The wait is finally over. On Saturday, April 10, the reigning Eurobowl champion SWARCO Raiders, marketing teammate of The Oakland Raiders, will host their first home game of the 2010 Austrian Football League season (AFL). The Tyroleans host new AFL member Collectpoint Prague Panthers (Kickoff 6 a.m. PT/3 p.m. CET).
The team from the Czech capital is the reigning EFAF-Cup champion – Europe's second biggest club competition – and therefore a true test for the SWARCO Raiders. The start of the season could not have been more different for these two squads. While the SWARCO Raiders overcame some early flaws to win their road game against the Carinthian Black Lions 41-7, the Panthers lost their AFL debut 42-28 at home to the Turek Graz Giants. It was Prague's first loss in over a year. A week later the Czech team also lost their first game of the Eurobowl group stage, falling to the Berlin Adler 40-30.
But don't be fooled by these losses. The team from the "Golden City" has won 26 straight games in the Czech league. 2009 was the best year in franchise history. The Panthers won the national championship for the 11th time and hoisted the EFAF-Cup trophy only a couple of weeks later, being the first Eastern European team to win a major tournament. This championship made them the sixth best club in Europe.
SWARCO Raiders head coach Santos Carrillo does not take the next opponent lightly. "I'm sure this will be a tough and hard-fought game. After losing their first two games the Panthers will be highly motivated. And coming to Innsbruck is always special for any team that comes here. We have to stay focused and can't make any mistakes," said Carrillo.
Both teams met only once so far. In the group stage of the 2002 Eurobowl season the Collectpoint Prague Panthers beat the SWARCO Raiders at home on April 27 by a score of 54-20. One player who already was a member of the Tyroleans back then is DL Mario Rinner. A torn ACL forced him to watch the painful loss from the sidelines.
"We haven't had the personnel we have today. And due to my injury Florian Grein had to play linebacker, too. We were beaten physically and they played on a higher level than we did".
But the times have changed. And Rinner expects an exciting matchup, "Prague is a real good opponent. They have a good football school. Physically they might still be better than us, but I don't know if they can match up with our speed for all four quarters."
The Panthers love to run the ball with three different backs and mobile quarterback Jake Shrum. Against Graz they ran for 222 yards. Shrum scored three times on the ground. But the quarterback also was responsible for four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles). The Panthers defense allowed Graz more than 200 rushing yards as well.
In the first game of the EFL group 2 the Czech team allowed 172 more rushing yards to the Berlin Adler as well as five touchdown tosses by Berlin's quarterback. Panthers head coach John Srholec knows what his team has to do to have a chance against the Tyroleans. "We must play better defense or we will allow another 40 points to the SWARCO Raiders," said Srholec. "We also have to improve our special teams, since we were beaten in that department as well in our first two games."
The SWARCO Raiders weren't playing perfect themselves in their season opener, but they are off to a good start – especially on defense. The group gave up only 47 rushing yards and five first downs to dangerous D.J. Hernandez and the Black Lions. The SWARCO Raiders offense was led by new import RB Tory Cooper, who gained 180 yards and two touchdowns on only 14 carries. QB Leon Jackson III finished the game with 15 completions on 21 passes for 196 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Follow the action online at http://www.raiderstv.at/.