(Photo Cred: Kayleen Nicole Wright)
The Nebraska Nightmare continues to find ways to win, and typically win big. Now past the midway point of the regular season, the Nightmare is just one of two unbeaten teams left in the Midwest Football League.
“For us to be where we are, no one even expected it,” Nightmare head coach Rich Mailhot told Developmental Football USA. “I’ll be totally honest, I thought we’d be 10-0 when the season started, but then I didn’t think we’d be 6-0 when we were 6-0.”
On offense, a ridiculously deep backfield has led the way for Nebraska as quarterback George Oliver and running backs Jason Hawkins and Jay Clark have all racked up yards this season for the Nightmare.
“Our offensive line in general, they’re just getting better and better every week,” Mailhot said. “Russell Hemeter has made plays. Tight end Marlon Thomas, he’s having a good couple weeks here, these last couple weeks on the road, with key third down conversions. We’re just playing well, we’re throwing the ball, we’re running the ball exceptionally well with Jay Hawkins, Jay Clark and George Oliver. They’re having a hell of a year.”
With just one more win, the Nightmare will already match their win total from one year ago, with plenty of time left to raise the standard for their program.
“This year, we’ve brought a lot of new players over and we’re just playing good team offense, defense and special teams right now,” Mailhot said. “We’re just playing as a team.”
Defensively, Nebraska has only allowed 56 points all season, through five games.
“It’s kind of been everyone, it’s just a solid team defense,” Mailhot said. “I think right now we’ve got the best defensive in the conference. It’s the same guys: Kunta Punkett, Laquan Cribbs, Debo Plukett, Lucas Mickles, Chris Reeves, our cornerback, Jay Clark on defense, Russ on defense, our linebacking crew.
“Defensively, we’re hard to run on and we’re hard to pass on. We gave up a few bad plays when we went up to Minnesota a few weeks ago to play the Granite City Renegades. It could have been because it was raining or because it was a long drive – it was a seven hour drive. We didn’t play our best defense that week.”
(Photo Cred: Kayleen Nicole Wright)
Nebraska’s explosive offense and stout defense have had each other’s back all season long and that well-rounded team play is the main reason they’re 6-0.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Mailhot said. “When our defense is not playing great, our offense is playing great. When our offense is not playing so good, our defense will get a turnover or a pick six and our special teams is just playing out of this world. I’m proud of every player on this team, even the backups. They come in in key roles or key situations when someone is tired or someone gets hurt. We’ve got solid football players on this team.”
Last weekend, the Nightmare received a 2-0 forfeit win due to a team folding, but in their last game, they found their undefeated season and No. 1 seeding potential in jeopardy on the road against the Granite City Renegades.
“We went into overtime and found a way to win, which says a lot for these guys, because they’ve never been in that position before, losing in the fourth,” Mailhot said. “At one point in that game, for like three minutes, we were actually losing for the first time all year, so it was different for these guys and for them to do what they did.
“They grew up, they became men. Nothing is too big for these guys. It’s weird. They’re just all great players. There’s not a player on this team that doesn’t fill a role, everyone gets along. Right now we’re doing a firework stand to raise money for the team and everyone is pitching in and helping out, staying the night. We’re just that tight knit group.”
With another bye week for the holidays, the Nightmare returns to action July 8 versus the Wichita Diamondbacks, which should be a tough test for Nebraska and definitely a game that’s circled on their schedule.
“They’ve got all their eight-man football players, now that eight-man football season is over, so they’ve got all their players and they’re looking for revenge,” Mailhot said.
Kickoff is set for 4:00, July 8, at Benson High School.
“I think it’s going to be a great game,” Mailhot said. “I hope it’s not. I hope we can beat them like we did last time, I really do, but that coach has got a chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t like to lose and he certainly doesn’t like to lose to the same team twice. Tyrone is a great coach, I’ve learned a great deal from him and Jimmy in the two years I’ve been in this league.”
After facing the Diamondbacks again, the Nightmare will travel to Kansas City to play the Shockers.
“I don’t know anything about them, but they won the championship in the league they were in before,” Mailhot said. “These next two games are going to be tough.”
Aside from the Nightmare, the River City Rampage is the other remaining unbeaten team in the league.
“From everyone I’ve been told by, there’s as good as advertised,” Mailhot said. “They’re in our conference, so it’s going to either come down to them or us. I’m assuming, if they keep playing as good as they’re playing and we keep playing as good as we’re playing, it’s probably going to come down to them or us, to come down to the conference championship game to go to Wichita, but I still don’t count out the Panthers.
“The Panthers are playing good football right now and you’ve got the Bears and the Chargers and the Council Bluff Spartans. They’re playing good football right now and the team that we just played in Minnesota two weeks ago, the Granite City Renegades. If they get out of their conference and we get out of ours, it could be another slobberknocker down in Wichita for the championship. You’ve also got the Midwest Crusaders that are on the other side of the conference, you’ve got the Saber Cats from Minnesota, another really, really good team that’s playing really good right now. They just beat the Renegades the week before we beat them, so there’s some good teams. There could be some really good playoff match-ups, we’ve just got to take care of ourselves.”
Changing the ingredients of success is often unwise, so the Nightmare plans to take one game at a time and stick to the plan that’s got them this far.
“We need to play team defense, team offense, play good on special teams and just play as a collective group and keep our heads above water,” Mailhot said. “Hopefully we don’t get any key injuries. We have our eight-man football guys coming over to our team as well because their season is over. We’re adding two good offensive linemen, a really, really good free safety and a good defensive end that’s coming over. Percy Dukes is probably as advertised of a free safety in this league. He’s good, he’s really good. He’s going to make our defensive back end so much better.
“I’m still thinking we’ll be playing for the championship as long as we keep taking care of business.”