ELF: Tirol Raiders clinch final playoff spot with decisive win over Berlin Thunder

The Tirol Raiders clinched the fourth and final spot in the European League of Football playoff bracket on Sunday with a 37-10 victory over the Berlin Thunder on the road.

Entering the game, the Raiders and Thunder were two of four teams at 7-4 in the hunt for the last playoff spot.  With advantages in the tiebreaker department, the Raiders’ mission was simple: win their game, and they would make the playoffs.  Their plan got off to a rocky start in Berlin, though, when they punted on their opening drive, and then Thunder quarterback Joe Germinerio threw a 51 yard touchdown strike to Robin Wilzeck on Berlin’s first offensive play of the game.  However, the Raiders were able to regain their composure and play a solid half of football after the early slip-up.  The Raiders scored the next 17 points of the game, mostly thanks to long touchdown runs by C.J. Okpalobi and Tobias Bonatti, and entered halftime with a 17-10 lead.

In the second half, the team from Innsbruck, Austria, completely took over, outscoring Berlin 20-0.  Sparked by a forced fumble from his team’s defense on Berlin’s opening possession, Raiders quarterback Sean Shelton threw two touchdown passes in the first seven minutes of the third quarter, allowing his team to get a 30-10 lead from which they would never look back.  While the defense shut down the Thunder offense, Shelton threw one final touchdown pass to Adrian Platzgummer at the start of the fourth quarter, essentially clinching both the game and a playoff spot for the Raiders.

In the victory, Shelton threw the ball 21 times, completing 13 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns, though he did throw two interceptions.  The Raiders’ prolific ground attack was led by C.J. Okpalobi, who had 11 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown, while Tobias Bonatti contributed eight carries for 97 yards and a score.  Lukas Fink and Adrian Platzgummer caught four passes for 95 and 77 yards, respectively, as each receiver found the end zone.  The Raiders defense held Berlin to just 164 total yards of offense.  While he had that big play to start the game, Joe Germinerio completed just 6 of 17 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown for the Thunder.  Standout running back Jocques Crawford had a mediocre day managing just 45 yards on 18 carries for Berlin.

In their first season in the ELF, the Raiders have their first playoff game this Saturday as they travel to Hamburg to take on the top-seeded Sea Devils.  As these teams did not meet in the regular season, it should be an extremely competitive and exciting game as each side looks to punch their ticket to Klagenfurt for the championship game.