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02.04.2011 EFAF

2011 PLFA preview


New season to see introduction of 3rd league, while the talent curve
continues to rise in the first two

PLFA Football
(c) Marcin Fijalkowski www.maffoto.pl
PLFA Football
(c)Marcin Fijalkowski www.maffoto.pl

The 2010 Polish football season was the most successful one yet,
featuring exciting games and title races in both divisions. The two PLFA I
teams from Wrocław gave us two games for the ages, both seeing the Devils
emerge victorious on their way to an undefeated season. Not to be outdone,
the PLFA II champion Bielawa Owls ran through their schedule without a loss, joining the Devils in the rarified air of the unbeatens. In 2011, the Devils will have to fend off those Owls, as well as eight other ambitious teams, to repeat as champs.



The following is a preview of all three divisions of PLFA
football for the 2011 season. It begins with a brief overview of PLFA I,
along with team-by-team capsules for all 10 squads involved. The PLFA II
preview follows, with a look at how unpredictable that league's season
promises to be. Finally, the concluding article takes a look at the
newly-formed PLFA 8, an experimental 8-on-8 league that will bring football to six new cities in Poland and hopefully groom teams for advances into PLFA II.



PLFA I



2010 was a landmark year for football in Poland, as the game was
played consistently at a level never before seen in the country. The year
was defined by the impact of US imports, from former Bear Mark Philmore's
debut for The Crew in an opening day rout to the title-winning play of Mott Gaymon and Daniel Delahoussaye for the Devils in Polish Bowl V. Krzysztof Wydrowski showed that Poles can also play a bit, by smashing the season record for TD passes and leading his team to both an unbeaten season and a win in PLFA's greatest game ever, a 31-24 OT derby triumph. The two Wrocław giants have indeed set a high mark for other teams to shoot for in 2011.



And shoot for it they will. Although both remained talented, it
seems unlikely that the Wrocław teams will maintain the dominance they
continually showed throughout the entire 2010 season. The other teams in the
league are gearing up by bringing in talented free agents, narrowing the gap between the best and the rest and raising the overall level of play in the league. In particular, the Warsaw Eagles, under new ownership, and the Gdynia Seahawks, with a new name and a new stadium, seem poised to return to the top of Polish football.



Each team will play nine regular-season games this year and,
although that number is the highest yet for a single season, those contests will be packed into a tight two-and-a-half month schedule. From the season openers on April 2-3 to the end of the regular season, each team will have only three weeks without a game, and all 10 teams will play on every PLFA I weekend.



Only four teams will make it to the playoffs, making the postseason more elusive than ever before. The winners of the two semifinal games will meet in Bielawa on Saturday, July 16, for the sixth championship
game of Polish football. On the other side of the coin, the 10th place team at the end of the regular season will be automatically relegated and
replaced by the PLFA II champion, while the 9th place team will have to
fight against the PLFA II runner-up to keep its spot in the top division for the 2012 season. That so-called 'barrage' game will take place on October 1.


Here is a team-by-team look at the 2011 PLFA I season.



Wrocław Devils

2010 regular season: 7-0, 1st place PLFA I

2010 playoffs: Won Polish Bowl V

What to expect for 2011: The champions return most of their key players from their undefeated 2010 season, and have a solid shot at becoming the first team in Polish history to repeat. They've got a favorable schedule as well. One of their five road games is the Wrocław derby, and the Devils will have a week off to prepare for their game at Poznań after a four-week midseason stretch in which they will have to travel no further than Bielawa. Although the Devils outscored opponents 324-70 in the regular season last year, another undefeated season might be a stretch due to the improvement of other teams around the league, but expect big things from the Devils again this year.

Game to watch: at Gdynia Seahawks, April 16. This game is the only sore
point on the Devil schedule this year. It will be the second of back-to-back road games for Wrocław, and they will have to make one of the longest trips in PLFA after a short week to prepare.



