PREVIEW: Looming Austrian Semifinals Promise Drama This Weekend

Austria may be home to towering mountains, glittering lakes and spectacular vistas, but it is also home to some of the best American football in Europe.

This weekend the Austrian semi-finals are scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday. Let’s take a look at the match-ups.

Saturday, July 4

Swarco Raiders (#2, 6-2) v. Prague Black Panthers (#3, 4-4)

Austria - Raiders v. Panthers

Saturday July 4

The Swarco Raiders opened the Austrian regular season with two straight losses, but since then have been unstoppable. Head coach Shuan Fatah has his troops working in unison, and no matter which quarterback he plugs in, Sean Shelton or Kyle Callahan, the team does not miss a beat. Although their numbers are not gaudy because they have split playing time, the two quarterbacks have played very well. In his five games behind center, Shelton has thrown for 1,487 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Callahan in four games has posted 796 yards passing and six touchdowns.

Their favorite target has been Clemens Erlsbacher and in eight games the shifty receiver has hauled in 28 passes for 578 yards and eight touchdowns. Swarco has also adopted a tandem approach to the running game as Fabien-Andre Gärtner and Sandro Platzgummer have combined for 555 yards and 11 touchdowns. Shelton and Callahan have added 450 yards between them.

Austria - Raiders - Pilger

Patrick Pilger

On defense, defensive backs Alexander Achammer and Patrik Pilger have made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks as they are one and two in the interception column with Achammer recording five for the year and 34 tackles. Pilger is not far behind with four picks and 30 tackles.

The Prague Black Panthers boast Austria’s top quarterback in Kyle Newhall. Newhall threw for 2,844 yards and 27 touchdowns in the eight game regular season. He has been particularly accurate against the Raiders totally over 800 yards passing in the two losses to Swarco. In the second loss, 33-27, the Panthers held the lead until late in the fourth quarter and in fact were leading 20-6 at the half behind the passing of Newhall.

His favorite target, Jan Dundacek, gained 1,114 yards receiving while scoring 10 touchdowns during the regular season. In fact the top three receivers in Austria were from Prague with Jan Stiegler and Jakub Wolesky occupying second and third on the list. However, the Black Panthers running game pales in comparison to the passing as Newhall was also the leading rusher on the team carrying the ball 50 times for 397 yards. Running back Matej Reinvart only rushed for a total 252 yards.

Defensively, the Black Panthers suffered and finished last in the league in defense allowing an average of 440 yards per game. Nevertheless, linebacker Karel Augusta led the Austrian league in tackles with 50 with linebacker Tomas Svoboda adding another 34.

An interesting footnote to this game is that these two teams have played a combined 30 games between them this year. Swarco has played the eight regular season games in Austria plus two in the Big6 and four in the Battle4Tirol. The Black Panthers finished the Czech regular season with a 7-1 record. Also interesting to note is that Prague will be playing in the Czech league semifinal the following day, Sunday July 5.

Vienna Vikings (#1, 7-1) v. Danube Dragons (#4, 2-6)

Austria - Vienna v. Danube2

Sunday July 5

The Vienna Vikings are a first place team flying under the radar if that is possible. They have quietly won the regular season title in the AFL losing only one game, to arch rivals the Swarco Raiders. But they have done it with little hoopla as head coach Chris Calacay works with a roster which although it contains an import, Canadian Joey Gabrick, a walk-on tight end studying in Vienna, is made up strictly of Austrian players who have meshed together well.

Austrian quarterback Alexander Thury has had a solid season finishing third in the passing stats throwing for almost 1,700 yards and 18 touchdowns in eight games. Receiver Stefan Postel finished third in Austria in receiving catching 43 passes for 597 yards and nine touchdowns. Although their aerial game was not league best, Vienna boasted the league’s leading rusher in Islaam Amadu who gained 682 yards on 125 carries. The rest of the team gained 345 yards combined.

The Vikings excelled at stopping the run, leading the league with 73 yards against, and they were led by linebacker Precious Ogbevoen who topped both the  team and the league in tackles averaging five a game while forcing two fumbles.

In the two games between the teams, Vienna outscored the Danube Dragons 81-20 in total. Although Danube opened the season with a decisive win over the Swarco Raiders, head coach Ivan Zivko’s team could not find their momentum again over the course of the season winning only one more game, against the last place Graz Giants. In between they seesawed between spectacular offensive displays to utterly dismal performances. Which team that will show up on Sunday is anybody’s guess.

Austria - Dragons - Pos

Florian Pos

Quarterback Alexander Good had a mediocre year throwing the ball gaining 1,617 yards passing, but 20 of those were touchdown passes. His real strength however was his running game as he gained 681 yards and scored six touchdowns.

In fact the Dragons were the top rushing team in Austria in 2015 as running back Florian Pos added another 421 yards to the team’s rushing totals on 102 carries, giving Danube a per game rushing average of 128.5 yards.

On defense linebacker Marcus Stockhammer was among the leading tacklers in Austria recording almost 40 in the eight game season. Another member of the linebacking crew, Ramon Azim, was not far behind with almost 30.

In fact, the Dragons were the second best team against the rush in Austria giving up an average of 100 yards per game. The only team ahead of them was the Vikings.

This game will be decided, it seems, on the ground. The two top rushing teams in the league against the two top rushing defenses.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.