VIENNA – When you think of Division III football, huge crowds, fireworks during introductions, cheerleaders, pregame singers and Harley Davidson Motorcycles circling the field as part of the pre-game festivities usually don’t come to mind. But that was the environment the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps football team had the opportunity to play in when they faced the Austrian National Team in the Turkish Airlines Charity Bowl at the Hohe Warte Stadium on May 25. In a close game, CMS lost 21-14 to the Austrian National Team, an All-Star team of players from the European Football League (EFL) which is Europe’s top league after the departure of NFL Europe a few years back.
CMS traveled to Austria and the Czech Republic with a slimmed down roster of 24 players as part of a nine-day overseas tour organized by Global Football. The Stags traveled with Global Football, which has created and produced games and events in 21 different nations around the world since 1996. CMS’ match-up with the Austrian National Team was the third time that a U.S. college team and the Austrian National Team have faced off with the Austrian National Team now holding a 2-1 record.
“I thought our guys played pretty well,” said CMS head coach Kyle Sweeney. “We had to adjust on the fly because as an international team, we had no film on them and I know they had seen some film on us from last season. We went in not knowing what schemes we would see on offense, defense and special teams and we had guys playing out of position, but I thought our guys did a great job adjusting to the circumstances and the unique environment.”
That unique environment included a crowd of more than 5,000 spectators which at times, proved to be so loud, CMS had a handful of false start penalties because its offensive line could not hear the cadence coming from CMS’ quarterbacks.
On the field, the hosts jumped out to a 14-0 lead and led 21-7 late in the game, but the Stags made things interesting, losing only when their Hail Mary pass attempt on the game’s final play fell short.
CMS’ defense, pieced together with players playing out of a position and on both sides of the ball, held the Austrian’s scoreless in the first quarter. The Stags best scoring opportunity in the quarter came up empty on a missed 46-yard field goal attempt by Matthew Aven.
In the second quarter, Austria scored first and secured a 7-0 halftime lead as hometown Raiffeisen (Vienna) Vikings quarterback Christoph Gross threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Haider of the Danube Dragons and Christopher Kappel of the Vikings tagged on the extra point.
On the first play of the second half, Austria doubled its lead when Felix Stadler of the Steelsharks Traun raced 37 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead. With the fourth quarter ticking down, the Stags moved the ball to the hosts’ 32-yard line with 8:49 to play. A fourth down pass from Trey Reynolds to Tyler Stanek plus Aven’s extra point moved the Stags within seven points at 14-7.
Aside from playing receiver, like most of his teammates in the game, Stanek played several positions and was involved in all three phases of the game.
“Tyler Stanek played an unbelievable game and had one of the best interceptions I have ever seen,” said Sweeney. “He made a lot of plays on offense as a receiver as well and he also served as our punter and kick returner and punt returner.”
Despite a failed onside kick, CMS recovered a fumble and CMS had the ball at the Austria 48 down 14-7 with 6:55 to play. CMS then attempted a fake punt to move the ball, but were stopped and the Austrians took full advantage. Gross produced a 35-yard pass to Vienna Vikings teammate Stefan Postel and earned a 21-7 lead.
On the ensuing possession, CMS made three, fourth-down conversions which led to a 2-yard touchdown by Nick Gott which narrowed the score to 21-14 with 1:51 to play.
The resulting onside kick was recovered by Austria, but CMS got the ball back, trailing 21-14 inside the two-minute warning with 1:19 remaining and no timeouts available. Having moved the ball to the Austria 39-yard mark, the Stags attempted a Hail Mary pass, which fell short as the Austrian National Team held on for the 21-14 win.
Aside from getting some added playing and practice time this spring, the Stags spent time sightseeing in Austria and the Czech Republic which added to their experience.
“The cultural immersion of this trip for our guys and staff was unbelievable,” said Sweeney. “From a football standpoint, we had 10 practices in full pads that we wouldn’t normally get to have, we got to play against a football team which was a fairly different opponent than anyone we would normally play and the game environment was unlike anything we experience as a team in the United States.”
Per NCAA rules, Division III teams can travel for an international game like the Charity Bowl every three years.
“I would like to take the Stags again in three years and go somewhere else,” Sweeney said. “There is nowhere else in the world that you can go outside of the United States and play in an environment like that.”
The Stags’ first official game of the 2014 season is on Sept. 6 at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. at 1 p.m.