Austrian Football League midseason recap: Graz Giants, Prague Black Panthers still unbeaten with 4 weeks left

By Brad Duff

The Austrian Football League has been full of exciting moments and a lot of changes from what we saw last season.

While some teams have progressed massively from last year’s performance, others have dropped in the rankings.  With AFL just passing the halfway mark, let’s have a look at how each team’s season has been shaping up.

 Graz Giants – Record: 6-0

Under new head coach Michael Mattingly, the Graz Giants have seemed to have found their rhythm, taking a 3-7 2022 season and turning it to a so-far undefeated 2023. QB Wyatt Smith has been crucial to the team’s success, leading the league in passing touchdowns (22) while turning the ball over just four times. RB Fritz Bleckmann has also been a key feature, leading the league with 409 rushing yards.

 Despite this, the Giants struggled in their last outing against the Steelsharks (1-5), coming away with a 26-21 win after conceding two unanswered scores in the 4th quarter.

 Graz will have some time to recover and iron out any issues before their next game against reigning champions Danube Dragons on June 4th.

 Prague Black Panthers – Record: 5-0

Head coach Spencer Ford has managed to build on last season’s 8-3 record with the addition of standout QB Tyler Jarnagin, who has put up an impressive 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions in his first five games, on top of almost 200 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

 The Black Panthers have been dominant in almost every game so far, barring a close 23-19 victory over Danube in week four and a 41-34 win over Salzburg a week prior. The Panthers will take confidence from their 59-13 win over the Bears as they look face the Patriots on June 5th.

Vienna Vikings – Record: 5-1

The 2022 Austrian Bowl runners-up have managed to better an already great season, with their only loss so far coming to the undefeated Graz Giants in week three.

 Since their loss the Vikings have been on a hot streak, with three consecutive blowouts, including last weekend’s 52-3 win over the Telfs Patriots. Nico Hrouda has led the team through the air, passing for 1,354 yards (3rd) and 19 touchdowns (2nd), but their backfield rotation is where the Vikings have really thrived, having three backs in the top ten for rushing yards. Devontae Jordan, Kevin Wojta and Alexander Ernst have totalled for over 550 yards with seven touchdowns.

 The Vikings will look to continue their win-streak into Salzburg as they play the Ducks on June 4th.

Danube Dragons – Record: 4-2

After a statement 40-0 week one win over the Styrian Bears, the reigning champions faced the Vienna Vikings in a rematch of the 2022 Austrian Bowl, where they lost their 13-game win streak.

 After losing long-time QB Chad Jefferies to the ELF’s Munich Ravens, the Dragons offense hasn’t been the same. That being said, Danube have still found success offensively this season through ex-NCAA DI QB Tyquell Fields, who not only sits in the top half of the league for passing yards (1,197) but is third in rushing yards (309) and leads the league in rushing touchdowns (6).

 The Danube Dragons are coming off a 21-13 win over the Mödling Rangers and will look to bring that momentum into their next game against the undefeated Graz Giants after this weekend’s bye-week.

Salzburg Ducks – Record: 3-3

With nearly the same core roster as last season, the Ducks are having a similar showing to their 4-6 2022 campaign.

 Offensively, the Ducks have been putting up big numbers, as they sit third in points scored (201).  In week three, Salzburg gave the Black Panthers one of their toughest tests as they came away with a 41-34 loss against the undefeated team from Prague.

 The Ducks boast the AFL’s leading passer in Kris Denton (1737yds), as well as the leading receiver in Cory Jones (689yds).  LB Kenney Patrick has been a key feature to the Ducks’ defensive unit, sitting in the top three in total tackles while also racking up three sacks and two interceptions. 

 Salzburg are coming off a win against Tirol which almost saw the Raiders pull off a final period comeback.  June 4th will see the Ducks take on the undefeated Vienna Vikings in what is sure to be a tough test.

 Tirol Swarco Raiders – Record: 2-4

Head coach Florian Grein has certainly built on last year’s winless season, although 2023 has still been a rocky year for the Raiders so far.

 Despite signing QB CJ Fowler, the Raiders have started three QBs this season; after two starts for the Raiders, Fowler made his return to Tychy, leaving Stefan Maiacher to captain the ship. On May 19th however, the Raiders announced the signing of ex-William and Mary QB Kevin Doyle.

Doyle’s first and only game so far saw the Raiders suffer a 30-23 loss to the Salzburg Ducks. Despite the time it took to adjust to a new offensive unit, Doyle put up serious numbers, passing for 457 yards and three touchdowns without turning the ball over.

 Defensively, the Raiders also boast one of the best defensive backs in the league in David Stark, who has snagged three interceptions with 14 pass breakups, both of which put him at the top of the league leaderboards.

 The Raiders will look for another great performance on June 3rd as they take on the Traun Steelsharks.

 Mödling Rangers – Record: 2-4

The Rangers have struggled significantly more than 2022, a season that saw Mödling narrowly miss the playoffs with a 5-5 record.

 Mödling have been solid on the ground, with Nicholas Milgate sitting at second in rushing yards (311) with a further 195 yards from QB Benjamin Bräuer.  Defensively, Charleus Dieuseul has impressed as he leads the team and the league with sacks (7) with a further 26 total tackles.

 The Rangers’ defense was anything but impressive in week five, however, as they conceded 49 points to the Vienna Vikings, while Bräuer’s offense only put up six points.

 Following this, Mödling took on the Danube Dragons where they walked away with a 21-13 loss as they headed into the bye-week.

Mödling will prepare to face the undefeated Prague Black Panthers on June 4th.

Telfs Patriots – Record: 1-4

Newly-signed head coach Daniel Levy has struggled to continue the Patriots’ success of 2022, which saw them reach the playoffs before being defeated by the Dragons.

 Although week two saw the Patriots only win so far, it also saw an injury to former Stuttgart Surge (ELF) QB Aaron Ellis. This gap has been filled by Alvaro Siqueira, who has struggled to move the ball, passing for just three touchdowns with three interceptions, while rushing for a net -10 yards.

 A bright spot of the Patriots roster has been Fabrizio Nanni, who is tied-first in the league for interceptions (3).

 Last weekend saw the Patriots take a huge 52-3 loss to the Vikings, which they will be looking to forget as they move on to the undefeated Prague Black Panthers on May 27th in what will most likely be another tough game for Telfs.

 Traun Steelsharks – Record: 1-5

The Steelsharks continue to struggleafterr last season’s 3-7 season, with this year’s only win coming against the aforementioned Styrian Bears.

 With new QB Jarman Slade leading the league in interceptions (9) and no rusher over 100 yards this season, labelling the Steelsharks offensive unit underwhelming would be an understatement.

 Despite this, Traun managed to put up a respectable 4th quarter fight against the undefeated Graz Giants, giving them some positives to take into their next matchup against the Tirol Raiders on June 3rd.

 Styrian Bears – Record: 0-6

The newly promoted Bears are showing the difference in levels between AFL2 and the top division, with new head coach Martin Kocian failing to take the Bears anywhere near a win, with the closest they’ve come being a 50-21 defeat to the Steelsharks.

 The Styrian Bears’ defensive unit is yet to concede fewer than 40 points in a game yet, averaging 47.3 points conceded per game.

 Offensively, the Bears haven’t been much better, with Bastian Steinmair and Nik Begander being two of just three QBs to hold a negative TD:INT ratio (4:5 and 1:2 respectively).

 After a rough 59-13 loss to the Prague Black Panthers, the Bears will prepare for the Telfs Patriots on June 3rd.

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