Stuttgart Surge host Wroclaw Panthers in intriguing playoff matchup

On Sunday, the second of two wild card round matchups will take place as the third-seeded Stuttgart Surge host the sixth-seeded Wroclaw Panthers as the wild card round of the European League of Football winds up.

Despite a combined record of 2-20 over their first two seasons in the ELF, the Surge came into 2023 with high expectations.  The key addition was head coach Jordan Neuman, who joined the organization after many years with the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, one of the dominant teams in the German Football League over the past decade or so.  Neuman was joined by many of these ex-Unicorn players as they made the jump to the ELF, while other talented players joined the team from elsewhere.  The team lived up their offseason hype, finishing the season at 10-2 and making the playoffs for the first time in team history.

Stuttgart boasts a high-caliber offense, which is as effective in the passing game as it is in the running game.  Their balanced attack keeps them from ever getting out of their comfort zone, which can be a downfall for one-dimensional teams.  The starting quarterback is Reilly Hennessey, who joined the Surge alongside Neuman from the Unicorns.  He has missed time with injury this season but has recently returned and regained his stride.  Nobody would put him in the conversation of the league’s best quarterbacks, but he is very capable in the right situation.  Offensive playmakers include running backs Kai Hunter and Phileas Pasqualini, as well as homegrown receivers Louis Geyer and Yannick Mayr.  The defense is good, but not outstanding.  They started out the season hot, but have become slightly more vulnerable as the season has progressed.  Still, though, they are by no means an easy unit to score points on.

Photo: FSP Sportfotos, Florian Schust

On the other side, the Wroclaw Panthers were the last team to sneak into the playoffs, as they benefited from the league expanding the postseason bracket from four to six teams this season.  Unlike the Surge, not many people were talking about the Panthers before the season, but they quickly proved to be a formidable team and earned a wild card spot with a record of 8-4.  

Their offense is spearheaded by the dynamic trio of quarterback Matthew Vitale, running back Dawid Brzozowski, and receiver Tony Tate.  Vitale and Tate were not signed until only a couple of weeks before the season, and not many people knew much about them.  However, they immediately became one of the top quarterback-receiver combinations in the league, dominating defenses from the beginning of the season.  Brzozowski is a homegrown talent who, at just 22 years of age, led the league in rushing with 1,116 yards in just 11 games.  Unfortunately for Wroclaw, Tate got injured three weeks ago in a game against the Berlin Thunder, and will miss this Sunday’s game as a result, which is a huge loss for the visitors.

Wroclaw LB AJ Wentland #49 Photo: Łukasz Skwiot Fotografia Sportowa

Defensively, Wroclaw has some star players such as Solomon Brown, Timi Nuikka, and A.J. Wentland, a star linebacker who was picked up mid-season after his previous team, the Leipzig Kings, folded.  The addition of Wentland as well as Swedish safety William James, also from Leipzig, turned a good defense into a great one, and the unit has been in good form heading into the playoffs.  The Panthers have stood out year in the turnover department, as their differential of +15 easily leads the league.  If the Wroclaw defense can force the Surge offense to make some mistakes, they have a good chance of getting the win on the road.

This is quite an interesting matchup, as these teams have not met this season.  In fact, they do not even share any common opponents.  As such, it is hard to get a read on what to expect in this game.  However, they have each proven their strength in the league all season, so we are sure to be in for a hard-fought game.  Look for the turnover battle to be a key factor in this contest.

A current student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carter played football in high school and has been a lifelong avid football fan.