Wrocław Crew

2010 regular season: 6-1, 2nd place PLFA I

2010 playoffs: Lost to Wrocław Devils in Polish Bowl V

What to expect for 2011: To think that The Crew will be improved from last
year is a scary thought for the rest of PLFA I, but it seems to be the case. All four of their injured Polish defensive stars who sat out big parts of 2010 will be back, and the addition of RB Mateusz Szefler from Kozły strengthens the offensive attack. Two new Americans will join stalwarts Aki Jones and Mark Philmore on The Crew. The addition of QB Justin Walz will allow Philmore to move to RB or WR and DB Deante Battle will give the Crew's defense one of the best one-two punches in PLFA.

Game to watch: Wrocław Devils, May 21. Last year's edition of the Wrocław
derby is widely agreed to be the best game ever played in Poland. The Crew
will be looking for revenge for defeat in that game as well as for their
loss to the Devils in Polish Bowl V.



Gdynia Seahawks

2010 regular season: 4-3, 3rd place PLFA I

2010 playoffs: Lost semifinal to the Wrocław Crew

What to expect for 2011: The new-look Seahawks (formerly the Pomorze
Seahawks) have geared up for 2011 with some high-profile free agent
signings, and former PLFA I MVP Sebastian Krzysztofek is healthy once again.
The biggest change will be at QB, where Luke Zeatzate, who played in the
lower arena league in the US, will replace long-time starter Maciej
Siemaszko, who will likely move to WR. The Seahawks will be stronger on both
sides of the ball, adding SS Jeff George Jr. (Illinois St.) and DB Peter
Plesa as well. If the experienced offensive line stays healthy and gives
Zeatzate time to throw this year, the Seahawks could be a very dangerous
team come playoff time.

Game to watch: Silesia Miners, April 3. The season opener is a Sunday night
special for the Seahawks, as they will get the chance to show off their new
home ground, the National Rugby Stadium in Gdynia, in what looks like the
marquee matchup of opening weekend. The game, and all Seahawks home games,
will be broadcast live over the Internet.



Warsaw Eagles

2010 regular season: 4-3, 4th place PLFA I

2010 playoffs: Lost semifinal to the Wrocław Devils

What to expect for 2011: The two-time champion Eagles are under new
ownership this year, and the biggest change comes on the sideline, with
defensive coordinator Phillip Dillon replacing Ian Wilcock at head coach.
Explosive receiver/returner Ty Landrum returns, and will be joined by three
American imports, the versatile Jeremy Dixon (Averett University), Ryan
Lockard (Lewis & Clark University) and Matt Wichlinski, the 'strongest man
in PLFA'. With so many weapons, the Eagles will always have at least two men
on the field who would normally be double-teamed, opening up the game for
the other nine. After a disappointing 2010 campaign, Warsaw looks poised to
make a run at returning to the top.

Game to watch: at Gdynia Seahawks, May 1. The Eagles will travel to the
National Rugby Stadium on Labor Day for a matchup of two of last year's
playoff teams, and a rematch of two Polish championship games. The contest
could be crucial in determining playoffs spots and positions.



Kozły Poznań

2010 regular season: 3-4, 5th place PLFA I

2010 playoffs: Missed playoffs

What to expect for 2011: Kozły are one of the most unpredictable teams in
PLFA I, and they always seem to be on the edge of the playoff hunt. After
making the postseason in 2009, they were in the race until the last weekend
of 2010, and they were the team that had the most success against the two
Wrocław behemoths last year. Kozły bring a strong defense to the table, and
for that reason they are always capable of pulling off the big upset, as
shown by their shock wins over The Crew in 2008 and the Seahawks in 2009.

Game to watch: at Wrocław Crew, June 19. Kozły will have a shot at another
upset on the last day of the regular season, in a game that could have
playoff implications. If The Crew are already in the playoffs by that point
and rest some players, Poznań could have a chance to sneak a big road
victory.



Dom-Bud Krakow Tigers

2010 regular season: 2-5, 6th place PLFA I

2010 playoffs: Missed playoffs

What to expect for 2011: The Tigers are under new sponsorship this season
(they were formerly known as the Sioux Krakow Tigers), and will be looking
to do more than just stay in PLFA I this season. Last year got off to a
great start, with a win over the defending champion Miners that raised
eyebrows around the league. The Tigers then shutout the Eagles, in Warsaw no
less, but faltered down the stretch, losing their final four games to miss
the playoffs. Still, it was a promising PLFA I start for the Tigers, and the
schedule for 2011 is favorable, with five home games and only a trip to
Gdynia taking them more than a two-hour drive from home.

