Rhein Fire and HC Jim Tomsula shock ELF defending champions with first win since 2007

In front of nearly eight thousand fans in the PSD Arena in Frankfurt, the Rhein Fire of Düsseldorf travelled south to face off against the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy with one goal in mind – Shock the rest of the European League of Football and earn a victory in their first game since their NFL Europe days in 2007. 

And shock the ELF they did beating the Galaxy 29-26 come-from-behind win, with head coach Jim Tomsula beaming afterwards.

In other words, the plan worked virtually to perfection. When the Rhein Fire reignited their team last October, management made it clear they wanted to build on the glory days of the team’s time in NFL Europe. Staying on brand, the Rhein Fire brought back Tomsula who coached the Fire back in 2005, prior to becoming a head coach in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.

It was clear from the outset that Tomsula brought an NFL attitude to the Fire.

Early in the first quarter, Tomsula’s quarterback Matt Adam scrambled to find Nathaniel Robitaille deep down the left sideline for a 60-yard gain. A few plays later Adam found Timothy Knuettel in the endzone giving them the first points of the game. Yet the Rhein Fire failed to convert the extra point giving them a 6-0 lead.

Frankfurt responded, as last year’s championship game MVP Jakeb Sullivan found Marvin Rutsch for a big gain. Yet the Galaxy’s drive stalled, and they had to settle for a 40-yard field goal, cutting the lead in half. 

After trading punts, Adam went deep finding Timothy Knuettel for a 36-yard touchdown. Once again Adam and Knuettel looked in sync hooking up for their second score of the day. Or so it seemed, as Knuettel was ruled down after a replay review on the one-yard line. Adam then ran a quarterback sneak on the next play making the score 13-6. 

On the next play from scrimmage, the Rhein Fire scored again as Swiss linebacker Lukas Ruoss stepped in front of a pass over the middle and ran it back for a 35-yard pick-six.

Trailing 19-3, the championship experience of the Galaxy was evident on the next drive with Sullivan engineering a beautifully executed drive, relying on short passes. Then the savvy quarterback found running back Gennadiy Adams for a three-yard touchdown pass to reduce the lead to 19-9. However, the Düsseldorf defense came up big on the next play, stopping Frankfurt’s two-point conversion.

After a strong defensive series, Frankfurt got the ball back with under a minute remaining left in the half. Sullivan found his receiver, Timo Benshuh, over the middle, setting up an impressive 55-yard field goal from former division one (Ball State) kicker Ryan Rimmler right before the break, to further narrow the gap to 19-12.

Now with momentum and a home crowd behind them, Frankfurt marched down the field to start the second half as Sullivan looked sharp, spreading the ball around to several different targets. The dual threat quarterback capped the drive with a quarterback sneak touchdown tying the game at 19. 

The Rhein offense responded, first with a 45-yard return from former Galaxy defensive back Omari Williams, then with two big plays from running backs Jason Agueman and Daniel Rennich. Aguemon and the Rhein Fire then took the lead 26-19 as the Frenchman powered through the Frankfurt defense for a one-yard touchdown run. 

The Fire nearly capitalized on the momentum, as Till Janssen made a spectacular interception. Yet they were forced to punt only three plays later.

Frankfurt responded with a clutch 99-yard scoring drive, kept alive by a clutch fourth and seven conversion in enemy territory. Sullivan stepped up and delivered a laser to running back Gennadiy Adams over the middle of the field.

After a controversial defensive pass interference, Sullivan ran in his second touchdown of the day following All-Europe center Joachim Christensen on a quarterback sneak. Frankfurt’s kicker Rimmler then drilled the extra point tying the game at 26 with only five minutes remaining.

On the next series, disaster struck the Rhein Fire as starting quarterback Matt Adams went down with a knee injury, forcing them to punt. Despite that, coach Jim Tomsula and the Düsseldorf defense forced a timely three and out getting them the ball back on Frankfurt’s own 45-yard line with 1:52 remaining in the game.

Insert backup quarterback Rohat Dagelen. The 25-year-old German who last played for the Düsseldorf Bulldozer’s in Germany’s lower leagues was now tasked with earning the hometown team their first pro victory since 2007. Dagelen fearlessly responded throwing a beautiful touch pass to Nathaniel Robitaille on the left sideline putting the Rhein Fire well within field goal range.

A few plays later Daniel Schumacher nailed a 29-yard field goal giving the Rhein Fire their first victory in 15 years, shocking the defending champions at home and sending a strong message to the rest of the ELF.

Watch the highlights here

In the others game in the ELF Central and South divisions, the Vienna Vikings downed Austrian rivals, the Tirol Raiders, 29-23. While the Barcelona Dragons won 38-9 over the Stuttgart Surge, and the Cologne Centurions defeated the Istanbul Rams 40-38.

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football