Thanks to a 21-20 (7-0; 0-0; 7-7; 7-13) victory at the JCL Giants Graz the SWARCO Raiders, sister-team of The Oakland Raiders, secured home-field advantage for the Austrian Football League's (AFL) playoff semifinals.
The Tyroleans won their seventh game of the season (7-1) thanks to a missed extra point by the Giants with 25 seconds left and a recovered onside kick by WR Clemens Erlsbacher. Erlsbacher caught 2 passes for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also kicked 3 extra points.
QB Kyle Callahan completed 13 of 22 passes for 234 yards with 3 touchdowns and one interception. He also had 9 rushes for 77 yards. WR Julian Ebner caught 6 balls for 92 yards and a score. Despite missing three starters in their defensive backfield the SWARCO Raiders defense gave up only 108 passing yards.
"As expected it was a tough game. We shot ourselves in the foot with some turnovers. It was important that we went through the fire", said SWARCO Raiders head coach Shuan Fatah. "We pulled ourselves together and carved out the victory. That win brought us even closer together. I'm very proud of the team".
The SWARCO Raiders won the coin toss and elected to receive. RB Andreas Hofbauer returned the opening kickoff to the Tyroleans 39. On the game's first play from scrimmage Callahan threw a 19-yard pass to WR Damaso Tarneller. RB Lukas Miribung then ran for 6 yards. On the next play Callahan threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Ebner. Erlsbacher added the PAT to give the SWARCO Raiders a 7-0 lead with 10:49 minutes left in the first.
The Giants started their first possession at their own 10-yard line with a 26-yard pass from QB Chris Gunn to WR Max Taurer. Later LB Chris James sacked Gunn to force the Giants first punt. The Tyroleans started at their won 16. A 24-yard run by Callahan gave the SWARCO Raiders a first down at their own 42. Ebner then caught an 18-yard pass. On the next play Miribung ran for 16 yards to the opposing 15. Three rushes by Hofbauer gained 10 yards. But on first down from the 5-yard line Callahan a miscue cost the Tyroleans dearly. Callahan pitched the ball to his right only to find no one to catch it. The Giants recovered the fumble at their 11.
But again the SWARCO Raiders defense was there to stop the Giants. After giving up a first down Gunn was stopped on two short rushes and then sacked again by James. That forced another punt, giving the SWARCO Raiders the ball at the Giants 41. But the Tyrolean offense couldn't convert the great field position into points and had to punt. Graz then started at their own 30. A penalty against the Tyroleans gave Graz 15 yards. Then a holding-penalty against the Giants nullified a 43-yard run by Gross. Later James broke up Gunn's pass on fourth down. The SWARCO Raiders took over at midfield.
Once again they couldn't capitalize on the good field position and had to punt. Graz started at their own 14 and had to punt, too. After a short return by Erlsbacher the Tyroleans started their next drive at their own 46. On first down Callahan found WR Christian Willi for 9 yards. Later Willi caught a 13-yarder. Then a pass by Callahan got deflected into the arms of DB Manuel Schneeweiss, who returned the interception to the Giants 40. Graz next drive ended with another punt after DT Reinhard Pardeller had sacked Gunn.
The SWARCO Raiders started their next drive at their own 37 with about 90 seconds left in the half. A 14-yard pass from Callahan to Tarneller moved the ball into enemy territory. Callahan then found Ebner for 6 yards, Tarneller for 9 yards and again Ebner for 12 yards. But Erlsbacher's 40-yard field goal try went wide left, leaving the score at 7-0 for the Tyroleans at halftime.
That changed quickly after the break. Starting at their own 35 RB Alex Gross ran for 20 yards. His next four rushes totaled 31 yards. The drive ended with a 7-yard touchdown run by Gunn. The PAT tied the game at 7-7 with 8:30 minutes left in the third.
The SWARCO Raiders answered immediately. Miribung returned the kickoff to the Tyroleans 44. Hofbauer ran for 8 yards on first down. Then Callahan found Ebner for 19 yards. On the next play he threw a short pass to Erlsbacher who paced down the left sideline for a 29-yard touchdown. The PAT gave the SWARCO Raiders a 14-7 lead with 7:19 minutes left in the third.
Graz started its next possession at their own 38. Gunn rushed for 20 yards. Then rushes by the quarterback and by Gross moved the ball to the Tyroleans 12-yard line. But instead of kicking a field goal on fourth down the Giants went for it – and failed. Gunn's pass fell incomplete, turning the ball over at the SWARCO Raiders 12.
On the very next play Callahan lost the football and Graz recovered at the opposing 23. Gunn rushed for 14 yards on first down. But once again there were no points scored. Gunn threw a short pass to WR Klaus Geiler, but LB Christoph Schilcher wrestled the ball away. The play was ruled an interception at the Tyroleans 7.
After a penalty against Graz the SWARCO Raiders started at their own 22. Runs for 10 yards and 15 yards by Callahan moved the chains. On third down from midfield Callahan threw a perfect deep ball to Erlsbacher, who caught it for a 50-yard touchdown pass. The PAT gave the Tyroleans a 21-7 lead with 9:38 minutes left in the fourth.
But the Giants wouldn't give up. Starting at their own 25 Gunn found WR Armando Ponce de Leon for 15 yards. Gross moved the chains with his powerful rushes and finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. The PAT cut the SWARCO Raiders lead to 21-14 with 4:55 minutes left in the fourth.
After the ensuing kickoff the Tyrolean offense took over at their own 37. Rushes by Callahan and RB Florian Grein moved the ball to the Giants 41. But on fourth down and 3 the Giants defense stopped the Tyroleans short of the first down. Graz took over at their own 45 with 1:24 minutes left. Gunn found WR Philipp Sommer three straight times to move the ball to the opposing 18. Then he threw a short pass to Ponce de Leon, who rumbled his way into the endzone for an 18-yard touchdown catch and run. But K Paul Goger missed the extra point. So with 25 seconds left the SWARCO Raiders were still up, 21-20.
Erlsbacher recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.
Next weekend the SWARCO Raiders have a bye-week. On Saturday, May 26 the Tyroleans host the Prague Panthers in the quarterfinals of the European Football League (EFL).