Game to watch: at Zagłębie Steelers, April 17. This should be an interesting
contest between the two teams that met for the 2009 PLFA II championship, a
27-20 thriller won by the Steelers. The teams have developed a pretty good
rivalry over the last two years. The Steelers took last year's edition of
the game, 26-16, for their only win in 2010.



AZS Silesia Miners

2010 regular season: 1-6, 7th place PLFA I

2010 playoffs: Missed playoffs

What to expect for 2011: The 2010 season got off to a disappointing start,
with a loss to the Tigers on opening day. In fact, the 2009 champions were
never really able to recover, dropping their final four games after beating
the Steelers for their only win of the season. It's hard to make excuses for
a 1-6 record, but the Miners lost three games by five points or less. The
2011 schedule starts off in brutal fashion, with road games against the
Seahawks and Crew, and a home date with the defending champs. The Miners
prepared for this season by beating a Czech team, the Brno Alligators, in an
exhibition game, looking more like the team that made the final in 2008 and
2010. There's no telling which team will show up this year.

Game to watch: at Gdynia Seahawks, April 3. We'll find out a lot about what
the Miners have to offer on opening day, as they travel all the way across
the country to play the strong Gdynia Seahawks.



Zagłębie Steelers

2010 regular season: 1-6, 8th place PLFA I

2010 playoffs: Missed playoffs, defeated 1. KFA Fireballs Wielkopolska in
barrage

What to expect for 2011: The Steelers barely averted the disaster of falling
back into PLFA II by holding off the late charge of the 1. KFA Fireballs
Wielkopolska in a thrilling barrage last October, and they will look to
carry the momentum from that contest into the 2011 season. Expect more
offensive fireworks from Zagłębie, with the return of one of PLFA's most
prolific QB-WR combos, Michał Krzelowski and Mariusz Ostapowicz.

Game to watch: at Białystok Lowlanders, April 9. If the Steelers aren't able
to improve much this season, this game could have significant effects on the
fight to avoid relegation.



Bielawa Owls

2010 regular season: 6-0, 1st place PLFA II West Division

2010 playoffs: Won PLFA II championship game

What to expect for 2011: The Owls scored more than 50 points a game last
year on their way to an undefeated regular season, mostly behind the play of
the athletic Desmond Jordan, who scored 13 touchdowns of 30 yards or longer,
and two-way star D'Andre Faison. Neither player is back this year, although
the Owls have found capable replacements in another Jordan, RB/LB Jordan
Stutzman (Nebraska Wesleyan University) and QB/RB/WR Benjamin Jones (Trinity
Bible College). With their big-play capability, the Owls are a team to watch
in 2011, although it remains to be seen how they will handle the
considerably tougher competition in PLFA I.

Game to watch: at Wrocław Crew, April 9. The Owls play 5 of their first 6
games at home, with the only road contest a matchup with The Crew in the
second week of the season. The teams have cooperated over the last two
seasons, in both coaching and sharing players, so it will be interesting to
see them face each other in an official game.



Białystok Lowlanders

2010 regular season: 5-1, 1st place PLFA II East Division

2010 playoffs: Lost to Bielawa Owls in PLFA II championship game

What to expect for 2011: The Lowlanders make a quick return to PLFA I after
being relegated at the end of the 2009 season, in which they went winless
after being outscored by a combined total of 223-36 in seven games. They
will get nine chances to get their first win in the top division in 2011,
but they will have to be significantly improved from recent years in order
to make a big impact. One thing is for sure: the Lowlanders will play power
football, and they will need the help of their Belarussian imports, the
'Zubrs', to stay out of the relegation zone. The Lowlanders will get
guidance from new head coach, Wayne Anderson, who spent last year as head
coach of Denmark's Odense Swans.

Game to watch: Bielawa Owls, May 28. Białystok gave the Owls a pretty good
run for their money in the PLFA II title game in Bielawa last year, and they
will look to turn the tables with the home-field advantage in May.



