Sean Shelton leads Swarco Raiders to emotional statement win in Austrian Bowl XXXVI

The Swarco Raiders have won four Austrian Bowls since Sean Shelton arrived in Innsbruck, but as he trotted around Tivoli Stadium clutching the game ball to his chest, it was clear that the fifth was special.

When he finally embraced his wife, the emotions flooded forth and not for the first time. No one will ever truly know what they shared in that moment, but it was the culmination of months of turmoil, exhaustion, and sometimes miraculous joy.

The COVID-19 pandemic and a year without football. The birth of their daughter and the wonders of new parenthood. The struggles of guiding an inexperienced team, some so young he had coached them himself and overcoming the seemingly never-ending parade of injuries that came so close to derailing their season. And in the end, a veteran quarterback proving he was still at the top of his game, toppling the number one seed Dacia Vienna Vikings for the third time this season by a commanding 35-13 margin.

Swarco Raiders QB Sean Shelton accept Austrian Bowl MVP award Photo: Swarco Raiders

When words are not enough, a champion’s tears say it all.

Predicted to be a tightly contested matchup between two of the best teams in Europe, Shelton and the Raiders ran roughshod over their favored opponents.  A soggy field in Innsbruck played havoc with the Vienna offense, but Swarco was the image of perfection, putting up 28 first-half points and 35 unanswered before allowing themselves to take their foot off the gas late in the fourth quarter.

Swarco QB Sean Shelton battling for yardage Photo: Swarco Raiders

Ironically, it was an early mistake that set the stage for the home team’s dominance. A Leon Balogh sack forced a 43-yard Arno Schwarz field goal attempt midway through the first. The ball hooked left and the Vikings took possession, but on the next play, a high snap went off the hands of quarterback Eystin Salum and was recovered by Ruben Seeber, the very same error that led to Vienna’s defeat in the last meeting between these two clubs.

Swarco WR Lukas Fink signalling his TD as he heads to the end zone Photo: Swarco Raiders

Knowing they had to capitalize with points, the Raiders gambled with what could be dubbed the ‘Tirol Special.’ Receiver Marco Schneider deftly took the reverse from running back Tobias Bonatti and reverted to his days as a passer with the Swarco youth program, throwing it up to a wide-open Shelton in the endzone for a seven-yard trick play score.

There were more fireworks to come and a drop on a beautiful Salum deep ball by Mitchell Paige on the next drive forced a punt. Again, snapping proved an issue and punter Dennis Tasic couldn’t reign in a ball sent low and to the left. Schneider recovered the fumble at the Vikings‘ four-yard line and Seeber pounded it in to extend the lead.

A slippery football continued to haunt Vienna but the Raiders seemed completely unfazed by the alpine rain as it picked up intensity in the second quarter. A 20-yard strike to Schneider proved Shelton wouldn’t have any issue with the precipitation and Adrian Platzgummer drove home the point, freezing Nikolaus Huszar with a double move and giving his quarterback a wide-open target for a 44-yard touchdown. It proved even easier one series later, as Shelton rolled left and Lukas Fink was all alone in behind coverage to add a 43-yard score of his own.

Swarco Raiders Patrick Pilger #20 eluding tacklers Photo: Swarco Raiders

Needing a spark, the Vikings replaced Salum with Nico Hrouda under center, but the change did nothing to prevent a 28-0 halftime deficit. They were no more successful after the break and both teams fell silent until Shelton decided to show off his athleticism, rumbling for 32 yards on the last play of the third quarter. A couple of key pickups from Adrian Platzgummer and another scramble set the quarterback up for one final touchdown plunge a few plays later.

Almost overcome by emotion, Shelton was greeted coming off the field by a powerful bearhug. At 35-0, the game was over and the quarterback watched from the sideline as Vienna added a Daniel Schwam touchdown catch and a Benjamin Straight pick six off of backup Leo Kober to save face. If the garbage time scores mattered at all, it wasn’t evident as the team erupted in celebration at the final whistle.

Dacia Vienna Vikings QB Eystin Salum #3 being brought down Photo: Swarco Raiders

After sharing a powerful moment with his wife, Shelton comfortably accepted the game’s MVP award. The seven-year Austrian veteran finished 16 of 25 passing for 219 yards and two touchdowns, adding 17 carries for 55 yards on the ground, a rushing touchdown, and his seven-yard receiving score. Adrian Platzgummer was his top target, hauling in four passes for 69 yards and a score, while Lukas Fink had two for 65 and a touchdown. Marco Schneider had three catches for 56 yards and added a touchdown pass. Davion Washington led the defense with 4.5 tackles and Ruben Seeber, Julian Perfler, Alex Ferrari, and Manuel Jovic each recorded a sack.

For Vienna, do-it-all import Eystin Salum was rendered a non-factor. He completed just three of 12 passes for 48 yards, was held to nine net yards on the ground, and added two catches for 27 yards. Backup Nico Hrouda went 10 of 23 for 105 yards and a touchdown to Daniel Schwam, while Mitchell Paige had five receptions for 70 yards. Lucky Ogbevoen had eight tackles, Leon Balogh notched a sack, and Benjamin Straight’s interception was the game’s final scoring play.

The Raiders victory in Austrian Bowl XXXVI is their eighth title and third championship win in a row, interrupted only by their canceled 2020 season. No player has been a bigger part of that historic success than Shelton and his quintet of trophies prove it. He’s been MVP before and posted even more impressive statistics, but the steady hand of leadership Shelton provided in 2021 makes this his crowning achievement.

He’s earned every moment of emotion to savor it.

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.