Rhein Fire & Stuttgart Surge getting set for a European League of Football Championship Game for the ages

The 2023 European League of Football season comes to a close on Sunday as the undefeated Rhein Fire take on the Stuttgart Surge in the ELF Championship Game.

Following an offseason in which they made plenty of big splashes, most notably the signings of star running back Glen Toonga and standout pass rusher Alejandro Fernandez, the Fire were expected to compete for the championship this season.  Few, though, would have predicted the level of dominance that they have displayed in 2023.  In a 12-0 regular season, head coach Jim Tomsula’s team averaged 45 points scored per game while allowing just an average of under 17 points per game.  They led the league in many statistical categories on both sides of the ball.  Perhaps the one that stands out the most is touchdowns; their count of 78 was far ahead of the rest of the league, as the next-closest team finished with 57.

Quarterback Jadrian Clark had a surreal regular season, shattering multiple ELF records.  He threw for an absurd 53 touchdowns in 12 games, which was 23 more than the next-closest signal-caller.  He has plenty of excellent targets to throw to, including Willie Patterson, Harlan Kwofie, and Anthony Mahoungou (who missed the semifinal game).  On top of that insane passing game, the Fire also have probably the best running back in the league in Toonga, who rushed for 926 yards and 9 touchdowns in 8 games this season.  Up front, the Fire’s offensive line is also likely the best unit in the league, with standouts including Joachim Christensen, Sven Breidenbach, and Yasir Raji.

Photo: Rhein Fire

The Fire are also loaded with talent on defense. Spanish import Alejandro Fernandez led the way on the defensive line with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss during the regular season, though he missed the team’s semifinal matchup.  Marius Kensy and Flamur Simon are standout linebackers who will harass the opposing offense all game.  American imports Omari Williams and Koi Freeman are ballhawks in the secondary, though this unit may be the weakest part of a stacked roster.  While the defense may not be as jaw-dropping as the offense, they have proven all year that they are very difficult to score against.

Rhein Fire LB Alejandro Fernandez-Nieto #11 heading for a sack Photo: Rhein Fire

As if the Fire could not be any stronger going into this contest, they will have home field advantage in the championship game as well.  Last year, the league announced that the 2023 Championship Game would take place at the Schauinsland-Reisen-Arena in Duisburg, which is where the Fire play all of their home games.  This is a fortunate situation for the Fire, but they earned the right to be here following a perfect regular season and a 42-23 victory over the Frankfurt Galaxy in the semifinals last week.  

The team that will be tasked with pulling off the upset is the Stuttgart Surge.  The success of the Surge has been perhaps the best story of the season, as they finished the regular season 10-2 and have earned a spot in the championship game after two years in which their record was a combined 2-20.  

The architect of this turnaround is head coach Jordan Neuman, who joined the team in the offseason after many successful seasons with the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns of the German Football League.  Neuman brought his system and culture, along with many of his players, with him from the best team in the GFL, and we saw how well that translated to the ELF this season. 

Photo: FSP Sportfotos/Florian Schust.

The team’s quarterback is Reilly Hennessey, a player who followed Neuman from the Unicorns to the Surge in the offseason.  Hennessey missed five games due to an injury this year but came back and has helped his team reach this point.  His numbers do not jump off the page like Clark’s do, but he does well in terms of what he is asked to do.  He has an excellent group of receivers to throw to in Germans Louis Geyer and Yannick Mayr, as well as midseason addition Darrell Stewart Jr., who has been unstoppable in recent weeks.  Another midseason addition, Nicolas Khandar, has become the team’s primary running back.

Defensively, the Surge have a well-rounded group from the line to the secondary.  Sasan Jelvani and Aslan Zetterberg are the team’s best pass rushers, while Khaylan Kearse-Thomas and Nick Wenzelburger are standout linebackers.  In the secondary, Mitch Fettig and Goran Zec will try to shut down the Fire receivers.  Stuttgart’s defense was not necessarily one of the best in the league during the regular season, but it has done enough to get the team to this point.


Surge WR Louis Geyer heading upfield. Photo: Fabio Castelvetri

After winning the Central Conference title, the Surge easily handled the Wroclaw Panthers in the wild card round, before upsetting the undefeated Vienna Vikings, last year’s champions, on the road last week.  Now, the Surge will be playing yet another game against an undefeated team in their home stadium.  They proved last week that they could do it, so there is no reason for the Fire to take them lightly.

Frankly, the Fire are expected to win this game, as they have shown all season that nobody else in the league can compete with them, while the Surge lost a couple games to non-playoff teams in the Helvetic Guards and the Munich Ravens.  While the Surge will be underdogs in what is essentially a road game on Sunday, they have shown us that they are capable of winning in such a hostile environment.

A win for the Fire would be the cherry on top of a flawless season, while a win for the Surge would be the ultimate comeback story, from last year’s 0-12 season to a championship in 2023.  This meeting will be the first ever matchup between the Surge and the Fire in ELF history, hopefully it will be an exciting battle that is close until the clock hits zero.