The dream of another championship is over. The SWARCO Raiders, marketing teammate of The Oakland Raiders, lost Austrian Bowl XXVI, falling 28-21 (0-7; 7-7; 7-6; 7-8) to the Danube Dragons.
In the first-ever Austrian Football League final played in Innsbruck's Tivoli Stadium, the Tyroleans missed the opportunity to end the season with a championship title for the third straight year and a third Austrian Bowl title in seven trips to the final. Instead the team from Klosterneuburg crowned themselves champion for the very-first time in their AFL history.
"This loss hurts a lot. To lose a final in front of your home crowd is a painful experience," said SWARCO Raiders head coach Santos Carrillo. "It's a season without a title. That means we have our work cut out for us. We were not able to stop the Dragons on third downs. On the other hand we had problems converting third downs on offense. I think that was the main difference in the game".
Dragons QB Eric Marty was named the Austrian Bowl's MVP, finishing the game with 18 completions on 27 throws for 327 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. SWARCO Raiders QB Leon Jackson III completed 13 of 22 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. RB Tory Cooper gained 82 yards on 20 carries and WR Philipp Heider caught 6 balls for 41 yards and a score. On defense LB Florian Hueter caught the game's only interception. It was only the second pick Marty threw all year.
"It was a spectacular season with lots of ups and downs," explained WR Andreas Pröller. "I can only congratulate the Dragons. They were well prepared and they wanted the win just a little more than us. Being an Austrian national player I can now look ahead to the European championships and the chance to win at least one title this season. That's what drives me now".
The SWARCO Raiders started nervous and had to punt on their opening possession. The Dragons started their first drive at their own 11. Marty found WR Jason Phillip Horton for a new set of downs with a 7-yard pass. Later Horton caught a 36-yard pass. And on a third and 23 Marty threw to WR Pasha Asiladab for a new first down at the Tyroleans 26. Marty finished the drive with his 19-yard touchdown pass to Horton. The extra point gave the Dragons a 7-0 lead with 4:44 left in the first.
In the second quarter the SWARCO Raiders finally got a first down through the air when Jackson found Pröller for 17 yards. On the next play Cooper danced 13 yards to the opposing 24. Jackson then hit Heider for a gain of 9-yards. Runs by FB Alexander Kirchniok and Cooper marched the Tyroleans to the 9-yard line. Then Jackson threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Heider. K Clemens Erlsbacher added the extra point to tie the game at 7-7. 6:38 were left in the second quarter.
The Dragons answered, starting at their own 25. RB Andrej Kliman opened the drive with an 18-yard run. Later Marty threw a 33-yard pass to WR Johannes Widmar. After an incomplete pass and a penalty against the offense, Marty struck back with a 27-yard pass to Asiladab to the SWARCO Raiders 4-yard line. After getting sacked he threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to WR Thomas Haider. The extra point gave the Dragons a 14-7 lead with 3:24 left in the second.
The first half's remaining possessions ended with punts on each side. The Dragons started the second half at their own 23. A pass from Marty to Horton gave the team from Klosterneuburg a first down at their own 43. But good defense and two penalties moved the Dragons backwards. Facing heavy pressure on yet another third and long, Marty threw the ball right into Hueter's hands. The SWARCO Raiders offense got the ball at the Dragons 36, but barely moved the ball. Erlsbacher's 46-yard field goal try went just left.
Having thrown a pick the previous drive, Marty came right back and looked sharp. He completed one pass after another and quickly marched his team to the Tyroleans 21. Then he ran the ball to the 8-yard line. Moments later Marty finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to WR Michael Janik. The PAT failed, but the Dragons extended their lead to 20-7 with 2:33 left in the third.
After a good kickoff return by WR Jakob Dieplinger the SWARCO Raiders started their next possession at the Dragons 40. Jackson opened the drive with a 15-yard pass to Pröller, a 6-yarder to Heider and another completion to Pröller, this time for 13 yards. After a penalty against the Dragons, the Tyroleans had a first down at the 1-yard line. The SWARCO Raiders scored right away when RB Florian Grein took the direct snap and ran the ball in for a touchdown. After the PAT the Tyroleans were down 14-20 with 26 seconds left in the third.
Unfortunately for the SWARCO Raiders the Dragons were not done, yet. A 15-yard penalty against the defense gave the team from Klosterneuburg a first down at their own 43. On the very next play Marty threw a short pass to Horton, who paced down the right sideline to the Tyroleans 7. Marty finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Kliman scored on the two-point conversion to give the Dragons a 28-14 lead with 9:45 left in the fourth.
The SWARCO Raiders couldn't answer right away and had to punt. Jackson's kick was downed at the 3-yard line. The defense then forced the Dragons to punt, too. Cooper returned the ball to the Dragons 38. Two passes from Jackson to Heider gained 14 yards. A 4-yard run by Cooper and an 8-yard pass to Dieplinger gave the Tyroleans a new first down at the Dragons 11. A few plays later Kirchniok launched over the defense for a 1-yard touchdown. After Erlsbacher's PAT the SWARCO Raiders cut the Dragons lead to 28-21 with 3:03 left.
They decided to kick an onside kick and executed it perfectly, when LB Michael Süß caught K Robert Balazinec's kick in midair at their own 44-yard line. Cooper started the drive with a 7-yard run. A penalty gave the SWARCO Raiders a first down at the Dragons 32. But after three straight incomplete passes Jackson got sacked on fourth down. The SWARCO Raiders turned the ball over on downs and the Dragons needed only one more first down, before celebrating their first championship.