CEFL: Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns score on last play to sneak past Stockholm Mean Machines

The Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns punched their ticket to the CEFL semifinals on Saturday by winning a 29-27 nail-biter over the Stockholm Mean Machines.

As back-to-back defending champions, the Unicorns have been expected to continue their dominance and make another run at a title in 2023.  However, with a new-look roster and coaching staff after a lot of off-season turnover, they didn’t look quite the same as they have in years past.  In fact, the upstart Mean Machines had the hosts on the verge of defeat before surrendering the game winning points as the clock expired.

After a scoreless first quarter, Schwäbisch Hall got on the board first with a field goal.  The Mean Machines responded with a touchdown from Anton Blomgren to take the lead, but the Unicorns quickly struck back with a 50 yard bomb from quarterback Ian Gehrke to Caleb Schweigart.  Stockholm quarterback Mark Pappas then found Robin Gavelin Miranda in the endzone to regain the lead at 14-10, but the Unicorns once again answered as Gehrke threw another touchdown to Leonell Fritzen shortly before halftime as the home team took a 17-14 lead into the break.

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Unicorns QB Ian Gehrke Photo: Stefan Akander

Stockholm tied the game early in the third quarter with an Alvin Gustafsson field goal.  The teams traded turnovers, and then a botched punt by Schwäbisch Hall gave the Mean Machines a short field with a chance to take the lead.  However, the Unicorns defense would stand tall and hold the visitors to a field goal.

In the fourth quarter, Schwäbisch Hall regained the lead with a touchdown as Gehrke hit Christian Honig in the end zone, but a missed extra point kept the score at 23-20 in favor of the home team.  In the final minutes of the game, Stockholm had the ball with a chance to tie the game or take the lead.  After a methodical drive, Pappas found Aaron Rittmeier on a back-shoulder throw for a touchdown to give the visitors a 27-23 lead with around 30 seconds left.

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Stockholm QB Mark Pappas looking downfield Photo: Stefan Akander

Curiously, Stockholm elected to execute a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff, which gave the Unicorns possession close to midfield.  Schwäbisch Hall quickly moved down the field with a series of strikes from Gehrke on passes to the sideline.  The home team had the ball on the seven yard line with three seconds on the clock.  Gehrke took the snap out of the shotgun and quickly fired to Schweigart, who made a leaping catch and extended the ball over the goal line to give his team the win as time expired.

Next up for the Unicorns is a home game against the Thonon Black Panthers, a top team in France, on June 3rd.  The winner of the game will face the winner of the game between the La Courneuve Flash and the Parma Panthers in the CEFL Bowl.

A current student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carter played football in high school and has been a lifelong avid football fan.