It all comes down to what happens on the field Saturday to decide the 2017 Dynamic Texas Football Association Champion as the Houston Ducks (11-2) get a much-anticipated rematch against the defending champion Texas Spartans. This time, there’s a whole lot more on the line.
“This is going to be a good game,” Ducks head coach P.J. Strachan told Developmental Football USA. “We’re not taking them lightly, but I think we’re going to come out on top with the way we’ve got these guys prepared. I’ve hyped these guys up all post-season that it was meant to play out this way, that we’re able to avenge every loss we’ve had. I think this is our destiny to finally get that ring, especially avenging our first loss. It’s going to be special and these guys are going to be pretty pumped up for it.”
The Ducks started out 5-0 this year before suffering their first loss of the year to the Spartans – who started 0-3 themselves, but improved to 3-3 after pulling out an 18-9 win against the Ducks.
“The first go around, I’ll be honest, I know we took them lightly from a coaching staff and player standpoint,” Strachan said. “We took them lightly our first go around and they came and executed and put pressure on our quarterback who had the flu at the time. I’m not using that as an excuse, but they were very aggressive on him, forced some turnovers and made some plays at the receiver position from Devon Joy, ‘Flash.’ No. 11 for the Spartans scored three touchdowns on us. I told my team this will be a big game on our DBs. We’re a totally different team from the first time we met. Taking that loss made us a better team from the top down.”
The Ducks are led offensively by former Michigan and Baylor wide receiver Darryl Stonum, who also spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Stonum has been big all year, scoring multiple touchdowns each game,” Strachan said. “He has two punt return touchdowns and well over 10 receiving touchdowns. I believe he will be named the Most Valuable Player of the year, win or lose this weekend.”
Late in the year, William Craft has also emerged as a playmaker for the Ducks receiving core, Strachan said.
“From an offensive standpoint, it’s going to come down to our offensive line versus their front seven, period,” Strachan said. “I think our receivers match up very well against their DBs, but it’s going to come down to the battle between their front seven and our offensive line.”
Houston will be without left tackle Damien Parris, who was signed by the Wichita Falls Nighthawks of the Indoor Football League two weeks ago.
Defensively, Strachan believes his group of linebackers matches up real well against the Spartans running game.
“They probably had the most rushing yards on us this year and they only had 55 yards rushing,” Strachan said. “It’s going to come down to the trenches as usual and our DBs matching up against their receiving core.
“Hands down, my best player on the defensive side is Winston Savice. This is his third year with us and he’s been to the All-Star game each year he’s been part of the team. He’s having an All-Star year this year as well. He’s my best defensive player right now at middle linebacker.”
Defensive end Demarcus Daughtry has also stepped up big this year for the Ducks and will be expected to have a big day on Saturday.
“He started off in arena ball in the beginning of the year and once he was released he came back to the team,” Strachan said. “He’s had multiple sacks each game, he’s had some tight end play, he’s had a couple of interceptions, he’s returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Since he came back home he’s been a remarkable part of our front seven, blocking field goals. He’s done it all.”
Much has happened for both teams since the Spartans got the best of the Ducks in Week 6, so it’ll be interesting Saturday as both squads re-assess each other.
“We’ve had a coaching change in play-calling since that game so we’re a totally different team now,” Strachan said. “We’ve identified certain role players since then that have stepped up big for our team. We’re a whole different team than when we played them first time around.”
Houston kicked off its 2017 campaign with a 3-0 win over the defending Texas United Football Association champions, the Texas Colts, which gave the Ducks a surge of confidence and raised their expectations for this season.
“Once we beat those guys in pre-season, we knew we had a special group to compete in our league and win a championship,” Strachan said. “At the time, they had just come off a loss in a national championship game in Las Vegas to a Colorado team. They came back home and we beat them.”
Last year, the Ducks were knocked out of the second round of the Minor Professional Football League playoffs by eventual league finalist, the Texas Broncos. The Ducks avenged that loss in the first round of the DTFA playoffs this year and followed it with a win over the Houston Lobos, who gave the Ducks their second loss of the season in Week 9.
“We lost to the Lobos, so we avenged that loss too,” Strachan said. “We’ve been doing this revenge tour and once we beat the Spartans we will be the undisputed champions, having beaten every team in the league.”