Vienna Vikings top Tirol Raiders as ELF’s Austrian franchises open new chapter in historic rivalry

While it won’t be remembered as one of their classic matchups, the Vienna Vikings and Tirol Raiders opened a new chapter in their storied rivalry on Sunday.

Austria’s two most famous football clubs began their journey into the European League of Football in fitting fashion by facing off against each other. While the visiting Vikings overcame half-a-dozen training camp injuries to steal the 29-23 victory, the penalty-ridden contest was defined by uncharacteristic sloppiness from both sides.

That storyline became apparent from the very first drive of the game when the Vikings were forced to punt from deep in their own end. Punter Sebastian Daum mishandled the snap and veteran Raiders‘ defensive back Vincent Muller jumped on the loose ball, giving his offense prime field position. Despite being pushed back by several penalties, quarterback Sean Shelton wasted little time adding his first ELF touchdown pass to his lofty career European totals, threading the needle between two defenders on a 21-yard strike to receiver Phillip Haun.

Vienna looked primed to respond on the next series, as Italian receiver Jordan Bouah took off for 22 yards on a screen pass and new quarterback Jackson Erdmann scampered for 18 more to get into plus territory. A lack of discipline proved to be the killer, as an illegal block erased a 20-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Austrian pass catcher Florian Bierbaumer and ensuing infractions forced a short punt.

Photo: Flo Mitteregger

The Raiders couldn’t escape the shadow of their own goalpost however and the Vikings soon had the ball back. It seemed as if history might repeat itself with misfires and penalties forcing a fourth-and-13 but head coach Chris Calaycay opted to gamble and Erdmann went back to Bierbaumer, finding him with a 35-yard end zone heave to knot the game at seven.

Tirol would fail to take back their lead with a missed Fabian Abfalter field goal early in the second quarter and they wouldn’t find themselves in front again. Some hard running from Florian Wegan helped the Vikings march the field and Erdmann rifled it to Bierbaumer once again for a 15-yard score. A successful two-point conversion to tight end Adria Botella-Moreno was negated by another illegal block penalty and the ensuing kick attempt was missed, keeping the score at 13-7 until the half.

The Raiders looked to have the makings of a great drive following the intermission, but saw their dreams dashed when a quick pass from Shelton was batted at the line by the long arms of Vikings’ defensive end Leon Balogh. The deflected ball ricocheted directly into the hands of a blitzing defensive back Benjamin Straight, who caught it in stride and ran unopposed for the touchdown.

Vienna’s lead was 12 after a failed two-point attempt, but the Raiders began to storm back. Fabian Abfalter hit a 26-yard field goal on the next drive and the home team soon had the ball again, as former CFL defensive end Niklas Gustav roared off the edge to strip Vikings‘ running back Florian Wegan. Import ball carrier Logan Moragne did the rest for Tirol, picking up 21 on a screen pass before following lead blocker Sebastian Schaar into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown run. The ensuing point-after attempt was no good, but Vienna’s lead was cut to just three.

The Vikings quickly set about changing that fact, but a hellacious sack from Patrick Pilger helped hold them to a 48-yard Sebastian Daum field goal. The Raiders would not be able to reward the stingy defense with points however, as Sean Shelton was stripped by Vienna defensive lineman Dominic Siegel while trying to step up in the pocket on the next drive and defensive back Luis Horvath ran the recovery back to the 12-yard line. Three plays later the hulking Austrian Florian Bierbaumer completed his hat trick, this time catching an eight-yard touchdown pass from Erdmann.

The fourth quarter began with fireworks and while a fabulous first down catch from Fabian Abfalter was overturned by review, some mad scrambling by Sean Shelton behind the line set up a 30-yard strike to Marco Schneider and got the Raiders back in contention. Abfalter would soon haul in a nine-yard touchdown catch at the left pylon to make it a one-score game.

The skies opened up like the home team’s offense and a lightning delay paused the game for 30 minutes mid-way through the final frame. That seemed to suit the Raiders just fine, as they emerged from the impromptu break with renewed fire and milked most of the remaining clock thanks to the hard running of Logan Moragne and Tobias Bonatti.

Photo: Flo Mitteregger

Inside the red zone with less than a minute remaining, it looked as if the unlikely comeback was assured before Vienna linebacker Thomas Schnurrer batted away a second down throw. The slick conditions caused Shelton to short-arm his next two passes to Abfalter and the Raiders turned it over on downs, falling 29-23 to their rival.

While the story coming into the game was all about the history between the two former AFL franchises, it was a pair of players pulled from other Austrian clubs that ultimately shone brightest. Former Danube Dragon Phillip Haun unofficially caught 12 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown for the Raiders and former Graz Giant Florian Bierbaumer was the Viking’s best weapon, hauling in four catches for 63 yards and three majors. Raiders‘ running back Logan Moragne flashed as well, carrying 16 times for 82 yards and a score while adding 25 yards through the air.

Veteran quarterback Sean Shelton was consistent and reliable as per usual, finishing 24-of-42 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Meanwhile, highly touted Vikings‘ import Jackson Erdmann was off-target for much of his European debut, connecting on just 10-of-26 passes for 122 yards but finding pay dirt three times.

It was two fortuitously forced turnovers by the Vikings‘ talented defense that proved to be the difference, but both sides will head into their second week of action with plenty to clean up before they can claim to be ELF powerhouses like they have been in Austria.

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.