The Denton County Rhinos completely shook up the Minor Professional Football League Championship race on Saturday when they upset the defending national champions, the Texas Bullets, 55-51, on the road to secure a spot in The Standing Four.
“It’s the biggest win of this season so far, of course, and it wasn’t just because it was a playoff game,” Rhinos owner Jim Mundy told Developmental Football USA. “We played a dominant team of the past four years and we beat them on their home field, in the playoffs, as a 6-5 team, when they were undefeated. Nobody put money on us, nobody.”
The Bullets had defeated the Rhinos twice during the regular season, 46-16 and 37-6, and after being down 13-0 just four minutes into the game, it looked like history would repeat itself for a third time this season.
“It was looking like a blowout,” Mundy said. “Nobody quit, nobody looked down. They picked each other up and they kept fighting.”
The Rhinos fought their way back into the game and trailed 33-28 at halftime, but not too far into the third quarter, the Bullets pushed the lead back to 12, 40-28. Both teams exchanged touchdowns for awhile until the Rhinos put up 20 points in the fourth quarter to shock the developmental football world.
“It was just a perfect storm,” Mundy said. “That’s the only way I can describe it. The coordinators and the coaches under them had the perfect play calls, shifting guys around, finding mismatches. Quarterback play was just off the charts and the defense just made plays when we needed them to. Perfect attitude from the players, perfect coaching, and a never-quit attitude.”
In Mundy’s 17 years at this level, he’s never experienced anything quite like what happened Saturday night.
“I’ve been in almost 200 games and I’ve won championships, but this game, we weren’t supposed to win,” Mundy said. “We weren’t supposed to even be there. We were 6-5, they were undefeated for two years and only lost like two games in the last four years. It’s crazy how great they are, we caught them on an off night and we were on a good night. You can’t manufacture it like that, it just has to happen, for that to happen.”
With the Bullets (10-1 in MPFL) out of the picture, the West Texas Pride (11-0, 7-0 in MPFL) move up to the No. 1 seed and they’ll host the Rhinos (7-5 in MPFL) this Saturday at Grande Communications Stadium, where the “King Slayers” will look to shock the world once again.
“The trick now is to forget it,” Mundy said. “We need to remember what we did and cash in on that emotion and that sense of urgency. We need to remember how we went into that game and carry that forward. We still have to maintain that success and I’m hoping we can do that, and I believe we can.”
The Pride are coming off a 53-8 blowout against the West Texas Lions and are riding an 11-game winning streak into Saturday’s game, where they will look to remain undefeated on the year.
“We’ve got to get past the Pride this week,” Mundy said. “It’s a long travel game. I don’t think many of these guys have ever traveled that far for a game at this level, a few have. That’s going to be a tough test for us.
“The temperature is supposed to be 107 on Saturday. A whole new venue, a whole new atmosphere, we know nothing about them except they were in a championship game last year and they’re undefeated this year. The league has found a way to keep throwing number one teams at us so we’re going to keep looking for a way to knock them down.”
The Rhinos are led offensively by veteran quarterback Kendall Thomas.
“KT is unquestionably the leader on offense,” Mundy said. “He’s head and shoulders above everybody else. He’s not a big rah-rah, in-your-face talking king of guy. He just plays his butt off and he’s a leader by example. When he has the ball in his hands, he makes things happen. Anything can happen and the guys believe in him.”
Thomas is joined in the backfield by veteran running back Lynn Miles as they work the ball downfield by an offensive line led by Justin Reeves and Daniel Stantz.
“Defensively, we’ve got some good veterans and some youth in there, a good mix of everybody,” Mundy said. “There’s not just one guy, but we do have a three-headed monster. William Pittman, who has been with me a few years, seems to just get better every year. Jeremy Franklin, another play-by-example type, just a dominant force. He can put his hand in the ground or stand up and play linebacker, he can do it all. Isaac walker, he’s our fire brand.”
Walker is an emotional leader of the defense, while Quincy Scott fills that role for the offense, Mundy said.
“They’re our heart and soul,” Mundy said. “They’re the Michal Irvin types, the get-in-your-face, ‘Let’s get them’ guys. They’re that. All those other guys, they’re just lead-by-example every down and they rarely let you down.”
“We don’t have just one or two clear leaders, we have quite a few. That makes coaching a lot easier. You just have to sell the system to those guys and everything else falls in line. We have a lot of strong veterans that understand this level of the game and they blaze the trail. We’re very fortunate to have guys like that.”
Now, they’re preparing for an undefeated Pride team that 80 percent of the MPFL is pretty unfamiliar with.
“Honestly, I don’t know a lot about that team,” Mundy said. “I do know they have a great quarterback. I know that, defensively, we’re going to have to figure out how to contain him. From what I understand, he’s the type of quarterback, maybe not on the level of Justin Willis, but that type of player. He can pick you apart with his arm, but he’s not afraid to tuck it and run either. If we can contain him, we can slow their offense down.
“Defensively, I’m told their front four is pretty stout. If we can get past that front line and create some holes to then open up our passing game. Everybody knows we’re a passing team, so I figure they’re going to try to shut down our pass. If we don’t run the ball well, we could have a long time coming.”
Soon enough, the developmental football world will find out if the Rhinos can continue their storybook playoff run by upsetting the only remaining unbeaten team in the league to advance to the championship game against either the North Texas Stampede or the Austin Vipers.
“It’ll take not just take good coaching, but the same thing we did last week,” Mundy said. “We’re going to have to go out with the same attitude, the same heart, the same emotion. It’ll take that to get to the championship game. Anything short of that and we may have a long drive home.”
With Mundy’s plans to retire from coaching following the season, you can bet the Rhinos will play their tails off, in hopes of extending their legendary coach’s career just one more week.
“I’m definitely retiring from coaching for sure,” Mundy said. “The only question left for the Rhinos, at this point, is if we are able to find a head coach that can carry on in the way that I prefer – a strong guy, a guy that has a strong personality that can lead the team and direct the team. I would likely stay on as an owner and keep owning the team, but I couldn’t coach. It would take a big-named guy to do it, somebody I can trust to do it properly. I don’t want the Rhinos name tarnished.
“It would take someone with high character to keep leading the organization in the right direction. If we found that guy, there’s talk we will stay on as owners and keep the team going. If not, it’s likely the Rhinos might be done after this. Both of my coordinators are going to retire with me. I’ve known both of them for 17 years and one partnered with me to start the Rhinos in 2011. My other partner was with me on the Denton Blast and he’s going to retire with me. They’ve been taking this ride with me, so If I’m going to go out, we’re all going to go out and ride into the sunset together.”