WR/K Clemens Erlsbacher kicked the decisive 51-yard field goal (Photo: Schellhorn)
The SWARCO Raiders have reached their second final of the season. The Oakland Raiders sister-team celebrated a 52-49 (21-7; 10-7; 11-14; 10-21) victory over the JCL Giants Graz in the Austrian Football League (AFL) playoff semifinals.
Now they will play in their fourth straight Austrian Bowl. In the 29th title game for the national championship the Tyroleans will face the Raiffeisen Vikings Vienna or the Danube Dragons. Austrian Bowl XXIX will be played on July 27 at St. Pölten.
The SWARCO Raiders now scored on 18 of their last 20 possessions against Graz. They have also won nine of their last ten encounters with the Giants in the AFL and the European Football League (EFL).
"Today our offense was on fire. That was very important. We realized early that we would need a lot of points today to win", said SWARCO Raiders head coach Shuan Fatah. "Graz made us earn everything today. Unfortunately we didn't find a way to stop their offense. So we decided to at least slow them down and force them into long and time-eating drives. It worked. We also were able to stop them a couple of times. And weh ad Clemens Erlsbacher, who played a great game today".
WR/K Clemens Erlsbacher caught 6 balls for 163 yards and scored 14 points (3 field goals and 5 extra points) – including a 51-yard game-winner. He also had 3 kickoff returns for 123 yards.
QB Kyle Callahan completed 25 of 32 passes for 370 yards with 3 touchdowns and one interception an. RB Andreas Hofbauer gained 87 yards and scored 2 touchdowns on 13 carries. WR Talib Wise caught 10 passes for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns. WR Julian Ebner had 5 receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown. The Tyrolean defense had 3 sacks and LB Christoph Schilcher recovered a fumble.
The SWARCO Raiders won the coin toss and decided to receive. It took them only 40 seconds to score. Starting at their own 11 Callahan found Erlsbacher with a short pass and the receiver then raced 88 yards to the Graz 1. On the next play Hofbauer scored. Erlsbacher added the extra point to give the Tyroleans a 7-0 lead.
Erlsbacher's kickoff went through the endzone for a touchback. Graz started at its 25. Three rushes by RB Alex Gross gained 13 yards. Later RB Alexander Sanz ran for 11 yards. Then QB Alex Good threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to WR Dominik Szecsi. LB/K Marco Zöchner added the PAT to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:59 minutes left in the first. It were the first points given up by the SWARCO Raiders defense against Graz in the first half this season.
After a kickoff return from Erlsbacher the Tyroleans took over at their 32. A pass from Callahan to Ebner was good for a new set of downs. He then found Erlsbacher at the opposing 44. Later Hofbauer gained 24 yards on a fourth down and one. The drive ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Callahan to Wise. Erlsbacher's extra point gave the SWARCO Raiders a 14-7 lead with 4:59 minutes left in the first.
Another touchback on the kickoff gave Graz the ball at its 25. The Tyrolean defense forced a three-and-out and their offense took over at the 30. A 14-yard pass to Ebner was good for a first down. Then Callahan found Wise for 16 yards and Erlsbacher for 17 yards. On the next play Ebner caught the ball at the Graz 6. The drive ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by Callahan. Erlsbacher added the PAT to give the SWARCO Raiders a 21-7 lead with 30 seconds left in the first.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff gave the Giants the ball at their 35. On the second play from scrimmage Gross ran 38 yards. A run by Good was good for a first down at the Tyrolean 17. Later Good scored on a 14-yard touchdown run. Zöchner added the PAT to cut the SWARCO Raiders lead to 21-14 with 8:55 minutes left in the second.
Wise returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield. A pass from Callahan to Erlsbacher was good for 11 yards. A penalty moved the chains 15 yards. Rushes by Callahan and Hofbauer gave the Tyroleans a first down at the Graz 9. From there Callahan threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Wise. The PAT was good, giving the SWARCO Raiders a 28-14 lead with 6:22 minutes left in the second.
