Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns claim first CEFL Bowl for Germany with gutsy game-winning drive

For the first time in the 15-year history of the Central European Football League, a German team has claimed the CEFL Bowl crown.

The Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns came from behind on their final drive of the game Saturday to steal a 22-16 victory out from underneath the Swarco Raiders of Austria. The historic victory capped a chaotic and shortened tournament in which the Unicorns became the first team from Germany to compete, but advanced automatically to the semi-finals after pandemic cancellations.

Led by homegrown quarterback Alexander Haupert, Schwäbisch Hall held the ball for nearly 10 fewer minutes than the three-time defending CEFL champion Raiders but made the big plays needed to silence a raucous crowd in Innsbruck.

“This was an absolute team win. Everyone was on point when the game was on the line,” Haupert said after the victory. “The defense held them scoreless in the second half and the offense was able to finish with a great last drive. It was well-executed and the play-calling from our coaches was right on the money.”

In typical fashion, it was the Raiders who opened the game with an efficient 11-play drive led by veteran quarterback and CEFL Bowl XII MVP Sean Shelton, but Lukas Fink dropped the pass in the endzone on third down and Emanuel Trinkl settled for a 15-yard field goal to take an early lead.

Unicorns QB Alexander Haupert threw for 303 yards and 3 TDs in CEFL championship game Photo: Sarah Philipp

The Unicorns responded quickly with a large helping of star tight end Moritz Böhringer. The former NFL draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings picked up two tough first downs, then flexed out wide and blazed past corner Thomas Kugler for an easy 42-yard score.

That display of top-end talent did little to upset the Raiders’ rhythm and Shelton came out calm and collected to drive his team 80 yards down the field, aided by top receivers Marco Schneider and Adrian Platzgummer. A facemask penalty by Eduard Fütterer against the latter placed the ball on the four-yard line and Ruben Seeber took the pitch in with ease to get back on top.

Both teams stalled for the duration of the second quarter until Haupert made a crucial error with little more than a 1:30 remaining. Rolling right, he threw back across his body, resulting in an easy pick from Jan Mayerhofer. Taking over at the 50, the Raiders offensive line gave Shelton the time required to pick apart the defense, with Simon Pilger and Platzgummer delivering big pick-ups. A nine-yard dagger to Marco Schneider extended the margin, but Trinkl missed the point after to make it 16-7 at the half.

Unicorns WR Tyler Rutenbeck #5 hauling in a pass over the head of Swarco Raiders defender Thomas Kugler #9 Photo: Sarah Philipp

The Raiders looked like they would continue to control the flow of the game when they ate up nearly eight minutes on their first drive of the second half, but a sack and tackle for loss by Tobias Löffler on consecutive plays kept points off the board. Pinned at their own two-yard line by a Shelton pooch punt, the Unicorns gambled big with the play action pass and cashed in. Redeeming himself for two previous deep balls that fell to the turf, Tyler Rutenbeck hauled in the well-thrown ball from Alexander Haupert and never looked back, winning a 98-yard foot race to bring his team within two.

Swarco continued to eat up clock but a swarming Schwäbisch Hall defense limited the yardage and came up with stops on two time consuming drives as the game rolled into the fourth. A Simon Butsch sack gave Haupert back the ball with 3:53 remaining in the game and the German team showed no panic, piecing together a gutsy game-winning drive.

Moritz Böhringer picked up an early first down, then absorbed a headshot over the middle from Vincent Müller that sent his helmet spinning and got the defensive back ejected. The resulting penalty and a few Jannis Fiedler runs got the Unicorns to the edge of field goal range, but Haupert wanted more. The quarterback picked up 17 with his legs on third and 10, then shocked everyone by going aerial from 15 yards out with 12 seconds on the clock. Rutenbeck caught the jump ball over the head of Thomas Kugler for his second touchdown and Böhringer added a two-point conversion to make it a six-point lead. With eight seconds left, Shelton had two shots to save his team but Simon Butsch brought the quarterback down and the Unicorns flooded the field to celebrate a 22-16 win.

Swarco Raiders WR Adrian Platzgummer Photo: Swarco Raiders

Alexander Haupert finished the game 12 of 23 passing for 303 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but Tyler Rutenbeck took home the CEFL Bowl XV MVP award with two catches for 113 yards and two scores. Moritz Böhringer had his best performance since returning from the NFL, recording seven catches for 123 yards and one touchdown, while Eduard Fütterer led all defenders with eight tackles.

The decision to dress Rutenbeck over star running back John Santiago proved a decisive one and the Raiders struggled to contain an explosive receiving corps after benching speedy Davion Washington in favour of linebacker AJ Wentland, who led his team with five tackles.

Sean Shelton was an efficient 29 of 37 passing for 237 yards and one touchdown, but the Unicorns took away the big plays downfield. Adrian Platzgummer had 11 catches for 82 yards, Marco Schneider was bottled up with five catches for 44 yards and a score, and Toni Rabensteiner added three for 46. Running back Romed Zangerle had six catches for 32 yards, while carrying 15 times for 60 more.

Schwäbisch Hall’s performance marks a new chapter for the CEFL, opening the door for more dominant German teams to compete for the title in the future. Austria has dominated the tournament over the last five years, with the Raiders claiming the last three trophies, but the era of GFL may have just begun as the CEFL continues to grow beyond regional status.

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.