"Not in our house!" This is the theme before Saturday's Eurobowl XXIII in Innsbruck, when the SWARCO Raiders, marketing teammate of The Oakland Raiders, host Flash de La Courneuve to defend their crown as European champions (Kickoff 11 a.m. PT / 8 p.m. CET).
After losing in stunning fashion to the Raiffeisen Vikings Vienna in the semifinals of the Austrian Football League (AFL) playoffs (21-22) about two weeks ago, the Tyroleans want to make sure they end their season with at least one title. But beating the Flash won't be easy. Three years ago the SWARCO Raiders faced the Flash in the 2006 Eurobowl semifinal. Back then the French scored three touchdowns off of three Tyrolean turnovers within six minutes to run away with a 27-17 win.
"I expect a tough, physical and exciting game," says SWARCO Raiders head coach Santos Carrillo. "The offense that comes through will win the game. I also think that the special teams will play a major role."
Even though pouring rain made it hard to practice over the last few days, Carrillo is all-smiles. The reason is simple. "Almost all our players are back healthy. That's a huge boost. Immo Söllner and Stefan Michalsky will be able to play. And the most amazing comeback is the one of Markus Krause. I thought we had lost him with a partially torn ACL a few weeks ago. But now the doctors gave him the green light. His knee is fine. To me that's a miracle," the coach explained.
The loss to Vienna, which came with four seconds left in the game, may have ended the SWARCO Raiders seven-game winning streak, but the Tyroleans haven't lost a game in the Eurobowl competition since the 2007 semifinals (21-35 vs. Marburg Mercenaries of Germany).
This season the SWARCO Raiders have been dominant in the Eurobowl, beating German champion Braunschweig Lions 35-7 in the quarterfinals and defeating Finnish champion Porvoo Butchers 31-13 to reach the final for a second consecutive year.
Their defense allowed only a total of 469 yards in both contests and forced a combined five turnovers. On the other side of the ball running back Florian Grein rushed for a total of 185 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries. Quarterback Jason Johnson completed 18 of 22 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown against Braunschweig and added 21 completions on 26 throws for 204 yards with two more touchdown passes and an interception against Porvoo.
Meanwhile Paris had to overcome some obstacles to reach the Eurobowl final. First the reigning French champion had to go through the qualifying round, beating Moscow (Russia) 28-13 on the road before a last-minute touchdown gave them a 21-14 victory over Berlin (Germany) to win their group and advance to the quarterfinals.
There they beat Vienna 14-3 on the road. In the semis Flash faced another tough Austrian opponent in the Turek Graz Giants. They defeated the reigning Austrian champion 35-33 to play in their third Eurobowl final in team history.
First-year head coach Patrick Esume has a history with The Oakland Raiders himself, as he was invited to training camp as part of the International Guest Coach Program in 2005. A year later the Raiders brought the former Hamburg Sea Devils' (NFL Europa) special teams coordinator and offensive assistant back for the whole duration of camp.
"The defenses will determine the outcome of the game. Both teams have great offensive units, many playmakers and can score many points. So the defense that plays better, holds the keys to the game," says Esume. He also points to the special teams. "The special teams also play a huge role in close game. And a close game is what I expect."
Esume's team is led by former Western Michigan quarterback Jeffrey Welsh. Against Vienna and Graz he completed a total of 29 passes (43 attempts) for 453 yards with five touchdowns and two picks. Running backs Laurent Marceline and Jermaine Allen combined for 261 yards and two scores on 55 rushes in these two games.
The team also features many former NFL Europa standouts such as Allen and linebackers Aden Durde and Phillipe Gardent. All three have been part of the NFL's International Player Development Program that gives players from outside of North America the chance to be part of an NFL team's practice squad for a whole season. In 2008 Allen was a member of the New Orleans Saints, while Durde played for the Kansas City Chiefs. Gardent was under contract in Washington (2006) and Carolina (2007).
As always you can follow the action live on http://live.raiders.at.