Dacia Vienna Vikings cling to unbeaten record in overtime thriller against Graz Giants

The Dacia Vienna Vikings found themselves down two touchdowns at halftime to a surging Projekt Spielberg Graz Giants team Saturday in Graz, Austria and quite obviously this did not sit well with head coach Chris Calaycay.

A fired up Vienna team came out in the second half and outscored the Giants 29-8 to win the game in overtime and remain unbeaten in the Austrian Football League. 

This had been a highly anticipated matchup between the unbeaten Dacia Vienna Vikings and a Projekt Spielberg Graz Giants squad that has gone from strength to strength since week one.

The Giants were carrying the momentum of a two-game winning streak into this contest and it showed from the start.

The game lived up to its billing.

The opening drive from Vienna saw a fired up Graz defense that halted the Vikings opening drive and then snuffed out a fake punt attempt, giving the offense favorable field position for their first possession.

Vienna decided not to double-cover the league leading receiver Darrell Adams Jr. (#9), which would prove fateful as the Giants would follow up with a 60-yard bomb down the sideline which Adams would juggle before running into the endzone putting the team up 7 – 0.

The Vikings methodically drove down the field with a varied air and ground attack on the ensuing drive; a drive that saw an abundance of after-whistle activity, personifying the importance of the game for both sides. In almost perfect fashion, Eystin Salum (#3) again used his legs to score on a six yard scamper and Vienna evened the game up 7 – 7.

Vikings WR Philipp Dubravec #17 caught 9 passes for 112 yards and 2 TDs Photo: Peter Kramberger/Dacia Vienna Vikings

After a big run by Graz running back Wenzel Rock (#26), the offense stalled and were forced to attempt a 30 yard field-goal which sailed to the right. The Vienna offense then went to work dicing up the Giants secondary with the help of Vienna receiver Philipp Dubravec (#17), but the Graz defense stood firm and forced a punt.

Dug into a deep hole after a pin-point punt from the Vikings, the Giants went to work from their three-yard line. After a couple of runs by Rock picking up the tough yards, he hauled in a 30 yard screen pass, advancing the Giants to midfield and another 15 was added on top for a personal foul. Deep in Vienna territory, QB Conor Miller (#18) began to thread the needle to an isolated Florian Bierbaumer (#89) who was able to win one-on-one matchups, first for a back shoulder fade and then a slant to get them into the redzone. Rock then went straight up the gut to punch it in for the score making it 14 – 7.

The Vikings being arguably one of the best teams in Europe were eager to prove it, and on the next drive went a comfortable 75 yards in just six plays to bring the score back level.

It was then time for ex-NFL receiver Darrell Adams Jr. to take center stage on the Vienna kick-off. The ball hit the floor at the Graz 10-yard line before bouncing up into the waiting arms of the 6’3, 225 pound receiver. A foot in the ground and a dash for the Graz sideline before turning it up and going to the house 97 yards shrugging off Vikings along the way. 

After a negligible Viking drive Graz got the ball back with 1:30 still on the clock. Not comfortable with their seven-point lead Miller utilized his strong Austrian receiving core with strikes to both Bierbaumer and Markus Schaberl (#87) who would go in for the score on a 35-yard seam route to take the Giants up 13-points clear going in at the half.

Giants WR Darrell Adams caught 7 passes for 127 yards and 1 TD Photo: Peter Kramberger/Dacia Vienna Vikings

A visibly fired up Vienna defense came out in the second-half with a number of big hits from linebacker Lucky Efosa Ogbevoen (#40), but were unable to prevent the surge that was the Graz offense from driving down the field. The Giants offense looked unstoppable after circus-like catches from Adams until a uncharacteristic miss-throw from Miller resulted in Vienna safety Luis Theo Horvath (#32) picking the ball off on the five-yard line before running it back to the 50.

The Vikings then began to mount an offensive of their own but great pursuit from the Giants front-seven kept Salum on the run. It looked as if the Giants were about to force a turnover-on-downs but an escape act from Salum managed to buy just enough time for Dubravec to get open down field and pull in a 25-yard reception to bring the Vikings within striking distance. After a pass interference call on the Graz secondary Florian Wegan (#26) ran it in from the three-yard line to bring it back to a one score game.

Graz were determined not to let the Vikings mount a comeback and started the drive off with another long screen to Rock, this time going for 60 yards before his counterpart Lars Kowlowski (#33) would run it in from the 3-yard line. At this point in the game you would not have guessed it was the same Graz team that went down 35 – 18 to Swarco a month ago.

Vienna would drive down the field themselves giving the Graz secondary a heavy dose of Dubravec who would finish the drive off himself with a 10-yard fade in the back of the endzone just before the end of the third-quarter. The Giants would drive down the field themselves with more secondary-exposing throws from Miller until the drive stalled on the Vienna 12-yard line and were forced to kick a field-goal that again, sailed wide to the right keeping the score at 35 – 28.

Vikings LB Theo Horvath #32 returning an interception. He had two on the day Photo: Peter Kramberger/Dacia Vienna Vikings

A three-and-out from the Vikings gave the ball straight back to Graz who were themselves unable to get much going and punted after a couple of first downs. The Vikings were determined to get something going through the air and almost completely abandoned the ground game the following drive. A great defensive effort from the Graz secondary prevented any deep balls but Salum would not force anything and settled for yards with his legs instead. On fourth-down on the Graz 45 the Vikings went for it with five wide, Graz sent a six-man blitz after Salum leaving the middle of the wide field open. Salum took advantage of this, got out of the pocket and scrambled the 45 yards himself for the score to tie the game 35 – 35.

On the following drive an attempted throw-away from Miller went straight into the arms of Horvath giving the Vikings great field position with only 1:43 left to play. Vienna were unable to do anything with the ball however and punted away to Graz with 22 seconds left to play. The Giants would try to get their play-maker Adams into game early in the hope of breaking off something big, but it was to no avail with the game ending 35 a-piece taking it to overtime.

Vikings won the coin-toss and began on the Graz 25 with the ball. On the first play of overtime Vienna running back Wegan went straight through the middle of a Graz defense for a 20-yard gain. A sack by the Graz defense would take them back a few yards but on the following play Salum ran play-action to the right before throwing a dart straight to Dubravec for the score.

Vikings RB Florian Wegan rushed for 105 yards and 1 TD Photo: Peter Kramberger/Dacia Vienna Vikings

Next up, Graz. After a promising running game it looked as if the Giants were poised to be able to get into the endzone themselves, but fell short due to the pressure in the backfield from the Vikings front-seven. The game ended 42 – 35 after a last ditch attempt to get Adams the ball on an underthrown slant-route.

Graz will undoubtedly walk away from this one feeling they let the win slip through their fingers. They were in prime position multiple times to end the Vikings win streak but small errors allowed the Vikings back into the game. Vienna still remains the top team in the league, and deservedly so. It was not by sheer luck or a product of Graz error that allowed them to walk away with a hard fought victory today, but instead a well coached team with talent across the board will keep them favorites to win it all this year.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who has worked in B2B journalism and comms in the third sector; with experience in both education and human rights. He has played football for the London Warriors for the last 15 years as well as the Great Britain squad and spent time in Europe playing in the Maple League and FIDAF.