Photo Cred: Tommy Watkins
If you live anywhere near Prattville, Alabama, you will want to make it out to Stanley Jensen Stadium at 6:00 on Saturday for the Patriots’ hard-hitting, must-win rematch against the Opelika Chiefs for a shot to play in the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League Championship Game.
Now the American Conference’s No. 1 seed and the league’s No. 1 ranked team, the Patriots really made a case for themselves in their rise as a national power with their come-from-behind, 29-28 road win against the Chiefs earlier this year.
Saturday, they’re out to prove it wasn’t just a one-time occasion.
“We’re looking for a lot of the same with the rematch,” Patriots head coach Nick Fletcher told Developmental Football USA. “I know Opelika is out to prove a point and they’re a very good ball team and I think we’re every bit as good as they are and we’re going to come with the same approach, play hardnosed defense and run the ball.”
Photo Cred: Tommy Watkins
The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to play the winner of the Mississippi Dynasty and Hiawayi Robinson Falcons in the championship game, but none of the four teams are currently looking beyond Saturday.
In the last meeting, the Patriots went into halftime down by 16, however, two quarters later they would become the only team that’s ever recovered from that large of deficit against their rival and fellow national power.
“We made a few adjustments, then the defense shut the Opelika Chiefs out the second half and it pretty much showed us what kind of team we have,” Fletcher said. “They came out and fought through adversity and that’s pretty much been our whole season and how we’ve looked at it. It’s been us against the world. We grew closer from that game, came together as a team and we haven’t looked back since, with us now being No. 1, going into the conference championship.”
Photo Cred: Tommy Watkins
Seventy six miles separates the two football communities, whose familiarity with each other dates back way before either team was formed.
“It’s been pretty easy to develop a strong rivalry against this team,” Fletcher said. “We’re real similar in that our team is built from the inside out, being that our offensive and defensive lines are probably the strongest points of our two teams. We both have strong defenses and potent offenses.”
The Chiefs are led by all-star quarterback Kyle Caldwell, who has had the Patriots defense game-planning all week for solutions to slow him down.
“If we can contain him, I think we have a pretty good chance of repeating the same result of the first time we played them,” Fletcher said.
Leading the pursuit for the Patriots pass rush is defensive end Justin Robinson, who recently broke the APDFL sack record.
“He’s constantly in the quarterback’s face disrupting offenses week after week and he hasn’t stopped in the playoffs,” Fletcher said.
Photo Cred: Scott Catrett
While it takes a team effort on all three sides of the football to make it this far in a league as competitive as APDFL, like Robinson, defensive back Yancy Powell consistently finds a way to make the highlight reel.
“Last game, he had three interceptions all by himself, which is pretty fantastic at this level of play,” Fletcher said. “If I had to name the really impact players lately, it would be those guys.”
Offensively, the Patriots line has made it possible for their skill players to put up good numbers on their climb to the top of the standings.
“Vincent Tyus, No. 17, our running back, has really taken the starting role and ran with it,” Fletcher said. “That guy is a freak of nature and consistently answers the call anytime we need a big play and he makes something happen anytime we need it. Our offensive line has been tough and gritty and without them we wouldn’t be able to do anything on offense, so I got to give credit to the big nasties up front.”
“Wide receiver Mike Graham has been an explosive playmaker for us all year long and it hasn’t stopped in the playoffs.”
With a chance to play for the league championship on the line, expect Saturday’s game to be every bit as intense as the last one.
“I think the team that wins the trenches wins the game,” Fletcher said. “We’re looking forward to playing them at Stanley Jensen and playing a very disciplined Opelika Chiefs team and we’re looking to come out with the same outcome.”
In addition to helping players get exposure to advance their careers during Prattville’s rise to power, Director of Player Relations Travis Edelen also recently received an opportunity to further the Patriots sphere of influence.
“We’ve been partners with the Columbus Lions and they finally ended up giving him a scouting job with the state of Alabama,” Fletcher said. “It does give us an edge in moving these players and that’s what we’re in this business to do, not only win championships, but to make these players’ dreams come true, who have put in the work to get noticed.
“I think having Travis out there at the professional level is pretty good door for guys to walk through that deserve it. Travis has always been a very hard and dedicated worker for us and he’s been a close friend of mine for a couple of years now and I’ve never seen anybody work so hard for next to nothing and he does it because he loves the game and loves the guys and I look forward to keeping him as part of my staff as he does his thing with the Columbus Lions.”