Once dominant teammates in Dresden, Mitchell Paige and AJ Wentland will clash in Austrian battle of the titans

When the Dacia Vienna Vikings and Swarco Raiders take to the field on Saturday, it will renew one of the most competitive rivalries on the European continent.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic left the Raiders watching from the sidelines in 2020, the two Austrian powerhouses had come face to face in eight of the last ten national championships, each claiming four titles.

“We can expect it’s going to be a pretty hyped up game considering we haven’t faced the Raiders since the Austrian Bowl in 2019,” Vikings head coach Chris Calaycay says. “There are some question marks about where both teams stand in relation to each other.”

When pleasantries are exchanged after a year and a half apart, sparks are sure to fly, but it won’t be the only exciting reunion taking place.

Lined up on opposite sides of the ball, Vikings receiver Mitchell Paige and Raiders linebacker AJ Wentland are two difference makers for their teams. They were also record setting teammates as rookies with the Dresden Monarchs in 2018.

“AJ and I are good friends. I’ve been keeping tabs on how well he has been doing and how he has just continued to improve every season,” Paige says. “We have a good relationship and I’m really excited to see him on Saturday, although it was a lot better when he was playing on my team!”

Mitchell Paige #5 and AJ Wentland #49 share a laugh on the sideline with Dresden Monarchs QB Trenton Norvell #4

When the two shared a uniform, Paige and Wentland formed one of the most dominant import duos in recent history. Paige racked up 2,070 yards receiving and 26 touchdown, more than 700 yards and 12 scores more than the next highest pass catcher in Germany. Wentland amassed an astounding 206 total tackles, 55 more than the next best defender, and the two dragged the Monarchs to the GFL semi-finals.

“2018 was a blast. It was the first time in Europe for the both of us and I think we exceeded expectations for our first year both individually and as a team,” Wentland says.

After falling to the eventual champion Schwabisch Hall Unicorns, Paige stepped away from the game and returned to the States. The two kept in contact about over the intervening three years, as Wentland  repeated his feat as Germany’s tackle leader in 2019 and then claimed a Maple Bowl title with the Kuopio Steelers in 2020. A possible European return for Paige was always a focal point of the discussion.

“We have always talked about Mitch’s potential return to Europe,” Wentland shared. “I’m really happy that he finally pulled the trigger and got back out here.”

When the diminutive pass catcher from Indiana announced he would make his comeback in Austria late last month, it put the friends on an inevitable collision course. When staring across the white line, the former teammates will become adversaries and each knows what the other can bring to the table.

“AJ is one of the best defensive players I have ever played with. We have to know where he is on every snap because he is so instinctive and reacts to everything so quickly,” Paige says. “He is also an awesome leader and an asset to any team that he is a part. I have a ton of respect for him.”

Wentland is no less effusive in his own praise.

“Mitch is a great athlete, he has tremendous speed and agility,” he raves. “He can stop on a dime and get back to full speed immediately, which makes him really good as a route runner and a very dangerous kick and punt returner.”

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to suggest that a dominant outing from either player could change the outcome of the game and each side has a plan to stop that from happening.

“AJ will make every tackle if we let him. I know he will because I have seen him do it,” Paige admits. “We have to do a great job of getting hands on him every play and making him play his best game to get to the ball.”

On the other side, Swarco’s do-it-all backer was less inclined to tip his hand, but no less focused on Paige

“To win, we need to execute our game plan and win our one-on-one matchups in all three phases of the game,” Wentland states firmly.

Whether or not either team succeeds in shutting down the former Monarch across from them, fans are in for a battle of titans, both individually and at an organizational level.

The best part is it should be just the first of many meetings this season.

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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.
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