Earlier this month, 28 teams competed in national bowl games down in Florida, many of which were well-deserving league champions and teams ranked nationally by multiple sources.
However, one team wasn’t there. In fact, somehow the Sioux City Stampede have never been invited to participate in a national bowl game, despite a 32-2 record over the past three seasons and both Midwest Football Alliance and Northern Elite Football League Championships.
They’ve won consecutive titles from two of arguably the Top 10 leagues at this level, but haven’t gotten an opportunity that even some non-champions are offered, so you can imagine they feel snubbed.
“Absolutely, it’s frustrating,” Stampede head coach Jason Garnand told Developmental Football USA. “We played great competition last season. We gave the MFA powerhouse Kansas City Bulldogs their only loss last season. We beat 2017 national runner-up and former NEFL Champions, the Minneapolis Warriors, twice, as well as the Fargo Invaders and Northland Bulls which are power teams too. Our only loss in two years was a botched play to the St. Paul Pioneers in the last seconds on the road.”
The Pioneers are no stranger to national games, and despite the regular season loss to St. Paul, Sioux City was the team holding the trophy at season’s end. Perhaps there’s more to earning a bid than just winning trophies.
“With only five seasons under our belt, getting recognized for an opportunity to play in a bowl game is a learning process and hopefully come 2019 we can let our presence be known,” Garnand said.
Of the teams that played in the national games this year, the closest geographically to the Stampede is the Midway Marauders out of Chicago. The Marauders won the Royal Ironman Football League and knocked off the Orlando Phantoms, who came into the game as the top team from Florida and unanimously picked to win in our polls. While the Stampede have never matched up with the Marauders, there is a little bit of familiarity between the two teams.
“They are a good team in a good league,” Garnand said. “We were fortunate enough as a league to match up with them in the NEFL versus RIFL All-Star game. We pulled out an NEFL win as we were able to see the talent M3 had. Congratulations to them on a national title win, but we can compete with that class of football for sure.”
Challenging themselves by scheduling well-respected out-of-league games is something the Stampede has done annually and 2019 is no different. Last year, as part of their season preparation the Stampede played an indoor game game against the Sioux City Bandits of Champions Indoor Football.
This year, they will get another shot at indoor redemption against the Bandits at 7 p.m. on March 23. From there, it gets a little easier, considering they will move on from professional competition to amateur competition, but it won’t get too much easier because they are set to face two defending champions of other leagues and one runner-up.
“In order to be seen, you have to put yourself in a position to be recognized,” Garnand said. “So, we scheduled games against the Lincoln-Way Patriots, the Kansas City Bulldogs and the Omaha Stockmen.”
The Stampede will play the Patriots May 11 in Chicago. The Patriots won the Mid-States Football League, which is also among the most competitive leagues at this level. The following weekend, the Stampede travels to Kansas City to face the Bulldogs, which won the MFA last year, then they will return home to host the Omahoma Stockmen on May 25.
“Regardless of our league size, we have out-of-conference games to make up the rest of the season,” Garnand said.
The NEFL, which has been a deeply competitive league for several years, will play its 2019 season with only four members as a chunk of teams left in the off-season to join a new league. Even with only three different league opponents, winning the league will be no walk in the park.
“Some teams left because of the level of competition mostly,” Garnand said. “That’s my personal feeling. Why stay in a league when you have no shot of finishing in the Top 4? The teams we have left in the St. Paul Pioneers, Fargo Invaders and Northland Bulls are solid teams in regard to business structure and competition. It will still be one of the best leagues in the Midwest, regardless of size. We are a close-knit family and will be assembling an All-Star team again this year and entertaining any league wanting to play. A few leagues have already rejected the offer, but we want to compete, so anyone interested please contact the NEFL.”
Not to get lost in the middle of those upcoming marquee match-ups, the Stampede is also looking to complete a three-peat and bring home their third consecutive title, second in the NEFL.
“One of the main reasons of our success is the quality of players that we have brought in,” Garnand said. “A full roster of quality players means good players become role recipients. Without good role players that play special teams and fill in positions when needed, you lose third and fourth quarter games. We have been fortunate enough to corral the egos and do what’s best for the Stampede.”
That same core group of players that have been almost invincible for the past three seasons will return again in 2019. Needless to say, a three-peat looks promising.
“Some of our players have already made some Indoor teams and will join back mid season, but for the ones we have at the beginning of the season, it will be all a matter of handling the adversity of this tough season opening schedule,” Garnand said. “They have to continue to make practices and become the team we have been known for. The new talent we have brought in will be set for immediate impact, so that’s super exciting.”
Offensively, any successful team lives or dies through its offensive line and the Stampede have been fortunate enough to call that a strength for several seasons.
“This unit, for the last three seasons, has helped lead this organization in being the top rushing team the last three years,” Garnand said. “Juice Cunningham, Adam Melson, Ryan Miller and Zac Woods, these guys are players. They are the foundation of our success this year. Add six All-NEFL skill players on offense and it will make it a fun season for the offense.”
Opposing ball carriers would probably rather see a herd of bulls running at them – as displayed on the team’s logo – than face this defense.
“Defensively, we have players that could play for any team in the Midwest,” Garnand said. “It’s the baseline of who the Stampede is – a fast and furious defense.”