Dacia Vienna Vikings take first Austrian title series game as defensive line feasts on Projekt Spielberg Graz Giants

In the 1960s and 70s, the Minnesota Vikings struck fear in the hearts of opposing offenses with a ferocious defensive line. For a moment Saturday, it seemed like the “Purple People Eaters” were reincarnate halfway around the world, brought out of retirement to hunt down Projekt Spielberg Graz Giants import quarterback Hunter McEachern. Alas, the Dacia Vienna Vikings might not have the name recognition of Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen, but the Austrian contingent did a spot on impersonation while leading their team to a 31-19 victory over Graz in the first game of the Austrian title series.

Despite the pressure, the Giants put together a strong offensive performance and it was clear from the start that they wouldn’t be rolling over for the heavily favored visitors. After a Jadrian Clark fumble was pounced on by Daniel Schonet on the opening drive, Graz put the game’s first points on the board when McEachern found hulking receiver Florian Bierbaumer for a 14-yard touchdown. The missed extra point put the Giants up six to begin the day.

After import quarterback Jadrian Clark marched the Vikings 66 yards in response to set up a 33 yard Dennis Tasic field goal, the Vienna defense made their presence felt. 2019’s leading sack artist Leon Balogh forced a fumble that was scooped up by Leonel Misangumukini, who raced 50 yards to take a 10-6 lead into the 2nd quarter. It was a lead that would not be relinquished.

A roughing the kicker penalty against the Giants gave Vienna’s next offensive series new life and running back Florian Wegan made Graz pay, capping a methodical drive by catching a swing pass from Clark and diving for the pylon through a crowd of defenders. McEachern couldn’t complete a Graz fourth down gamble in response and the teams went into halftime with Vienna up 17-6.

Bernard Sekovits #4 Photo (c) David Bitzan/GEPA

It was in the second half where the Vikings pass rush really began to eat. McEachern drove his team into the Vienna red zone on the opening drive of the third quarter but sacks from Oskar Kranich and Maximillian Mullner, interspersed with an offensive pass interference penalty against Florian Bierbaumer, forced the Giants to punt on fourth and 33. Although Graz import Blake Nelson began the ensuing drive with a sack of his own, Vienna marched 78 yards on seven plays and Jadrian Clark found Bernhard Seikovits for a nine yard touchdown catch.

After a series of sacks and penalties stalled two consecutive drives, the Giants got back into the game when McEachern hit Markus Schaberl with a 39 yard strike to cut the deficit to 11. The momentum swing wouldn’t last, as Clark led the Vikings on a 90 yard drive that ended with a 16 yard touchdown pass to David Schaaf.

The Giants weren’t ready to go away however. McEachern found Florian Bierbaumer for a 70 yard romp, then ran it in himself from five yards out to keep the comeback hopes alive. After the two-point attempt fell short and onside kick failed, Bernhard Seikovits committed an unnecessary roughness penalty then failed to move the chains on third down to force a Vikings punt.

With 2:16 remaining on the clock, McEachern marched in to Viking territory but couldn’t complete the fourth down pass to Christoph Kohler. Vienna ran out the clock and took the first contest in the five game series 31-19.

Record-setting Belhaven University quarterback Hunter McEachern came as advertised in his first European start, going 21 of 38 for 317 yards and two touchdowns along with 48 yards and a score on the ground in the losing effort. Florian Bierbaumer was his favorite target, catching 11 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown, while Markus Schaberl caught five of his own for 77 yards and a score. Despite the offensive output, none of them could overcome a Vikings‘ defense that made big plays in key moments.

Vienna got sacks from Ugochukwu Uwakwe, Maximillien Mullner, Moriz Elmauthaler, Nikolaus Plenert and two from Oskar Kranich. The biggest name along the defensive front, Leon Balogh, added three tackles for loss and the forced fumble that Leonel Misangumukini returned for six. When the Giants did break through, star import Andrew Spencer bailed out his team with six crucial tackles.

Photo: (c) David Bitzan/GEPA

Vikings quarterback Jadrian Clark was an easy 19 of 29 for 198 yards and three touchdowns, but took advantage of the short fields afforded to him by the Giants‘ 85 yards of penalties and three failed fourth down conversions. Fresh off his stint with the NFL International Player Pathway training program, Bernhard Seikovits led Vienna with 70 yards on seven catches, while David Schaaf was close behind with four receptions for 51 yards. Both scored touchdowns as did Florian Wegan, who matched his brother Anton’s rushing total with 54 combined yards.

“We started the game a little bit slow, but quickly realized that we had to make our plays,” admitted Vikings head coach Chris Calaycay. “After that, we were able to record key stops and a score through the defense. It was the first game in a long time, so we saw that our offense didn’t work right and didn’t get into their rhythm fast enough. But we now have a week to work on it.”

Leo Thosold led the Giants defence with 8.5 tackles, while Blake Nelson and Daniel Schonet both recorded six. Nelson, Lorenz Rudolf and Konstantin Kerngast each added sacks, but weren’t able to come through with their backs against the wall.

For the Vikings, this is just step one on the way towards the end goal of an Austrian title. In a five game series, there will be no secrets between the two clubs and Graz will have plenty of opportunities to adjust their game plan. With a few key blocks and improved team discipline, a McEachern led offence looks like a dangerous opponent. Vienna cannot afford to sit back and relax

“Overall, we can be satisfied with our performance, even if we will now work hard to make up for our mistakes,” said running back Florian Wegan. “The next two games of the series, we have home field advantage. With our own fans behind us on the Ravelin, it will certainly be very special.”

That’s a concept the Giants understand well, and they will seek to return the favor as home field spoilers when they travel to Vienna next Saturday.

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.