Austrian Semifinals Pit New Teams Against Raiders and Vikings

The Austrian semifinals this weekend will see a change as the Graz Giants who finished second in the regular season will host the Vienna Vikings while the defending champion Swarco Raiders will welcome the Ljubljana Silverhawks from Slovenia to Innsbruck in the other semi.

While Swarco and Vienna are perennial playoff participants, this is the first time Graz has advanced to the playoffs since 2013 and it is the first appearance for Ljubljana who have not played in the Austrian league before.

Swarco topped the Austrian league during the regular season with a 9-1 record and will be facing a Silverhawks team that scraped into the playoffs with a 5-6 record (including wild card victory) and then downed the Mödling Rangers in a wild card playoff game last weekend.

The surprising Giants have rebounded from back-to-back 1-7 seasons to post a 9-1 record in 2016. They have beaten both the Raiders and Vikings in the process. Head coach Martin Kocian has turned Graz into contenders for the Austrian title. For Vienna this is an unusual situation. Normally they host their playoff games. They had to beat the Danube Dragons in the wildcard playoff game 30-13 to qualify for the semifinals.

The last time Graz appeared in the Austrian Bowl was 2009 when they lost to Vienna. Since then, the Vikings have made five appearances in the title game winning it three times, most recently in 2014.

Swarco Raiders (9-1) – Ljubljana Silverhawks (5-6)

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Swarco RB Sandro Platzgummer & Silverhawks RB Darion Hall. Photo 1: Harald Lehmann

The Raiders enter the contest leading the league in offense (43 points per game) and in defense (allowed 11 points per game). They whipped the Silverhawks 45-14 in their only meeting in 2016 and finished the regular season with a 49-7 drubbing of the Vienna Vikings.

Swarco quarterback Sean Shelton threw for 2,525 yards and 24 touchdowns during the regular season with the highest quarterback rating in the league. Silverhawks Anthony Gardner was right behind him though with 2,509 yards passing and 25 touchdowns and second in quarterback ratings.

Silverhawks top receiver Matic Tomse caught 57 passes for 920 yards and 15 touchdowns while Swarco’s Clemens Erlsbacher had 31 receptions for 587 yards and five touchdowns.

Ljubljana running back Darion Hall rushed 108 times for 886 yards and 11 touchdowns while his counterpart in the Raiders backfield, Sandro Platzgummer carried the ball 69 times for 589 yards and nine touchdowns.

In their only meeting of 2016, Shelton threw for one touchdown and rushed for another three while the Raiders defense and special teams accounted for three more touchdowns. Ljubljana had trouble finding the red zone in that game thanks to a tough Swarco defense. Expect more of the same Saturday.

Graz Giants (9-1) – Vienna Vikings (8-3)

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Giants RB Matthias Kiegerl & Vikings RB Anthony Stevenson Photo 1: Arpad Kunzfeld

Statistically these two teams are evenly matched. Each scored around 24 points a game in the regulars season while Graz gave up 15 while the Vikings allowed 18 points a game.

Vienna quarterback Alexander Thury threw for 1,790 yards and 15 touchdowns while Christoph Gubisch had 1,477 yards passing and 17 touchdowns.

The Vikings leading receiver, Dominik Bundschuh had 531 yards in receptions and five touchdowns while Graz’s Klaus Geirer had 31 catches for 479 yards and eight touchdowns.

Vienna has a slight advantage on the ground leading the league averaging 145 yards a game as compared to Graz’s 129. Vikings running back Islaam Amadu had 754 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns while Giants running back Matthias Kiegerl rushed for 542 yards and three touchdowns. But the Vikings have a one-two punch as Anthony Stevenson carried the ball for 532 yards in the regular season but exploded for 124 yards in the wild card game against Danube.

However in the 14-13 Giants victory over Vienna in the regular season where Vienna took a 13-0 lead but could not stop Graz from rallying to win the game, Amadu only had 19 yards rushing and Stevenson 11. In that game, Thury struggled in the air somewhat with only 155 yards passing although he made up for it with 71 yards rushing. But Gubisch threw for 251 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 69 yards and another touchdown.

In other words, the Vikings have to keep Gubisch in check and get Amadu and/or Stevenson untracked. This game will be close again. And Graz will have a boisterous crowd on hand as it is the first time they will be hosting a playoff game in many years.

Photo credits: Harald Lehmann, Arpad Kunzfeld, Swarco Raiders, Vienna Vikings

 

Roger Kelly
Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.
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