PLFA 2011 preview – part I.


New season to see introduction of 3rd league,

while the talent curve continues to rise in the first two.


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.


            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.

Tomorrow: PLFA II and PLFA 8


Alexander Zarganis
[email protected]
PLFA Press Bureau


Photo: Wrocław Devils – Won Polish Bowl V (