Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns needed strong second half to overcome feisty Calanda Broncos in CEFL semi-final

The Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns may be loaded up with an eye towards German dominance, but they got all they could handle across the border in Switzerland on Sunday.

Some wondered how the untested Calanda Broncos would fair jumping straight into the fire of a CEFL semi-final against a GFL powerhouse, but the home team demonstrated more than enough guts and toughness to tie up their heralded foes for the entire first half. Ultimately, as in most tests between teams from differing levels of competition, it was a second half surge that doomed the Swiss upstarts and they fell to the Unicorns in a valiant 35-21 effort that had plenty for both sides to cheer about.

The Broncos showed they meant business early on their opening drive with a punishing ground game. A fired up offensive line carved lanes for Erik Rageth and massive fullback Steffen Haenelt rumbled for big yardage, grinding his way in from six yards out for the game’s opening score.

The Unicorns failed to capitalize on their next drive, but Calanda quarterback Conor Manning gave them a second chance with a throw directly into the hands of middle linebacker Patryk Bigus. They came up empty when Alexander Haupert couldn’t connect with Moritz Böhringer in the endzone and it was the exact same story on a long drive to start the second quarter, but the Broncos fared little better offensively for most of the frame.

Unicorns WR Yannick Mayr led all receivers with 7 catches for 147 yards and 1 TD Photo: Sergio Brunetti

Schwäbisch Hall threatened again later in the quarter after Yannick Mayr gained 25 yards on a well-executed wide receiver screen. Aurieus Minton got them closer with a 17-yard jump ball and Haupert plunged the final yard to get his team on the board. The point after went wide left but the Unicorns‘ defense forced a quick three-and-out to get the ball back. Mayr opened the next series with a drop on an almost certain touchdown throw but it wouldn’t matter, as he redeemed himself two plays later by hauling in a 55-yard score and Böhringer added the two-point conversion.

Ever the fiesty underdog, Calanda would not be satisfied to enter the half with a deficit. They pounded the rock down Schwäbisch Hall’s throat to begin the two-minute drill, then finished with a little razzle-dazzle. Max Gray took the jet sweep to draw the defense right, then turned and executed the throwback to Manning, who heaved the ball 29 yards to Adrian Suenderhauf in the endzone. Gray added a pick on Haupert’s last second hail mary and it was tied at 14 at the half.

It was then that the German powerhouse began to find their rhythm. Running back John Santiago came out of the break like a man possessed, putting together 53 yards on six combined touches on the opening drive, including back-to-back 16-yard runs. After Mayr put them in position on a 17-yard screen pass, Santiago reaped his rewards, somehow teleporting out of the grasp of two Broncos defenders and scampering six yards to take the lead.

The Calanda offense stalled in their response and Schwäbisch Hall took advantage, but not before Mayr and corner Konstantin Katz got involved in some nasty extracurricular activity following a particularly forceful pass interference penalty. Aided by the flag, the Unicorns kept marching on the ground and Moritz Böhringer stumbled past the pylon on an eight-yard end-around to record his first touchdown since returning from the NFL.

Calanda WR Severin Murk had 8 catches for 130 yards and 1 TD Photo: Sergio Brunetti

The Broncos faltered again as right tackle Filip Kovljenic was ejected and Schwäbisch Hall kept trucking, this time thanks to the hard running of Jannis Fiedler, and the back-up running back added a five-yard score to make it 35-14. Broncos‘ receiver Severin Murk split a pair of defenders to add a 53-yard touchdown catch with little more than a minute remaining but it was too late. Mayr sealed the 35-21 Unicorns victory with the onside recovery.

For the home team, Conor Manning was 16 of 31 passing for 214 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Severin Murk had eight catches for 130 yards and a score, while Max Gray had three for 25 whilst also being his team’s top defender. Bruising Steffen Haenelt carried 10 times for 50 yards and a touchdown, and Erik Rageth added 11 rushes for 41 yards.

The Unicorns finished with four rushing touchdowns but it was Yannick Mayr who was the standout, catching seven passes for 147 yards and a score. John Santiago carried 16 times for 72 yards, Jannis Fiedler had nine for 48, and Moritz Böhringer had four combined touches for 36 yards ,as each player added a touchdown. Alexander Haupert was efficient under center, completing 15 of 22 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception, along with a rushing score.

While the team from Chur must await the Swiss season for a shot at redemption, Schwäbisch Hall now has an even greater test in front of them. They’ll meet the Swarco Raiders of Austria in CEFL Bowl XV on June 26 in what is sure to be a game for the ages.

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.