IFFL – In what many are calling the strongest final group of four in the IFFL’s short history, owing to the league’s new playoff format, the best franchises from around the world took to the field in Week 15 for the second half of the international semifinal. In concert with the expansion to 12 teams and 3 divisions, the league debuted a new playoff format that included a two-week Divisional Championship round in weeks 12 and 13. The three, newly crowned Division Champions, along with a Wild Card team based on regular season points, advanced to go head to head in weeks 14 and 15, and the games each turned out to be hard fought and dramatic from start to finish.
In Game 1, the Europa Division Champion Scottish Claymores(7-4-0) traveled all the way to Western Australia to face the Pacific Division Champion, Perth
Panthers (7-4-0), the event scheduled to be the debut event for Perth’s brand new Optus Stadium, finally completed as the Panther’s new home stadium. Both teams are 2017-18 Pro Bowl Nominated franchises, with the Claymores trying to return to the Championship for the first time since they lost in it in the league’s 2014 inaugural season, and the Panthers bent on making up for a 1 point loss that kept them out of it last season. Perth beat Scotland all the way back in the Week 1 opener and were hoping for a similer outcome, but in the first half, the Claymores jumped out to the advantage, leading 250-202 at the break. It was a back-and-forth battle that saw the lead change hands three times, with the largest lead being Scotland’s 91 point stretch on Sunday night, but Perth managed to close that gap a little on Monday behind their flexback, Kenyon Drake and his 193 yards from scrimmage for 39 points. Scotland lost one of their starting QBs to season ending injury in the game, but not before he racked up 4 touchdownd for the Claymores, with their QB2 adding 2 more for a combined 57 points, but that wasn’t much improved from the Panthers’ 49 points at the position. Where Scotland caused the most damage, was in the recieving game, tallying 543 yards in the air along with 4 touchdowns, while their defense racked up 27 fantasy points to Perth’s 4.
As the second half commenced in Week 15, the Panthers knew they would have to come up big to overcome the 48 point defecit, with the Claymores able to start Roethlisberger, playing in a likely shootout, in place of the IR bound Wentz, things could get out of control in a hurry. Perth struck first, with their own QB1, Matthew Stafford, in the Thursday game, getting a couple of touchdowns and 38 points from him, along with 12 points from one of their starting halfbacks. That erased the first half margin, putting the Panthers in the lead by 2 points, and they never let go of it through the remainder of the match. It was Perth that moved the ball successfully though the air this time, racking up over 150 yards receiving just from their backs alone, while their receivers added over 300 more. Scotland’s Big Ben did not repeat the 60 points he produced from the bench in Week 14, and with only 28 points, was still the highest scoring Claymore player on the day. Scoring 237 to Scotland’s 139, Perth’s second half fireworks gave them a final 439-389 win to advance to the International Championship.
Game 2 of the IFFL semifinals featured the Americas Division Champion Los Angeles Dragons (10-3-0), the league #1 and another of the league’s 2017-18 Pro Bowl Nominees. They’ve had a spectacular season after jumping leagues to the IFFL from the World League, just two years removed from winning the 2015 World Championship in World Bowl 4. The Dragons were hosting the Venice Killerwhales (7-4-0) who advanced to the semifinals as the Points Wild Card after losing the Europa Championship to the Claymores. Venice was one of just three teams to defeat Los Angeles in the regular season, beating them by a lopsided 258-139 in Week 5. Venice was the International League Champion in 2015, the same season the Dragons won their title, making the game the first ever playoff match in the Association between Champions from different leagues, and it lived up to all the build up. In the first half, after a few brief, very early lead changes, Venice took control and played from ahead throughout the weekend. They racked up 279 yards on the ground as well as 344 yards receiving, getting 20+ points from 4 roster positions including 45 points from their lead back, LeSean McCoy. Los Angeles, who’s unlikely QB tandem of Alex Smith and Case Keenum has been lighting the scoreboards up all season, had a muted day through the air, their signal callers accountiing for just 38 points, combined. Nevertheless, the Dragons fought their way back into the game with help from 38 points out of their lead back and another 21 from their Ram defense, and at the end of play on Sunday night, Venice held just a 4 point lead, 166-161. On Monday, the Whales managed to extend that lead with a performance that made all the difference in this one, their quarterback Jay Cutler throwing for 3 touchdowns and no interceptions for 41 points and a 207-161 Killerwhale lead at the half.
In the Week 15 second half of the game, the Dragons exploded out of the gate like the juggernaut they’ve been all season. They’re QB duo was back to normal, posting a combined 81 points on their 467 yards of passing and 4 touchdowns-0 interceptions, and they also got a 38 point, 158 yard performance from CJ Anderson as well as an incredible 69 points from Todd Gurley and his 180 all-purpose yards and 4 touchdowns. The Los Angeles receivers struggled, mightily, however, turning in just 125 yards and a lone touchdown for a total of just 28 points across 5 positions. The Killerwhales didn’t have that problem, recording 159 yards and 31 points with only 3 receiving positions, using both of their flex pots as backs. They kept pace with LA on the ground (20 yds/5 tds/ 90 points) and in the air (75 points) as well. As the afternoon games wound down, as good as they had been, the Dragons ran out of players and options, two points shy of another lead change, 420-422. The Killerwhales put up another 29 points in garbage time on Sunday and Monday night, to bring the final score to a 451-420 Venice victory and a date with the Panthers in the League Final.