The winning tradition and big-game experience of the North Texas Stampede rose to the surface when it mattered most on Saturday as running back Keith Davis fought his way into the end zone with seven seconds left for the go-ahead touchdown and an eventual 26-22 win over the DeSoto Golden Eagles. The win secured North Texas a spot in the Minor Professional Football League Standing Four.
“Those guys are a really, really tough team,” Stampede head coach Jackie Bridges told Developmental Football USA. “We knew it was going to be a tough game and it was a tough game the first time we beat them as time expired with a field goal, so we didn’t expect anything differently in the second round of the playoffs.
“We went to DeSoto, to their home field and we knew the atmosphere was going to be tough, but we were able to make some plays down the stretch both offensively and defensively and now we’re moving on.”
At one point the Stampede trailed 22-14, but rallied back with 12 unanswered points to secure one of the Metro Division’s two bids to the Standing Four.
“Our captains stepped up, especially our running back Keith Davis,” Bridges said. “He stepped up and put the team on his back. Zay Griff got a little banged up and Keith Davis put the team on his back and he was determined to get in the end zone and he did that with about seven seconds left. He was able to swing around the left side of the offensive line and fight his way about five yards into the end zone for the go ahead touchdown, so big props to Keith Davis.”
In a league as competitive as the MPFL, it’s essential for every team to immediately put each game behind them and get ready for the next one, especially in the playoffs where the following opponent is generally more difficult.
Now, the Stampede get to travel to Austin to face the Austin Vipers (9-2) on Saturday.
“I know a lot of those guys and I have nothing but respect from their head coach all the way to their players,” Bridges said. “It’s going to be another dog fight. We know Austin’s history, they are ex-champions as well and they’ve been pretty dominant the last few years. It’s not going to be a cakewalk in the park, we’re going to be ready for them. At this point, you don’t have any choice but to be ready.”
The Vipers only two losses came at the hands of the 2016 Champions, the Texas Bullets, who had their 24-game winning streak snapped on Saturday in a 55-51 upset to the Denton County Rhinos. No other team has beaten the Vipers – which have won at least 11 games in each of the last four seasons – this year.
On Saturday, the Stampede look to change that.
“We’re going to get to practice this week on Wednesday and implement part of our game plan that we plan to use against those guys,” Bridges said. “We will travel decently and go down to Austin and play a pretty good football game Saturday night. I have no doubt we’ll let the outcome speak for itself when the clock says 00:00.”
The Stampede will lean on their offensive line to make things happen for them offensively.
“Skyler Graham has the offensive line doing great things this season,” Bridges said. “We need to be able to smash the ball and that’s what we’ve been able to do the past few games and it’s been a boost for our offense in the final part of the season. I have all the confidence in the world the Stampede can win in Austin in a hostile environment. I would put that in the same boat as traveling to Weatherford to play the Bullets.”
With the Bullets out of the picture, the Shanklin Trophy is up for grabs and no single team from The Standing Four is a glaring favorite to win it all.
“Honestly and truly, if you look at the statistics, it’s a big boost for everybody that somehow the Bullets got eliminated early,” Bridges said. “As far as us individually, the Stampede, we were looking forward to a rematch again with those guys. I’m one of those believers as a head coach, I don’t think anybody can beat me three times in a season.”
“At the end of the day the Rhinos stepped up and gave them a challenge they hadn’t had in a few years. Statistically wise, we’re talking about a Bullets team that hadn’t lost but three games in four or five years. It was a huge boost that you didn’t have to jump that barrel to get where you need to get to. The four teams that are still standing are the four teams that deserve to be there. At the end of the day, the football games have to be played, I don’t care what your record is or what your record was at the end of the year, in the post season, you only get one loss.”
The Stampede (11-3, 8-3 in MPFL) themselves dropped two regular season games to the Bullets and the Lonestar Rangers were able to also steal a win from them. Saturday’s battle between two disciplined, well-coached teams will simply come down to which one wants it more.
“What it’s going to take, it’s going to the take guys to dig down deep,” Bridges said. “We still haven’t played Stampede football yet, that’s the scary thing for us. I keep saying it over and over. At some point, some opponent is going to get Stampede football and now we’re sitting with two games left and somebody is going to get a whiff of Stampede football
“I’ve always had confidence in our team that we can go anywhere and beat anybody, as long as we stay healthy and travel well and commit ourselves to the program and to our teammates. If we can be fortunate enough to win in Austin, we’ll go back to Austin for the championship.”