The Lions, along with the Kandy Skykings, were the flag-bearers for Sri Lanka down south as the two representatives from the nation for the inaugural season of the EFLI, which consisted of five Indian teams and another one from Pakistan besides them.
The Lions certainly did their nation proud by making it to the final four before coming undone in the semi-finals against the eventual champions, the Pune Marathas. The Lankan team posted an impressive record of 5 wins and 1 loss in the regular season, owing largely to their stingy defense that allowed its opponents to score a mere 35 points in 6 games.
An-in depth look into the fascinating stats for the Lions reveals even more. So, without much ado let’s get into the details and see how the Lions excelled in the first season of the EFLI.
The Lions, as evident from the stats, didn’t go the aerial route too often. The two Quarter-Backs in fact combined to attempt a meagre 6.7 passes per game. Unfortunately, this resulted in making their passing offense not the greatest, coming in last in terms of overall yardage. However, when they took the aerial route, Zulker Hamid stepped up and made the plays when needed. Hamid was not the game-changer but when asked to do a job with the ball, he did it with efficiency. The 5’7” Hamid might have only garnered 190 yards throughout the season, but he was mightily accurate with a 61.1% completion rate. He was not only potent with his hands, but also showed some quick bursts of speed, racking up a total of 88 yards on rushing (averaging 6.8 yards per carry).
The most yards gained by any of the receivers was 40. The stats for the receiving corps suffered with the Lions relentlessly running the football rather than going for it in the air. While Nadeer Haseem was the most successful amongst the lot in terms of gaining yards, it was Ashean Karthelis who was a more consistent figure. Although rarely targeted, Kathelis brought down 83% of the balls thrown to him, leading the league in best completion for a receiver.
The Lions found comfort in running the ball and in doing so found their cornerstone for the offense. Thararaka Wijesuriya’s strong running accounted for 4 of the 5 touchdowns that the Lions’ offense was able to score. Even when Wijesuriya wasn’t the one with the ball, others like Md. Sheriff, Supun Herath and Zulker Hamid ran with a chip on their shoulder and ably pushed the ball forward. The Lions’ offensive identity became that of a run-first, smash mouth football team with some success. The Lions ended up sporting the #3 rushing offense in the EFLI in terms of total yardage.
While the Lions’ brutal running game became their identity on the offensive side of things, it was their miserly defense that really made a mark on the league.
As stated above, the Lions won football games because of their sturdy defense and it becomes even more evident when we have a look at the stats. Colombo had, what can be arguably said to be, the best pass defense in the league and six interceptions (second best in the league) lay testament to that fact. It was not only the fact that they forced turnovers, but they also turned them into a pick 6 on a couple of occasions, putting the icing on the cake.
It was not just one person who stood out in the defense. Every guy chipped in with 1 interception to their name at least. Even Wide Receiver Ashean Karthelis came up trumps while put in to play D; accounting for a solo tackle, an assisted tackle as well as a sack.
Not to let the team down, even the special team shone through. Their kicker, Viraj Nanayakkara emerged as the stand-out performer in this group. Nanayakkara scored the most number of points for a kicker having converted 5 of the 9 extra point opportunities to go along with 4 (highest for any kicker in the EFLI) made field goals at a success rate of 80%. To ornament his achievements further, Nanayakkara also has the record for the furthest field goal made in the EFLI to his name, which stands at a distance of 31 yards.
If you thought that was the end of it all for the Lankans, you were wrong. Thanks to Nadir Haseem, the Lankans were able to record a touchdown from a punt return as well, recording one of the longest punt returns in the EFLI in its first season at 80 yards.
Overall, the Lions found an identity for their game on both sides of the field. While their running game seemed to have a cutting edge, there was room for improvement in their aerial game. With the addition of more firepower and polishing of skills, the future looks bright for the Lions heading into the second season, where they would surely fancy their chances of going all the way.
*All stats courtesy www.efli.com