Austria: Danube Dragons HC Stefan Pokorny on semifinal showdown with Swarco Raiders

The Danube Dragons find themselves in familiar territory this weekend when they take on the Swarco Raiders in the Austrian Football League semifinals.

Danube defeated the Projekt Spielberg Graz Giants in the wild card round last weekend and now will face a Raider’s team that beat them last in the in semifinals, 49-21. In fact, this is the ninth time in 10 years that Danube has reached the semifinal round in Austria, but they have only made it to the final once in that time span, in 2010, when they won it all.

Dragons head coach Stefan Pokorny shared with American Football International his thoughts on his team’s wild card win over the Graz Giants and preparations to face Swarco.

AFI: You got past the Giants who did not make it easy. What are your thoughts about the game?

Pokorny: Games against the Giants are always tough for us. Beating them 3 times in a season is a huge accomplishment for us. After losing two games in a row it was important for us to overcome adversity and win a clutch game like that. Other than that, we improved our offense from game to game and became more efficient at the end of the year.

AFI: Now you are back in the semifinals for the ninth time in 10 years, but the team has not won a semifinal game since 2010. Does that mean added pressure?

Pokorny: We almost got relegated and didn’t make the playoffs 3 years ago. At this point we hit the reset button and changed a lot of things in our program. We don’t really count the years before and see ourselves in the middle of the process on our way back to the top. Last year we wouldn’t have had our first winning season since 2011 without the game against the Raiders at the end of the season, where the Raiders fixed their number 1 seed already before the game. This year we have the same record but we feel much closer to the top then the year before since we won games against teams like the Giants and played close games against the Panthers and Vikings. I don’t think that anybody feels added pressure because we play the Raiders. We see it as an opportunity to see how far we got this year. Competing with the Raiders and the Vikings was one of the goals for this season and we are on the right path.

AFI: You are up against Swarco for the second year in a row. Does that give you added incentive after losing to them in the semis a year ago?

Pokorny: Losing against the Raiders is pretty easy. They are such a well-coached and physical team over almost a decade. They punish every mistake and within a quarter you are standing against the wall. I think that we instilled much more mental toughness in our players this year and approach the game with a different mindset. It will still be a very tough game for us but our team believes that we have a chance to win the game. It will be a different game for us this year.

AFI: In the loss to the Raiders earlier in the year, the offense moved the ball well but struggled in the red zone. How do you remedy that?

Pokorny: In the first game against the Raiders we played really aggressive and tried to convert 4th downs too often and turned the ball over in critical situations. We analyzed this game in depth and hopefully learned how to handle those situations in the upcoming game. Red zone offense was also a priority for us and we tried to improve this area of our offense also.

AFI: Swarco has a habit getting into a rhythm and scoring touchdowns in bunches. They did that against you earlier with three in the second quarter. How do you game plan for that?

Pokorny: We watched a lot of film and we will prepare a couple of looks and schemes to prevent them from getting into a rhythm. We will try to take some time of the clock and limit the Raiders’ possessions. It will be important to create two or three turnovers against one of the best QBs in Europe.

AFI: Other than your passing game, what do you see as your strengths going into this game?

Pokorny: Our defense under second year defensive coordinator Lukas Habersack improved a lot. In the category scoring defense we improved by 10 points less per game. We created 17 turnovers in eleven games. Last year we had 6 turnovers in twelve games. Much of our success this year belongs to his work with our defense.

AFI: Is everyone healthy for this game?

Pokorny: It was a long season for us and a couple players are banged up from the tough schedule at the end of the year but everybody should be ready to play. Two or three players will be hopefully cleared by gameday. Our biggest losses this year are running back Dominik Mattes who got injured in the first game against the Raiders and the young and very talented defensive end Jan Gebhardt who injured in his shoulder in the first game of the season. He will have a great season next year. Overall we should be pretty healthy for this time of the year.

AFI: Although you lost the last two regular season games, they were close. What is the mood on the team going into this game?

Pokorny: The two losses against the Vikings and Panthers were really hard on our young team. Until those games we played a really good season and everything looked very smooth. Those losses put us behind a little bit. The win against the Giants in a playoff game was really important for us because of that. It gave us new strength and a confidence boost at the right time. It showed that we can win close and important games. I feel a really positive energy on our team which is always hungry and never full. The future looks very bright for this young team.

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