New chapter the same old story as Swarco Raiders steamroll Projekt Spielberg Graz Giants in opener

The Swarco Raiders have sold their 2021 season as the beginning of a new chapter for the organization but when they took the field on Saturday for the first time in 18 months, it read like a familiar tale.

That is to say there was no stopping the explosive Tyrolean offense as they steamrolled the Projekt Spielberg Graz Giants to earn new head coach Kevin Herron a commanding 45-18 victory.

While unfamiliar faces were the norm on both sidelines, veteran quarterback Sean Shelton helped the seamless transition between eras with his stellar play, completing 38 of 51 passes for 385 yards and 5 touchdowns.

“It was great to be able to play again. I’m happy about how we performed and I’m excited to see how our team will develop,” the import pivot said after the game.

In a game that turned out to be a rout, it was the young Giants who drew first blood. Running back Wenzel Rock and quarterback Conor Miller led their team down the field in ten plays and Rock ended the opening drive with a one yard touchdown run. The extra point failed and the Giants took a 6-0 lead.

A 39-yard run from Tomas Bonatti helped set up a 31-yard Arno Schwarz field goal in response, but the Raiders didn’t get going until the dying minutes of the first half. Shelton found Marco Schneider for a four yard touchdown with 2:25 remaining then got the ball back after a Graz three and out, methodically driving the field with 75 seconds left to connect with Fabian Abfalter for an 11-yard score to make it 17-6 at the break.

The Tyrolean onslaught would not be stopped in the second half.  Another efficient ten play drive from Shelton to open the third resulted in a six yard Marco Schneider touchdown catch and a fourth down stop by Vincent Müller helped end the frame with 16-yard strike to Adrian Platzgummer in the end zone. One drive later, Marco Schneider caught a short pass over the middle and turned upfield for a 63 yard score, notching his third touchdown and completing a swing of 38 unanswered points by the Raiders.

With the game now seemingly out of reach, Conor Miller decided to go down swinging. The quarterback connected with big tight end Florian Bierbaumer for a couple of big gains, then found Philipp Sommer for a 27-yard touchdown pass, though the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete. Any chance of an improbable come back was ended by a late Lukas Haslwanter touchdown plunge, but the Giants finished on a high note with a three yard Darrell Adams touchdown in the dying seconds.

While the Raiders rode on the arm of Shelton, several of his targets had equally impressive outings. Wide receiver Marco Schneider caught four balls for 80 yards and three touchdowns, while Fabian Abfalter had nine catches for 77 yards and Adrian Platzgummer notched six for 91 yards in addition to a score each. Running back Tobias Bonatti added 97 yards on 11 touches.

Defensively, Sebastian Schaar led his team with 6.5 total tackles, a forced fumble and a sack. Vincent Müller forced a fumble of his own and Davide Rettenbacher caught the game’s only interception.

For the Giants, Conor Miller finished 16 of 32 passing for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Philipp Sommer was his favorite target with six catches for 92 yards and a score. Wenzel Rock carried 16 times for 74 yards and a touchdown.

While such a commanding win in the opener proves the Raiders remain a force to be reckoned with, the true test will come next week when they face the Dacia Vienna Vikings on the road, their first meeting since the 2019 Austrian Bowl.

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