When helping found the Oklahoma City Elite in 2014, Tredell Harris told his players to give him three years of their time and they would become champions together.
On Saturday, Coach Harris held true to his promise as an explosive third quarter propelled the Elite to a 27-20 road win over the Kansas Cougars for the Xtreme Football League of Oklahoma Championship.
“Those guys put in three hard years,” Harris told Developmental Football USA. “We went from a 1-7 (in our first year) team to an 11-1 team and we finished at the top.”
A slow start on Saturday put the Elite at a crossroads at halftime. Down 13-0 on the road to a team that was playing in its third consecutive XFL Championship Game, they were faced with the choice of giving up or giving it their all.
“We started off horrible in the first half on offense,” Harris said. “We couldn’t get anything right. We had a few turnovers that led to their first touchdown and then the defense stepped up and pretty much kept us in the game. We had a few turnovers where we gave them the ball, one time inside the 20, one time inside the 30, and our defense held them to six points from that and 13 points from our four turnovers.”
With two quarters left to play, the veteran leadership rose to the occasion for Oklahoma City.
“At halftime, I pretty much left it to our captains on defense, Travis Kelly, J.J. Higgins and Donte Moore,” Harris said. “I said a little bit to them, ‘We’ve come too far. We started in August conditioning for right now. We can’t let it go to waste.’ Then I let our captains on defense have the floor. It would mean more to hear from the guys they’re battling with, in this type of situation.
“Our captains said, ‘We’ve come too far. We’re too damn good to let it go to waste for nothing.’ Our defense said, ‘Y’all get us 14 points and we will win the game.’ Our offense gave us 21 points and the defense did the rest.”
The team responded by putting up 27 points in the third quarter, which started with a 47-yard touchdown run from Anthony Thomas.
Moments later, the defense got a strip fumble, which was returned for a touchdown by Steven Bridgemon.
“Playing at Rose Hill, they definitely have a home field advantage,” Harris said. “Their crowd, they always have a nice crowd and they get loud. The announcers pump those guys up, their fans support them and I’m not a firm believer in the referees controlling the game. You’ll never hear me blame a game on the referee, but it’s a tough place to play. They know their element and things like that. With us, I tell our guys to take the game out of the referee’s hands by playing smart football. Take the game out of the referee’s hands by playing smash mouth football.”
XFL teams have had a tough time winning on the road against the Cougars and being able to host a championship game typically gives the advantage to the home team, but the Elite decided they had come too far to be denied by anyone.
“We came back,” Harris said.
Oklahoma City got its first lead of the game on a touchdown pass from Garrett Casper to Mackensey Brown to lead 20-13, then Casper ran in another score on the ground to lead 27-13.
“From there, our defense took over,” Harrris said. “We allowed one touchdown. We threw an interception that was returned to like the six and they punched it in. That was their last touchdown. Our defense was pretty much lockdown.”
In the fourth quarter, Cortez Cathey intercepted a pass to get the ball back into the hands of the Elite offense, then Matthew Dingle picked off another Cougar pass late in the game to seal the win.
“I told them I’ll give them a week to celebrate, then we’re getting ready for next season to keep it going,” Harris said. “We’ll have off-season conditioning that starts up in August and open tryouts. Our guys understand they were on our championship team, but next year is a new season.
“We have a solid core of young guys and veteran guys and I told those guys, ‘We don’t stop now. It’s a title or it’s a bust. We’re not taking a step backwards.’ I don’t understand what rebuild means, we build it up and we keep it up.”