It has already been an unforgettable season for the East Lake War Eagles, who have made some noise in the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League in their inaugural season and are currently sitting at 4-1 after not receiving much pre-season hype.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, the situation will remain unique for the War Eagles.
Three teams in East Lake’s division folded right before the season started, so they have had to replace six of their 10 scheduled games.
“We have five games left,” War Eagles owner Jason Nielsen told Developmental Football USA. “We’re playing the Capital City Cobras this week, then the other four games, we don’t know who or where we’re playing yet.”
It’ll be an interesting situation to follow, to see which teams the APDFL brings in to fill those vacant spots in East Lake’s schedule.
“We’re the only team south of Tallahassee,” Nielsen said. “It’s a bit of a trek for any of the teams coming down to us and it’s a trek for us to go up to them. That’s the issue we’re having with scheduling. It’s a unique situation. It’s been a struggle, but we’ve been pushing through, hopefully the league comes through and makes sure we can finish the season.”
In a pre-season interview with Developmental Football USA, Nielsen said the War Eagles had two games in particular circled on their schedule. One is already in the books – a 16-0 loss to the Prattville Patriots – and the other one is coming up this Saturday against the Capital City Cobras (2-3).
Last season, a chunk of the War Eagles were members of the now-defunct North Pinellas Decepticons, which suffered a 45-0 loss to the Cobras. This season, a successful and extremely confident War Eagles team is looking for payback.
“It should be a really good game,” Nielsen said. “They’re not a slouch and their record is not a good indicator of the amount of talent on that team.”
Not lacking confidence headed into this weekend’s match-up, the War Eagles will be even stronger as six new signees will make their debut.
“It’s a great thing for us,” Nielsen said. “They signed with us right before the deadline and we’re upgrading all the way around. I’m extremely confident now. We’ve had a week to heal up, we have reinforcements coming in and it should be a really good end to the season.”
East Lake signed running back Mark Kaigler, to add another weapon to the backfield which has primarily featured William Martin this season.
“The only game our offense really opened up was against the First Coast Fire, when we played them at home,” Nielsen said. “Martin had three touchdowns that day. Mark’s really good on the edge and has great vision. Will is a pounder, he runs up the middle and runs guys over. He’s more of a fullback that’s been playing running back.”
Kaigler – along with recent signee Alvin Miller – had signed to play for the Central Florida Jaguars arena team, which unfortunately folded before their season started.
“I have the utmost faith in my team to bounce back from a disappointing last couple of weeks and we’re looking to finish the season strong and gain more respect within our league,” Nielsen said.
The War Eagles started the season with a 42-0 win over the Atlanta Tigers at the APDFL Kickoff Classic, then routed the First Coast Fire 19-0 in Week 2, and beat them again 56-0 when East Lake hosted them in Week 3.
After a 3-0 start, the War Eagles suffered their first setback in a 16-0 loss to the Prattville Patriots before going to Atlanta for a rematch with the Tigers.
“We lost that game in overtime,” Nielsen said. “However, there were five or six different bylaw violations, so the league actually gave them a forfeit loss for playing suspended players. So now, we’re sitting at 4-1 and working to get some things straight.”
The key to East Lake’s success has been their defense, which held the Patriots – a team that typically drops 30, 40 or 50 points on their opponent – to just 16 points.
“Our defense, I believe is the best defense in the league, but even the best defense will give up points when the offense doesn’t move the ball,” Nielsen said. “They are very young and extremely fast. We’ve given up negative rushing yards this season overall. It’s been very difficult to run against us.
“The only game we gave up a lot of passing yards was this last week against the Atlanta Tigers. We watched a lot of film on them, which they showed a lot of power running out of the I-formation, then against us they came out in five-wide sets. Even then, we only gave up 13 points in regulation.”
Offensively, the War Eagles have leaned heavily on their running game, which has averaged more than six yards per carry.
“Last week we had to bench our starting quarterback for the back-up, Brett D’Avignon” Nielsen said. “Our No. 2 came in and has performed admirably. We’re very optimistic moving forward, but typically, it’s been our defense setting up our offense.”
The top teams in each conference make the APDFL playoffs, and currently the War Eagles are the fourth seed in the American conference based on tie-breakers, but tied for second place based on records, Nielsen said.