A new stadium but the same game for Austrian Bowl QBs Eystin Salum and Sean Shelton

This weekend will see the Austrian Football League’s 36th annual Austrian Bowl to crown a 2021 champion.

But for both teams, this season has been anything but smooth sailing.

For the Dacia Vienna Vikings and starting quarterback Eystin Salum, the season showed promise back in March. The team went on a six-game domestic league win streak and claimed a lopsided victory over the Kragujevac Wild Boars in the first round of the Central European Football League (CEFL), thrashing them 82 – 7. The team looked unbeatable, but in a regular-season matchup at the end of May against the Graz Giants, chinks began to appear in their armor as the game went to overtime. The following week they lost to the Swarco Raiders in the CEFL semifinal and then again to the Raiders a month later back in the Austrian League.

Although these games may have marked substantial losses on the Vikings record, they should not be indicators that the team has been slipping, as each game was decided by no more than a single score. A fact that Salum is more than aware of:

“The losses just showed us that only we can beat ourselves. In the CEFL we had too many turnovers and in the last loss we were an inch from closing them out. We have to leave no doubt.”

Photo: Andreas Bischof

Salum’s playing style differs from that of opposing Austrian Bowl quarterback Sean Shelton of the Swarco Raiders as he makes use of his legs often, totaling 419 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He is more than happy to throw out of the pocket, but if his first read isn’t there, he is equally willing to pick up tough yardage on the ground. His athleticism has also been utilized elsewhere as the season has progressed. The Vikings have rotated him in at wide-out as the young Nico Hrouda comes in to give Salum the opportunity to roast opposing secondaries, racking up three touchdowns and 134 yards in just six receptions.

“It’s obviously something we have in our arsenal as an offense. Nico is a great young talent, and it gives our top-rated offense just another dynamic to be able to spread me out wide and let him sling the rock. As far as whether you’ll see it…you’ll just have to tune into the game.”

Shelton on the other hand has almost exclusively thrown out of the pocket throwing more than any other quarterback in the league, and with an almost 70% completion percentage. Shelton favors the short game and methodically marching down the field, keeping his hard-hitting defense fresh and ready to get him the ball back.

But the Raiders have struggled at times too as a string of injuries forced young guys to step up and take starting spots. Two uncharacteristic losses came at the end of the season against the SsangYong Danube Dragons and Prague Black Panthers. Shelton says that COVID reduced the time the team had together pre-season and that began to show as the depth chart became thin and games began to get away from them:

“Several things went wrong but I think they can be summarized by a general lack of discipline in those games. Whether it was turnovers, penalties or just lack of execution. That has been a focus for us the last several weeks.”

Photo: Swarco Raiders

Two weeks ago, large parts of Europe were hit by severe floods putting the Austrian Bowl in jeopardy as it was announced on July 24 that it could no longer be played in NV Arena, St Pölten –  an hour’s drive from Vienna. There were even talks of postponing the game until the following week, clashing with the Austrian National Team’s fixture against Serbia. But three days later, it was confirmed that it would be held in the hometown of the Raiders, Innsbruck, at Tivoli Stadium.

Although this may appear to be an advantage for the Raiders, Salum insists it is just business as usual:

“The field is the same, the ball is the same, the rules are the same and we’re arriving with the exact same guys. They’re a disciplined team who plays hard, they have good schemes and always come with something a little different.

“I came here to win the championship and now we just have the added bonus of winning it at our rivals’ location. It will take tremendous execution, a lot of heart and gritty play to win this game. We will just be doing what got us here.”

And according to Shelton, although the stadium is just a stone’s throw away, his preparations won’t be any different:

“Preparation doesn’t really change. There is just obviously a lot more experience with the Vikings but we just have to execute what we do well and focus on us and typically that works well for us.”

Make sure to watch the Austrian Championship Game Saturday, July 31 at 19:00 CET (7 pm, 1 pm ET) on AFI.tv.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.