PLFA II



The 2011 PLFA II title is up for grabs, with the division being
blown wide open by the departure of both of last year's powerhouses, the
champion Bielawa Owls and runner-up Białystok Lowlanders. 13 teams, split
into two divisions, will fight it out for championship bragging rights and
the chance to play in PLFA I in 2012.



Action in the second division will kickoff on May 14, and
continue all the way through September. This year's champion will
automatically gain a berth in the top division, while the losers of the
title game will still be promoted if they can manage to defeat the PLFA I
9th place team in the 'barrage' on October 1. The championship game will be
played on September 17, with the site to be determined by the records of the
participants.



Here is a quick look at each of the two PLFA II divisions.



PLFA II North Division

Despite having the fewer number of teams, six, the North
Division looks to be the more competitive of the two divisions, and by a
long margin. The Warsaw Werewolves are the only new entrants into the fray,
and, despite a roster that includes many players with prior PLFA experience,
they may struggle to gain a foothold against five well-established rivals.
The wild-card in that quintet is Husaria Szczecin, a team that looked like
it might not exist much longer just a season ago. We'll find out a lot about
the former PLFA I power when they take on the Warsaw Spartans in the
season's opening weekend. The Mustangs, Fireballs and Torpedy will join the
three teams already mentioned in what is sure to be a compelling race for
the number one playoff seed.



PLFA II South Division

The 7-team South Division is a different story altogether. The
Krakow Knights have to be considered the preseason favorites, with more
official wins (10) than the other six teams put together (7). Of course, two
of those six teams, the Tychy Falcons and the Częstochowa Saints, are new to
PLFA this season. That doesn't mean they won't stand a chance of being
competitive, and one or both may even manage to make the playoffs if the
other four teams in the division, the Lions, Warriors, Rocks and Scyzory,
can't improve their standing from the last two seasons. All four teams are
entering their third years, and none has managed more than two wins in a
single season. For that reason, 2011 can be looked upon as a season of
opportunity in the South.



PLFA 8



PLFA 8?! What's that you say? What happened to PLFA 3 through 7?
Well, it's simple really: the 8 represents the number of players each team
will have on the field at a time, not the division of the league. PLFA 8 is
new to Poland in 2011, and the advantages to American football in the
country are huge. Of the nine teams that will compete in PLFA 8, six are
located in cities that have not seen football before, two will give PLFA I
teams with a lot of inexperienced players the chance to get in some action,
and one will give new life to a team that had disappeared in 2010 due to the
rigors of the PLFA II schedule. The 'season' will consist of six one-day
mini-tournaments, two in each group. The three group winners and one wild
card will meet in Warsaw on October 8 for a final mini-tournament that will
determine the champion. However, the champion will not necessarily qualify
for PLFA II in 2012.



Here is a quick look at each of the groups.



North Group

The North Group features the only team with official PLFA
experience, the Słupsk Griffons, and two new teams, the Bydgoszcz Archers
and the Olsztyn Lakers. The Griffons, who had trouble fielding a team last
year after an anemic 2009 campaign, have been reincarnated in PLFA 8. They
will be on the road for both North Group mini-tournaments, August 27 in
Bydgoszcz and September 24 in Olsztyn.



East Group

The Warsaw Eagles have fielded a "B" team for the 2011 season,
and they will play in PLFA 8's East Group. The BEagles, as they are known,
will play their first official games on August 28, when they travel to
Rzeszów for a mini-tournament hosted by that city's new team, the AZS
Ravens. The group's second mini-tournament will be hosted by the other new
team in the East, Lublin Tytani (Titans), on September 25.



South Group

PLFA 8's third group, the South Group, will also feature three
teams making their PLFA debuts. This time it will be the Wrocław Devils "B"
team that will take to the road twice. Their opponents in the 2011 regular
season will be the Sucha Beskidzka Broncos, hosting their mini-tournament on
August 27, and the Zielona Góra Dragons, who will host theirs on September
24.




Alexander Zarganis
a.zarganis@plfa.pl

PLFA Press Bureau


European Federation of American Football

www.efaf.info