Starting at their 25 Graz opened the next drive with a 5-yard run by Good. He then found WR Philipp Sommer for 12 yards. But after a sack by DL Maximilian Pichler on a third down the Giants had to punt for the second time. The Tyroleans regained possession at their 29. WR Christian Willi opened the drive with a 17-yard reception. After a 5-yard pass to Wise Callahan found Erlsbacher for 21 yards. Moments later Willi caught a pass at the Giants 16. The drive ended with a 27-yard field goal by Erlsbacher. With 33 seconds left before halftime the SWARCO Raiders were up 31-14.
Graz started the third quarter with possession at their own 17. On the drive's first play Good ran tot he Tyrolean 30, then added an 18-yard run. Gross finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. The PAT cut the SWARCO Raiders lead to 31-21 with 10:35 minutes left in the third.
Erlsbacher returned the ensuing kickoff to the 40. Hofbauer ran for 16 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Wise then caught a 10-yard pass. A Hofbauer run gained 8-yards, but the drive stalled. Erlsbacher came on to kick a 41-yard field goal, which extended the SWARCO Raiders lead to 34-21 with 8:28 minutes left in the third.
After a touchback on the kickoff Graz started at their 25. Gross moved the chains with a run tot he Tyrolean 47. Then Szecsi caught a 13-yarder. Good ran to the 20. A sack by DL Korbinian Hoffmann slowed Graz down, but on fourth down Good threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to WR Max Taurer. The PAT was good and the score was 34-28 with 3:34 minutes left in the third.
The SWARCO Raiders started their next drive at their 25. On the second play Erlsbacher was hit hard on a pass from Callahan. The ball popped up and Gross came down with it at the Tyrolean 28. But on the very next play Gross lost the ball and Schilcer recovered the fumble at the 26. Callahan then found Erlsbacher for 15 yards. On the next play a completion from Callahan to Wise moved the ball tot he Graz 33. That was followed by a 15-yard pass to Wise. Hofbauer finished the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run. Callahan found Wise for a successful two-point conversion and the SWARCO Raiders were up 42-28 with 59 seconds left in the third.
After a good return by WR Armando Ponce de Leon Graz took over at their 39. A penalty moved the ball 15 yards. Later the Giants went for it again on fourth down. And again it worked. Another penalty gave Graz a first down at the Tyrolean 13. And moments later Szecsi caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Good. The PAT cut the SWARCO Raiders lead to 42-35 with 7:21 minutes left in the fourth.
But the Tyroleans had an immediate answer. Erlsbacher returned the kickoff 70 yards to the Giants 25. On the second play from scrimmage Callahan threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Ebner under heavy pressure. Erlsbacher then kicked the PAT to give the home-site a 49-35 lead with 6:23 minutes left in the fourth.
Graz started its next possession at their 27. Gross ran for 15 yards on first down. A run by Good gave them a new set of downs at the Tyrolean 45. Two completions moved the chains to the 11. Later Good found Szecsi with a 6-yard touchdown pass. Zöchner kicked the extra point and the SWARCO Raiders lead was down to seven points again. The Tyroleans were up 49-42 with 3:22 minutes left in regulation.
Graz tried an onside kick, but the Tyroleans recovered the ball at the Giants 44. Wise caught a 5-yard pass to start the drive. Then RB Lukas Miribung ran hard to the 31. But the drive stalled. Again the team trusted Erlsbacher. And he would not be deniedm kicking a 51-yard field goal to give the SWARCO Raiders a 52-42 lead with 1:49 minutes left in the fourth.
The Giants stiil kept fighting. Starting at their own 25 after Erlsbacher's sixth touchback Good found Gross for 16 yards. Three more completions and another penalty against the Tyroleans moved the ball to the opposing 13. And with two seconds left Good found Taurer for a 13-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was good. The SWARCO Raiders lead was down to 52-49.
But the Tyroleans recovered the ensuing onside kick and now will play in Austrian Bowl XXIX. The game will be played on July 27 at St. Pölten. Kickoff is at 11:30 a.m. PT (8:30 p.m. CET).