Swarco Raiders ride late takeaways to CEFL semi-final victory over Dacia Vienna Vikings

The CEFL semi-final on Saturday may have featured two Austrian teams on Austrian soil, but it appears offensive production was reserved exclusively for the Austrian Football League.

The Swarco Raiders and Dacia Vienna Vikings represent the two most productive offenses in the country, but the elimination game was all about the defenses. The two teams combined for 12 points through three quarters before a late offensive breakthrough, each finishing with more than 100 fewer yards than their season average.

Despite a smothering Vienna secondary that wreaked havoc on a normally dominant passing attack, it was the Raiders who emerged with a 20-13 victory, riding a slew of late takeaways into the CEFL championship game.

While yards were hard to come by for most of the afternoon, the Raiders began the game with an effective 10 play drive to get things started. Rafael Belici opened the scoring with a 26-yard touchdown on the wheel route, but the extra point was no good.

Consecutive Vikings drives were silenced by sacks, but the Raiders struggled to muster any offense in response. It wasn’t until mid-way through the second quarter that Vienna broke the stalemate. Daniel Schwam made a juggling 35-yard catch while being interfered with, then added a 29-yard crosser to make it first and goal, but the rest of the offense couldn’t punch through. Quarterback Eystin Salum was swarmed on back-to-back plays and Florian Wegan dropped the third down pass to force a 25-yard Dennis Tasic field goal.

Swarco LB Patrick Pilger making a tackle Photo: Swarco Raiders Tirol

Three plays later, the Vikings had the ball back in their hands. Raiders quarterback Sean Shelton had escaped right to buy time but his light toss to Simon Pilger was easily intercepted by Vikings defensive back Luis Horvath. Raiders linebacker Ruben Seeber made three consecutive tackles for loss to keep Vienna out of the endzone but Tasic nailed a 43-yarder to tie the game at 6-6 at the break.

The Raiders offensive struggles continued in the second half with an Andrew Spencer interception, but the Vikings failed to generate a momentum swing and Tasic was wide right on a 40-yard attempt, before both teams stumbled through a scoreless third quarter. The opening series of the fourth finally offered the first breakthrough for either side. Eystin Salum looked deep and found speedy Daniel Schwam with a step on his defender, racing for a 75-yard touchdown.

Trailing for the first time, a re-invigorated Sean Shelton came out gunning. After failing to connect with Davion Washington on the first two throws of the drive, he found him on third down and the import made a spectacular 41-yard catch in double coverage to move the chains. Three plays later, Washington finished the drive himself with a little help from the Raiders’ bag of tricks, taking a perfectly called reverse 16 yards to paydirt.

Chaos ensued immediately on the next drive. Salum looked for a running lane on the opening play, only to be popped by Swarco linebacker Julian Perfler and lose control of the football. Big offensive lineman Michael Hinterwith-Haider picked it up, but his visions of grandeur as a ball carrier were exposed and Alex Ferrari forced the play’s second fumble and recovered the ball for the Raiders. Shelton quickly made use of the opportunity and Washington notched his second touchdown with a savvy push-off and beautiful back shoulder extension to take back the lead.

Swarco QB Sean Shelton Photo: Swarco Raiders Tirol

The Vikings had plenty of time to mount a comeback but ball control became their undoing. Receiver Philipp Dubravec was the first to stumble, seeing the ball knocked from his hands by Raiders defensive back Vincent Müller and recovered by Nicolas Melcher. After the Raiders punted one last time, it was Salum’s turn to let victory slip through his hands. On a nine-yard scramble, Alex Ferrari punched the ball free and Julian Perfler fell on top to give his team the chance to kneel out a 20-13 victory.

The Vikings struggled uncharacteristically on the ground throughout. Star running back Florian Wegan carried 10 times for 45 yards, 38 of which came on one long first quarter run. Andrew Spencer added five carries for 17 yards and Eystin Salum netted just 12 while being sacked five times and fumbling twice. He finished nine of 22 passing for 210 yards and one touchdown, while Daniel Schwam led the way with three catches for 139 yards and the score.

Raiders quarterback Sean Shelton has an off day by his standards, completing 14 of 33 passes for 167 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, while also leading his team with 40 yards rushing. Davion Washington was the hero, notching three catches for 60 yards, one carry for 16 yards, two touchdowns and three tackles on defense. Young Marco Schneider was largely held in check, adding four catches for 53 yards.

The victory for the Raiders avenges an overtime loss to the Vikings earlier in the Austrian season and knocks their chief rival out of CEFL competition with their first loss since July of 2019. The team from Tirol will now face the winner of the second semi-final between the Calanda Broncos and Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns on June 26, just one week after they’ll meet the Vikings in Austrian action once again.

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.