IFFL – Continuing their push into the Asian markets, the IFFL held their two-week championship in Tokyo, Japan this year, billing it as the Tokyo International Exposition and Championship, and the event was a huge successs. Featuring two of the farthest flung franchises in the International League, the Venice Killerwhales (7-4-0(1-2)) and the Perth Panthers (7-4-0(3-0)), each of the clubs also annual league powerhouses, and the two-week match featured some of the best football of the season. The two week Exposition drew a large contingent of fans traveling around the world to see their teams in the final, as well as a large cadre of the IFFL’s growing Japanese fanbase.
Champions of the League’s new Pacific Division (and Champions of the now defunct South Division last year), Coach C’s Perth Panthers were well represented by their fans and were seen to have a bit of a homefield advantage in their first ever Championship appearance. After beating the expansion Hawaiian Beach Bums, 388-342 for the Division title in the IFFL’s first ever Divisional Playoff Round, Perth went on to face the Europa Division Champions, the Scottish Claymores, who they beat, 439-389, in the Final Four, outscoring the Claymores by 98 points in a convincing second half performance to put the match away. Perth’s opponent, Coach Blueshoes’ Venice Killerwhales, overcame all odds to make it back to the Championship after winning it in 2015. The Whales started 2017 with a lackluster 1-3 record before starting to turn things around, and did not clinch their playoff appearance until the final week of the regular season. They lost the Europa Championship, 334-415, to Scotland, but were in the right position to take advantage of the IFFL’s new playoff format and advanced to the Final Four as the Points Wild Card. Their, they got a stunning road victory, 451-420 over the juggernaut Los Angeles Dragons to put themselves into the Championship.
In the Week 16 first half of the Championship, the Panthers and Whales went punch for punch and yard for yard, the game separated by just a handful of points through the Saturday games and through the early part of Sunday. There were five lead changes as each club tried to gain some supremacy, but neither team could break any wide open points at any position. Venice’s Raven defense put only 7 points on the scoreboard for them, and their receiver tandem of Adam Thielen and Jarvis Landry only managed a combined 75 yards and 4 points. The Killerwhales’ QB1 turned in a disappointing 12 points, but the Panthers didn’t fare any better in the passing game, with both of their quarterbacks totaling just 31 points, however they did get a solid performance from their lead receiver, Julio Jones, who turned in 149 yards for 23 points.
Perth had much more success on the ground, getting 19 and 24 points, respectively, from their halfbacks Mark Ingram and Ezekiel Elliot, they added another 33 points on the ground from flexbacks Kenyon Drake and Jordon Howard to post 242 yards and 3 toouchdowns in the rushing game. That was enough for them to hold onto the lead after the last lead change, and by the afternoon games, they had opened up just a little bit of breathing room for the first time in the game. Venice had more success on the ground then through the air, as well, 147 all-purpose yards from lead rusher LeSean McCoy and another 90 all-purpose from #2 back Alvin Kamara got them 24 and 18 points, and from the most unlikely of sources, their flexback Gio Bernard turned in 168 yards and a touchdown for 47 points to keep them within striking distance. Going into the Christmas Day games, Venice needed a strong performance from their other flexback, Marshawn Lynch, and from their QB2 Nick Foles to retake the lead. They got a respectable 95 yards from Lynch, who, despite giving up a turnover, put 14 points on the board for the Whales, closing the score back to within a handful of points, but their quarterback let them down, managing just 163 yards and a touchdown that was made irrelevant by an interception and finished with just a single point on the day. On the otherside of the ball, the Panthers’ Eagle defense was dominant, charting 5 turnovers and a defensive score to blow up the lead with a 44 point performance, taking the Championship Game into the half with a 207-136 Perth lead.
Going into the second half of the Championship in Week 17, Venice needed to overcome a 71 point defecit, but they got started going in the wrong direction, their QB Foles posting another terrible day, this time putting up just 39 yards and throwing a pick, dinging the Whales with a -13 point outing. The Panthers had both of their signal callers going in the early game, and while their QB2, Kirk Cousins, treated them to a similar -4 point performance, their QB1, Matt Stafford, was electric this week. Stafford posted 323 yards for the Panthers, along with 3 touchdowns and a conversion to build on their lead with another 56 points. The rest of Perth’s early game roster was not so spectacular, their flexback only adding 2 points along with 0 from their tight end who was held out of the game, and their Eagle defense that had been so dominant the week before, put just 9 points on the board in this half. It was Venice that stole the show on defense, playing their Steeler defense in this half, and getting 36 points from them to keep themselves in the game.
Perth had just enough firepower to hold on in the late games, led by Ezekiel Elliot’s 103 yards rushing and 32 points. Venice got 147 yards and a touchdown for 33 points from their receiving duo in the late games, making a comeback seem possible. Again, they had most of their success on the ground, getting 42 points from Kamara at the RB2 position and a hundred yard performance and 30 points from Marshawn Lynch as their flexback. Gio Bernard, playing as the Whales’ other flexback, came back down to earth, but still posted 17 points for the Whales. Venice managed to win the half, 182-162, when all was said and done, but it was late into the final quarter of the day by the time they moved ahead, and it wasn’t enough to overcome the intitial defecit from Week 16. It was already 2018 in Tokyo when the final gun sounded, and the Panthers were able to hoist the League’s Crystal Globe Trophy after winning with a final score of 369-318.
The 2017 IFFL Champion Perth Panthers have captured their first Crystal Globe Award to cap off a dominating season, and will head into 2018 looking to extend a 9 game win-streak. After finishing with a 4-9-0 record in last place in their 2015 inaugural season, the Western Australia Black Cats have won two Division Championships along with the League Championship, and have strung together a 19-9-0 record including playoff matches over the last two years and establishing themselves as the team to beat going into the IFFL’s 5th season.