Stuttgart Surge knock out defending champion Vienna Vikings in instant classic to advance to Championship Game

The Stuttgart Surge handed the defending champion Vienna Vikings their first loss of the season on Saturday, winning 40-33 on the road to advance to the European League of Football championship game.

The visitors received the opening kickoff and quickly got on the board, as Surge quarterback Reilly Hennessey connected with top receiver Louis Geyer on a 65-yard touchdown pass.  After some punts, the Surge drove the ball down the field and had the ball on the Vienna eight-yard line, but Hennessey was picked off by Alexander Watholowitsch, ending the scoring threat.  The Vikings offense responded with a long drive of their own, but they were forced to settle for a short field goal.

Stuttgart extended their lead early in the second quarter when Hennessey took the ball into the end zone from two yards away.  On the ensuing Vikings drive, chaos ensued when quarterback Chris Helbig was intercepted by Majan Jelvani, but Vikings receiver Jordan Bouah forced the Surge player to fumble and jumped on the ball, retaining possession for the Vikings.  The drive resulted in a punt, though, but the Vienna defense forced a Surge punt soon after.  The Vikings offense got the ball back with 3:40 on the clock before halftime, and Helbig led his team down the field and capped off the drive with five-yard touchdown strike to Weston Carr.  This cut the Surge lead to 14-10 going into halftime.

Stuttgart RB Kai Hunter #2 Photo: Hannes Jirgal

The Vikings got the ball after halftime and marched down the field, but disaster struck on the goal line.  Helbig fumbled the ball on a quarterback keeper, and Surge linebacker Japhet M’Bala picked the ball up and returned it all the way down the field for a defensive touchdown.  A failed extra point kept the Stuttgart lead at 20-10.  Helbig would bounce back from the error on the next drive, moving his offense down the field and finding Johannes Schuetz for a touchdown.  But the Surge would quickly respond, as Hennessey found Darrell Stewart Jr. for a 38-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead, though the extra point was once again no good.  However, Exavier Edwards of the Vikings returned the ensuing kickoff into Surge territory, and Vienna struck on the first play of the drive as Helbig found Florian Bierbaumer for a 27-yard touchdown.  Once again, the Surge responded, as their next drive concluded with a touchdown pass from Hennessey to Aurieus Minton.  All in all, 32 points were scored in a wild third quarter.

The next Vikings drive ended prematurely as the offense failed to convert on 4th down in Surge territory, but the Surge gave the ball right back to the home team as Hennessey was intercepted by Luis Horvath on the first play of their possession.  The Vienna offense could only manage a field goal off of that gift, cutting the lead to 32-27.  However, Stuttgart would give the ball away once again on their next drive when running back Nicolas Khandar fumbled and the Vikings recovered.  This time, the Vikings offense took full advantage, finding the end zone on a touchdown pass from Helbig to Schuetz, giving the home team the lead for the first time all game.  The two-point conversion attempt failed, keeping the score at 33-32. 

Vienna KR Exavier Edwards #7. Photo: Hannes Jirgal

Stuttgart’s offense would bounce back from their mistakes, as they marched down the field and completed the drive with a touchdown strike from Hennessey to Stewart Jr.  The American duo connected again on the two-point conversion, giving the Surge a 40-33 lead with about 3:30 on the clock.  Vienna got the ball back needing a touchdown to tie the game, but Helbig fumbled on the second play of the drive and the Surge pounced on the ball.  Stuttgart was able to run out the clock from there, sealing the win.

This game was everything you could ask for in a playoff game between two great teams.  Both teams produced a lot of yards, a lot of points, and multiple turnovers in this instant classic.  Over 10,000 people showed up to Generali Arena for the game and made a lot of noise, but the Surge spoiled the party.  A year after finishing 0-12, head coach Jordan Neuman has taken his team to the ELF championship game in his first year with the organization.  They will face the undefeated Rhein Fire in the championship game in Duisburg, Germany, on Sunday, September 24th.

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.