Dacia Vienna Vikings dominate from the air to take decisive lead in Austrian Championship Series

In a COVID-19 world, we’ve all gotten used to putting up with a little buffering. Slow connections, frozen screens, and those all too familiar “can you hear me” video calls have become our new reality. It seems that reality has seeped into football because, after struggling out of the gate last week, the Dacia Vienna Vikings showed Saturday that they were just buffering.

After a week of adjustments, their improved connection came through loud and clear at home at the Ravelin, as they crushed the Projekt Spielberg Graz Giants 45-13 in the second game of the Austrian Championship Series. The Vikings struck early and often with 480 yards of offense and six touchdowns, 433 yards of which came through the air. The Giants, who fought admirably in the season opener, looked overmatched from the start and couldn’t overcome an injury to their star import quarterback Hunter McEachern.

Vienna made their intention to dominate apparent right from the get go. On the second play from scrimmage, receiver Yannick Mayr caught a short pass, spun away from defensive back Fabian Kager and raced 79 yards for the score. It was to be just the first aerial volley in an unrelenting attack.

On the next drive, Luis Horvath deflected a McEachern pass intended for Florian Bierbaumer up in the air for a waiting Sebastien Wimmer to give the Vikings back possession. Import quarterback Jadrian Clark took full advantage, absorbing a hit to find running back Anton Wegan on a perfect 34-yard shot down the sideline for the touchdown. A series later, Clark played Houdini in a collapsing pocket and connected with Mayr again, who avoided four defenders to make the game 21-0. Graz responded with McEachern drilling the ball into the arms of Vikings defender Sebastien Wimmer for his second pick of the afternoon and Maurice Wappl opened the second quarter with an easy six yard touchdown catch.

Vikings defender Andrew Spencer returning an interception Photo: Dacia Vienna Vikings

After Leo Thosold forced a bad punt, Graz looked liked they would gain some momentum to end the first half. McEachern seemed to be finding a rhythm and using his legs to beat the Vikings pass rush, but on a 13-yard scramble a bone-crushing hit from Andrew Spencer left him breathless on the turf. Coming back two plays later, McEachern fell awkwardly on his already injured shoulder and left for the remainder of the game.

Austrian backup Bastian Steinmair finished the drive with a 20-yard back shoulder strike to Markus Schaberl in the endzone, but the Giants‘ hopes of a comeback left the field with McEachern. Jadrian Clark tossed his fifth touchdown to Bernhard Seikovits to end the first half with a commanding 35-6 lead and then spent the rest of the contest watching from the bench.

Even benching their starter couldn’t slow down the Vikings attack. On his first throw, Nico Hrouda hit David Schaaf on the wide receiver screen and the speedster won the 68-yard foot race down the sidelines to score. The Vikings would also add a 25-yard Dennis Tasic field goal late in the third quarter. Graz’s Steinmair finished his game with a 21-yard jump ball touchdown to Florian Bierbaumer and ended a relatively uneventful half of dueling backup action with a final score of 45-13.

Amidst all the offensive fireworks, Vikings quarterback Jadrian Clark stood apart from the rest. Evasive with his legs while always keeping his eyes downfield, Clark went 20 of 27 passing for 270 yards and five touchdowns in just a half of action. He also had a 48-yard rushing touchdown of his own called back for holding. Backup Nico Hrouda was efficient in his own right, going 10 of 15 for 163 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Under their leadership, the Vikings receiving corps flourished. Yannick Mayr led that group with 117 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions, while the physical Bernhard Seikovits caught eight passes for 71 yards and a touchdown of his own.

The Giants defense had few answers for the Vikings‘ aerial attack. Import Blake Nelson and Daniel Schonet combined for a single sack and Stefan Promitzer picked off Hrouda once late in an otherwise difficult day for Graz defenders. Leo Thosold led the team with 6.5 tackles and James King added 2.5 tackles for loss against the virtually non-existent Vienna ground game.

Photo: Dacia Vienna Vikings

On the other side, the Vikings brought new meaning to the term blanket coverage. While the defensive line shone a week ago, Vienna’s secondary dominated in Game 2 with eight combined pass breakups and three interceptions. Star import Andrew Spencer showed the big play ability he lacked on the road by dragging down a big interception, while home grown talent Sebastien Wimmer had two picks of his own. Leonard Gerner led the group with three pass break ups, one more than both Luis Horvath and Christoph Gombkoto. Vito Millauer topped the defense with four tackles.

The Vikings‘ defensive dominance was bad news for the Graz stat sheet and few players will be satisfied with their results. McEachern completed just four of 13 passes before his injury, throwing for 41 yards and two interceptions. Bastian Steinmair showed flashes in relief with two touchdown tosses, but was still just eight of 21 for 84 yards and two picks. Top target Florian Bierbaumer generated nowhere near his dominant totals from Game 1, finishing with five catches for 73 yards and a score, while Wenzel Rock went for just 31 yards as the game’s leading rusher.

With a home crowd behind them, the Vikings fired on all cylinders to make a statement and take a commanding lead in the Austrian Championship Series. A team that had many unanswered questions following Game 1 has now confirmed its status as one of Europe’s best going into a potentially decisive Game 3 next week. It is now Graz that slinks back home to rework their game plan for next week, because when it comes to the passing game, Vienna doesn’t look to be slowing down.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.