PLFA I has been called the most competitive division of football in Poland in 2012, so it is fitting that its championship game, the PLFA Cup, should pit two teams that were separated by a total of only four points in their two previous meetings this season. Moreover, the home Warsaw Spartans and the visiting Bialystok Lowlanders each finished the year at 4-2, and they are evenly split in the six-game all-time series. All signs point to a close game.
This season, those signs also point to a defensive struggle. With scores of 9-7 and 16-14 in their two earlier 2012 meetings (both won by the Spartans), no one would be surprised by another tight, low-scoring affair. The Spartans come in nominally as the favorite, having won the North Division title over the Lowlanders by virtue of the tiebreaker, but overall Bialystok's season was probably more impressive. The Spartans lost twice to the bottom team in the division, Husaria Szczecin, showing that they are vulnerable on the right day.
That wasn't the case in their semifinal matchup, however, a comprehensive 17-0 victory over the Zaglebie Steelers Interpromex that showed that the Spartans still sport one of the best defenses in the league. Ignoring the two Husaria games, Warsaw gave up only 5.6 points per game in their five victories. That could spell trouble for a Bialystok team that has also gotten the job done this year mainly on the defensive side of the ball.
In fact, the Lowlanders ranked only 6th in the league in points scored before their blowout victory over the Plock Mustangs in the final weekend of the regular season. 3 of Bialystok's 12 touchdowns up to that point were scored by the defense, and an interception return for a touchdown played a prominent role in the Lowlanders' 12-6 overtime victory over the Gliwice Lions in the semifinals. The key to the game could therefore be Warsaw's ability to control the ball with mistake-free football, not giving the Lowlanders the chance to make a big play.
That means that a lot could rest on the throwing arm of J Stuart Lund, who led PLFA I in touchdown passes thrown up until the final weekend, when he was passed by none other than Damian Kolpak, the starter for the Lowlanders. The Spartans have a playmaker of their own on the defensive side of the ball in the person of Mateusz Golos, who was the only player to score more than one defensive touchdown this season.
With the all-time series between the Spartans and Lowlanders tied at three wins apiece, the PLFA Cup truly has the feel of a 'Game 7', as the stakes have never been higher. While the Spartans have won the last three games played between the two teams and have more recent playoff experience, the Lowlanders come in with a much better points differential. Their semifinal win showed that they can win the close game, but the Spartans have shown that same quality time and time again. One thing is sure: PLFA fans should be in for a treat on Saturday afternoon.