RB Florian Grein (26) was named Eurobowl Most Valuable Player as the SWARCO Raiders won their second European title in a row. - *Schellhorn*
Mission accomplished! The SWARCO Raiders, marketing teammate of The Oakland Raiders, have defended their European crown, beating French champion Flash de La Courneuve 30-19 (3-0; 17-6; 7-7; 3-6) in Eurobowl XXIII in front of an Austrian record 6,500 fans at Innsbruck's Tivoli stadium.
Running back Florian Grein, who battled nagging injuries all year long, came up with his biggest game of the season in what was obviously the Tyroleans' biggest game of the season, too. Grein finished with 29 rushes for 168 yards and scored all three SWARCO Raiders touchdowns and was named Eurobowl XXIII MVP. Quarterback Jason Johnson was his usual reliable self as he completed 22 of 28 passes for 177 yards. Wide receiver Andreas Pröller caught 8 balls for 98 yards. Nineteen-year-old kicker Emanuel Trinkl added three field goals. The defense, led by the linemen Gonzalo Segovia, Mario Rinner, Tim Hunt, and Reinhard Pardeller, held the Flash ground attack to just 3 yards on 20 carries and forced two turnovers.
"I'm so proud of this team. They played a great game. They were prepared and executed very well," said SWARCO Raiders head coach Santos Carrillo. "Flo (Grein) played hurt, but you couldn't tell. He was unstoppable. Jason (Johnson) showed once again that he's a great leader. The offensive and defensive line simply dominated up front. This win is for our fans, which supported us all year long, and all the football fans in Tyrol and Austria."
After losing in stunning fashion in the Austrian Football League's playoff semifinals 21-22 to Vienna two weeks ago, the Tyroleans finished their season on a high note. And unlike against the Vikings, they stayed focused for all four quarters; despite losing two major offensive players to injuries.
"We lost Matt Epperson and Emanuel Marksteiner to the exact same injury. Both players were huge parts of our offense. Matt also was a dangerous return specialist. But the other guys believed in themselves and wanted to win this game so badly for those two. Both had surgery already and they are doing fine."
The SWARCO Raiders won the toss, elected to receive and started at their own 27 after a short kickoff return by wide receiver Matt Epperson. Grein opened the drive with a 7-yard run. On the next play Johnson found Pröller at the Flash 46, but three plays later the team from the outskirts of Paris forced a punt. Pröller nailed it perfectly and Epperson downed the ball at the Flash 1. The Tyrolean defense held La Courneuve to a three and out.
After a short punt the SWARCO Raiders started at the Flash 33. On the third play of the drive Grein ran for 13 yards. On the very next play Epperson got stopped for a 3-yard loss on an end-around and injured his right ankle. He had to be carted off the field. Moments later the drive stalled and Trinkl came on for a 29-yard field goal try. The kick was good and with 5:47 left in the first the SWARCO Raiders were up 3-0.
The Flash looked to answer, moving the ball quickly to the Raiders 31. But their scoring threat ended when quarterback Jeffrey Welsh lost the ball at the Raiders 36 and linebacker Florian Hueter recovered it for the SWARCO Raiders. After a short run by Grein, Johnson found Pröller over the middle at the Flash 40. The big receiver held on to the ball despite a big collision in the air. Grein added 12 yards on two runs before Johnson threw a 5-yarder to 18-year-old wide receiver Julian Ebner. But after the next two plays didn't give the home team any more yards, Trinkl came on for his second field goal try. He was perfect, splitting the uprights from 40 yards out to give the SWARCO Raiders a 6-0 lead with 11:55 left in the second.
The Flash were forced to punt on their next possession, giving the Tyroleans the ball back at their own 26. Methodically Grein and Johnson led their team down the field. Johnson completed all five passes on the drive for 28 yards and Grein had 8 rushes for 32 yards before punching the ball into the endzone from 1 yard out. Robert Balazinec made the extra point to make it 13-0 in favor of the SWARCO Raiders with 2:14 left in the second. It was an 18-play drive that took 7:30 off the clock.
Seconds later there was no happiness on the Tyrolean sideline though for two reasons. Fullback Emanuel Marksteiner was lost during the scoring drive, also hurting his ankle. The second reason was running back Antoine Saillant's 77-yard kickoff return touchdown. With their offense sputtering the Flash found a different way to get back into the game. The two-point conversion failed and with 2:02 left in the first half, the score was 13-6.
But the SWARCO Raiders didn't panic. Defensive back Alexander Hoad was hit late out of bounds after his kickoff return, giving the Tyroleans a first down at the Flash 35. Johnson completed six straight passes with three completions to tight end Stefan Michalsky for a total of 18 yards. But the one scoring the touchdown was Grein as he walked into the endzone untouched from 2 yards out with :04 remaining in the second quarter. After Balazinec's extra point the SWARCO Raiders were up 20-6.
"We were just not existent in the first half," said Flash head coach Patrick Esume. "But we played better in the second half. Though one good half is not enough against a team like the SWARCO Raiders."
La Courneuve got the ball first in the second half and finally showed some signs of life as Welsh led his team with his arm and his feet into Raiders territory. But on 4th and 9 Welsh got pressured by Segovia and Hunt and threw an erratic pass that fell incomplete. The SWARCO Raiders took over at their own 40 only to face the same fate minutes later. On a fourth and two Grein got stopped for a short loss to give the Flash the ball back at their own 33.
On the second play of the drive Welsh found wide receiver Marc Angelo Soumah at the Raiders 19-yard line. He then threw a 13-yard pass to running back Laurent Marceline. The Flash hurt themselves with two personal fouls, but Welsh finally found pay dirt as he threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Artchill Monney with 1:01 left in the third. Tony Rayapin added the extra point to make it 20-13.
The SWARCO Raiders though were not shocked as they just had an answer for everything that night. On the first play of the ensuing drive Grein took a delayed hand off and broke loose for a 58-yard touchdown run. Balazinec hit the extra point to give the Tyroleans a 27-13 lead with 47 seconds left in the third.
After another Flash punt the SWARCO Raiders started at their own 34. Johnson found Pröller at the Flash 39 on the very first play of the drive. Grein added runs of 9, 5 and 2 yards before a 9-yard pass from Johnson to Pröller gave the Tyroleans another first down at the Flash 14. Three plays later Trinkl came on for his third field goal attempt. He hit a 28-yarder to give the SWARCO Raiders a 30-13 lead with 6:23 left in the game.
La Courneuve didn't give up, although Welsh was under heavy pressure. He got sacked by linebacker Philipp Margreiter and Segovia for a 12-yard loss on the opening play, and later was sacked again; this time by Segovia for a loss of 9 yards. Still he managed to guide his team down the field, finishing with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Soumah with 2:46 left. The extra point was no good and the score was 30-19.
The Flash even recovered the ensuing onside kick. But their hopes for a miracle comeback ended in the hands of defensive back Manuel Eisenführer, who intercepted a pass at the Raiders 38 and returned it to the 46. Three straight runs by Grein for 11 yards sealed the deal. And with the sweetest plays of them all – a simple kneel down – Johnson secured the second straight Eurobowl title for the SWARCO Raiders.