while playing for the Iowa Barnstormers.

On the flip side of the ball the Power have Arizona Rattlers and 2016 All-Arena First Team Linebacker Tyre Glasper and former Rattlers defensive back Virgil Gray who racked up 47 INTs in his six year AFL tenure.

The Power’s head coach Ernesto Purnsley also has tons of experience in the Arena game, helping coach the 2005 Colorado Crush to an ArenaBowl.

Beijing Lions:

The Lions come into the season one of the teams in the hunt expected to challenge for a shot to get into the China Cup.

Defensively, the Lions are led by defensive back James Romain and defensive lineman Teddy Jennings, both coming from the Philadelphia Soul.

The Lions also have 2016 Second Team All-Arena Cleveland Gladiators wide receiver Collin Taylor catching touchdowns for them this year, hoping to start a new streak of touchdowns in consecutive games.

The Lions took two quarterbacks in the draft, Chris Dieker and Soul backup Luke Collis, and those two are battling it out to see who will start on Saturday against Shanghai.

Shanghai Skywalkers:

The Skywalkers are a popular choice to pick to win the championship this year and for a very good reason – this team is stacked.

With their first round pick Shanghai took Portland Steel quarterback Shane Austin who now, unlike his time in Portland, has a slew of dangerous targets to throw to. One of those targets includes Mike Washington who, over the span of five seasons, amassed 6,603 receiving yards and caught 138 touchdown passes.

The other variable that makes this team so dangerous is they are a mini version of the Philadelphia Soul. They are coached by the Soul’s defensive coordinator Derek Stingley, the same defense that held the Rattlers to 42 points in ArenaBowl XXIX. Second Team All-Arena defensive back Dwayne Hollis debuts with this team along with ArenaBowl XXIX MVP Shaun Kauleinamoku.

On paper, Shanghai certainly has all the pieces to win a championship in 2016, but as the saying goes, “there is no such things as paper champs”.

AFL 2016 Season Review

The 2016 Arena Football League season has officially come to an end, but what a year full of twists and turns this year brought fans.

If there was one word to describe and summarize the AFL this year, it would be its unpredictable.

The beginning of the 2016 season did was not kind to the league as four teams closed up shop in the AFL including the Spokane Shock, New Orleans Voodoo, Las Vegas Outlaws, and most notably, the defending ArenaBowl champions, the San Jose Sabercats.

The league was reduced down to eight teams, four teams per conference, with all the teams guaranteed a playoff spot. Going into the season there was four major title contenders: the Arizona Rattlers, Philadelphia Soul, Orlando Predators, and the runner ups from the 2015 ArenaBowl, the Jacksonville Sharks.

The unpredictability of the 2016 season started the very week the season kicked off with the Los Angeles KISS getting a huge 25 point win over the Sharks. In fact, for the second straight year, Jacksonville had an incredibly disappointing start to their season, starting 1-4.

The Rattlers are known for winning. That is all the team does. They are the perennial juggernaut of this league. However, when Arizona walked into the Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay on May 29 the game was seen as an afterthought from the beginning, but the, at the time, winless Tampa Bay Storm beat the Rattlers in a game that shocked everyone in the league.

The Predators quickly jumped out and made themselves the team to beat, starting the year off with seven straight wins and clinching a first round home game just 12 games into the season. But in that game against Jacksonville on June 18, Orlando’s season changed as quarterback Randy Hippeard was injured for the rest of the season, leaving backup Bernard Morris to fill in for an ArenaBowl contending team. Morris filled in the role maybe as well as he could, going 2-2. In those four games he started, he showed he definitely had the talent to be a starter rather than just a backup.

Philadelphia stayed consistently good throughout the length of the entire season, sweeping the Orlando and splitting the season series with both the Rattlers and Sharks. The Soul were beating the teams they were supposed to and splitting with the teams they were not, key to creating a very successful team.

They had the best defensive player in the league, Jake Metz, who led the league in sacks and had one of the most dynamic receiving groups in the league led by Darius Reynolds.

As the season began winding down and getting nearer and nearer to the postseason, it was a battle between Orlando and Arizona to see who was going to host ArenaBowl XXIX, and on July 18, a major step had been taken to deciding who would host the big one.

