Finishing is the main thing Texas Xtreme head coach Ron Phillips and his staff are preaching to their squad as they find themselves in a familiar situation, one in which they’re looking for a different outcome.
“We went 10-0 last year and lost in the playoffs,” Phillips recently told Developmental Football USA. “You can be proud of a 10-0 season, but until you finish the season with a W, it’s not successful until you’ve done that.”
Based out of Austin, the Xtreme is the only undefeated team left in the Texas United Football Association, but they’ll need two more wins to finish out their historic season at a perfect 13-0 and league champions and it’s not going to be handed to them.
On Saturday, the Xtreme (11-0) have a rematch against the Sharyland Sting (10-1) where the winners will punch their tickets to the TUFA Championship Game and the losers will go home packing.
“We’ve had a very successful season,” Phillips said. “We’ve put up a lot of points and we’ve done very well defensively, but it still comes down to how we execute on game day, our preparation at practice and the commitment from the guys. All of that stuff is really what will determine how far we go.”
The Xtreme is responsible for the Sting’s only loss of the season – a 44-6 pounding in Austin to close out the regular season for both teams.
As the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, both teams had a first-round bye before the Xtreme handled the Coastal Bend Bears 45-12 in the second round and the Sting stood strong against the Galveston Monarchs 24-14 to make it to the conference championship game.
“I think our team, with what you’re dealing with about the culture at this level – these guys work for a living, they have jobs and families and don’t get paid – we’re fortunate to have a lot of new and committed players with the Texas Xtreme, which have allowed us to have good practices and implement some things that make us a challenge to deal with,” Phillips said.
“I’m impressed with the guys this year that have committed so much. We stressed to them early on, no matter what level of ball you play, winning a championship is few and far between and you don’t pass it up when an opportunity is there. They’ve put the work in, now it’s a matter of finishing it up.”
Every championship team has adversity to overcome along the way, that’s part of the refining process where champions are made. For the Xtreme, it came early on this year.
“We started the season off without our offensive coordinator, he was gone for the first three games so that was a bit challenging for us to get through those first three games,” Phillips said. “We run a fairly complicated offensive system that has a lot of terminology in it, so holding it down while he was gone and getting through those first three games unscathed, we were able to do that.”
Since their first two games, the Xtreme offense has been rolling and has only been held to less than 39 points one time – a 24-16 comeback win against the Houston Titans to open up the month of April.
“That was probably the game we got challenged the most,” Phillips said. “They had us most of the game and they were definitely forcing us out of our comfort zone. We weren’t executing well and that’s attributing to their efforts in the game, then finally late in the game we put up some points quickly.”
Late in the season, the offense had another growing experience against the other Titans in the TUFA, from San Antonio.
“It was actually a tight game until right before halftime, we executed very well with our two-minute offense,” Phillips said. “It was 12-8, then we went down and scored. They tried to run their two-minute offensive and stalled, so we got the ball back with a turnover inside their 5-yard line. We turned a 12-8 game into a 28-8 game in the two minutes before halftime I think that was a sock in the gut for them and it played a big role in how the second half of that game went.”
While the Xtreme are talented across the board, their offensive resurgence can be credited to the play-calling and the depth of their roster.
“I don’t think you can name any particular two or three players, because we’ve had such a large amount of players touch the ball for us and score,” Phillips said. “The key for us is our offensive line. We’ve been dominant on the offensive line and that’s been the key that’s created opportunities for us to be successful this year.”
Defensively, several players have stood out for a unit that’s been solid all year.
“Rob Black has always been a centerpiece to our pass defense,” Phillips said. “His ability as a free safety to play side line to sideline and his ability to recognize routes and support routes helps him predict the route combinations coming towards him. He’s stayed disciplined. Rob’s got a great sense of patience when it comes to the passing game about being in the right place at the right time.”
Black has led the way for a secondary that is arguably the best in the league.
“Defensively, two players who have been really strong for us have been our strong safety Cory Robbins – he’s a very physical and athletic strong safety – and Devron Thomas,” Phillips said. “I believe has had four or five pick sixes for us this year. He was with us in 2014, then he left for another team and came back and he is just a much better player. You can see the experience and his reaction time, he’s just a much, much improved player.”
The playmakers on the back end of the Xtreme’s defense wouldn’t have as much success without a strong defensive line winning the battle in the trenches.
“We’re big up front,” Phillips said. “They swallow up a lot of the blocking. which allows our strong safeties and inside linebackers to scrape the line of scrimmage and make plays and really restrict teams from being able to run the ball on us as well.”
The Xtreme has the luxury of being the home team again against the Sting and go into Saturday’s game as the favorites.