Unicorns’ uncertainty under center the biggest question heading into German Bowl

The Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns’ status as the premier team in Germany has hardly been debated but heading into their decisive German Bowl matchup with the Dresden Monarchs, suddenly they are a team with a massive question mark at the biggest position in football.

For most of their season, the GFL’s lone undefeated team has relied on the steady hand of homegrown German passer Alexander Haupert. The former Saarland Hurricane has been solid, if unspectacular, in the driver’s seat of a powerhouse offense, completing 101-of-153 passes for 1,529 yards and 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions. But two weeks ago, in the semi-final against Potsdam, that steady hand went down with a knee injury and everything changed.

Haupert’s status remains under wraps, but it seems evident that the Unicorns will be without their starting quarterback in the biggest game of the year. In the semifinal, that meant the baton was passed to 23-year old Ian Gehrke.

Gehrke kept his team in front, going 2-of-4 passing for 70 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but he’s been no stranger to taking the reins in Schwäbisch Hall. Giving backups time against weaker opponents appears to have been a point of emphasis for the Unicorns this year and Gehrke has most often been the one at the helm. He’s gone 50-of-71 for 858 yards, three interceptions and 17 touchdowns this season, one more than Haupert himself. Even third-stringer James Slack has gotten involved, completing 17-0f-31 passes for 276 yards, six touchdowns and one interception.

Both Gehrke and Slack have been proven capable of running the offense, but they’ve only done so against weaker opponents. Neither have faced a team like Dresden and that was undoubtedly an influencing factor in the Unicorns‘ decision to bring in a third healthy quarterback this week, Italian-American gunslinger Reilly Hennessey.

Added as an emergency player prior to the transfer deadline, Hennessey looks poised to draw his first start for the Unicorns in the championship game and on two weeks of practice no less. It is a highly unusual situation, but one the quarterback has more than enough talent to overcome.

Hennessey led the Parma Panthers to a perfect 10-0 season in the Italian Football League this summer throwing for 1,672 yards and 17 touchdowns, while adding another two scores on the ground. Before that, he was a standout at Division II Central Washington University, throwing for 5,256 yard and 49 touchdowns in two seasons as starter, while rushing for 1,049 more.

He’s a record-setting passer with dual-threat ability and a championship pedigree, but that could mean painfully little in a brand-new offence. Two weeks is hardly enough time to develop chemistry between Hennessey and his receivers and how much of the playbook will be available to the late addition remains an open question. While head coach Jordan Neuman has all but outright admitted the Camas, Washington native will start, is there a chance Gehrke does see the field in certain packages that Hennessey is not yet equipped to run? All options would appear to be on the table.

No matter what, the Monarchs now have to prepare for the unexpected from an opponent under center they have never seen before. The biggest question is whether that lineup juggling will hurt them or the team that it is happening to more.

Watch the German Bowl live on AFI.tv. Dresden Monarchs vs Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, October 9, 18:00 CET (6 pm, 12 noon ET).

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.