The Rattlers needed to win by 19 or more to control their own destiny with only one week left in the season after the Orlando game. Trailing by 20 points late in the fourth, Orlando coach Rob Keefe kills the clock to virtually no time left and kicks a chip shot field goal to bring the deficit down to 17, saving Orlando’s tiebreaker. The Predators had escaped.

Two weeks later, Orlando needed to get a win over the Soul to preserve their chance at hosting the ArenaBowl, after the Rattlers closed their season with a big win over Cleveland. Orlando simply could not keep up with Philadelphia on July 30, dropping that game, the regular season title, and the No. 1 seed in the American Conference by a score of 67-54.

Then came the circus that was the 2016 Arena Football playoffs.

The seeding went as follows in the National Conference: Arizona Rattlers, LA KISS, having the best season in franchise history, Cleveland Gladiators, and the Portland Steel.

Over on the American side the lineup looked like this: Philadelphia at the top followed by the Orlando Predators, Jacksonville Sharks, and Tampa Bay Storm.

And it did not take long to get a couple of great games to start off the playoffs.

First, the Gladiators and KISS battled in a great back and forth game in the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego on Aug. 7, the first playoff game in LA’s franchise history. The Gladiators eventually got the win thanks to a 22 point fourth quarter.

Then over in Orlando, the Predators and Jacksonville put on what some are calling perhaps the greatest game in Arena Football postseason history. A missed extra point coming off a last second Orlando touchdown sent the teams into overtime, Orlando scored on their first possession and this time kicked the extra point through the uprights. Jacksonville responded with a score of their own but decided to go for it all, interim coach Bob Landsee decided to go for two, and a Derrick Ross carry later saw the Sharks upset the Predators in Orlando, history had repeated itself.

Orlando had gone from being a single win away from having the chance to host the ArenaBowl to out of the playoffs in the first round just like that, showing that nothing is guaranteed in the Arena Football League.

The next week, after coming off of an emotional win the Sharks had to go to Allentown, PA to face off with the Soul to determine who would go on to face Arizona in the ArenaBowl, who had disposed of Portland and Cleveland in their two games, winning both by about 40.

The game could not have gotten off to a better start for Jacksonville as AFL Fan Zone QB of the Year, Dan Raudabaugh threw a pick six on the very first drive of the game killing the Allentown crowd. Both teams traded leads until two turnovers to start off the second half ultimately did Jacksonville in and secured the American Conference championship for Philadelphia.

The stage was set. Philadelphia vs Arizona III for ArenaBowl XXIX.

Both teams brought in a lot of the big season awards, Kevin Guy and Clint Dolziel won Co-Coaches of the Year, for sharing identical records (13-3) and both being on top of their conferences. Philadelphia’s Jake Metz won AFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Nick Davila won his third MVP award.

Going into the game the consensus was it was going to be a close game but in the end the Rattlers were at “home” (Gila River Arena in Glendale) and have not done a lot of losing at home, in fact they went undefeated at home in the regular season in 2016, so while it would be competitive, Arizona would come out on top.

That could not be further from what actually happened on the field.

Thanks to two Arizona turnovers, the Soul jumped out to a 21-0 lead. The first time Arizona trailed 21-0 since Guy has taken over as coach. The Rattlers being down by 21 at home, who could have predicted that?

Arizona eventually tied the game but had to play catch up the entire game and could not keep up with the Soul, Philadelphia played practically a perfect game, only turning the ball over a single time the entire game. Philadelphia won ArenaBowl XXIX by a final score of 56-42 in Arizona, with a much deserved win.

However, along with being a very unpredictable season, the 2016 season could also be the season of “what ifs” for a lot of teams. What if Randy Hippeard never got injured? What if LA started Pete Thomas or Nathan Stanley in the playoffs? What if Jacksonville did not turn over the ball twice to start off the second half against the Soul? What if Tommy Grady threw a hail mary pass to Joe Hills rather than a pass out on the flat to end the American Conference Championship game? What if the Rattlers did not give the Soul two free touchdowns to start off the ArenaBowl? Those 14 points off turnovers were the difference in the game.

While those questions remain hypothetical, the finish stays the same, the Philadelphia Soul led by owner Ron Jaworski, coach Clint Dolezel, and quarterback Dan Raudabaugh captured the Soul’s first title since 2008 in one of the most unique seasons in recent memory.