This Saturday, the East Lake War Eagles are in a must-win situation as they travel to take on the Pensacola Jets in Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League action.
The War Eagles raised some eyebrows by getting out to a 4-1 start in their inaugural season, but a tough 29-19 loss in a winnable games against the Capital City Cobras took some of the wind out of their sails.
“It was 15-19 with five minutes left, we had the ball and all we had to do was get a couple of first downs,” War Eagles owner Jason Nielsen told Developmental Football USA. “We had an errant pitch, they scooped it up, then they threw for a touchdown. Our guys kind of got dejected after that, then they scored another meaningless touchdown again at the end.”
The following week, East Lake had an eight-hour trip to Opelika, Ala., to face a very formidable opponent in the Opelika Chiefs – one of the APDFL’s finest.
“We’re a first-year team and this is the fourth eight-hour trip we’ve had,” Nielsen said. “Only 19 of our 55 guys made it. We went up missing 13 of our starters and got beat pretty bad, 44-0.”
Now with three weeks left, the War Eagles have regrouped and are looking for a win this weekend against the Jets to build some momentum through the home stretch.
“We have three games left on the season, all winnable games, and we’ll have the majority of our players so we should be fine,” Nielsen said.
“We’ve got the Jets, the undefeated Georgia Cardinals are coming to town. That’s something we want to make sure we’re in full force for. Based on the teams they’ve played, they haven’t really played one of the top teams in the league yet, but it’s an opportunity for us to put the league on notice going into the playoffs if we can get that win. Then we have the Mississippi Sting coming in to finish the season on May 20. We finish the season with two home games back to back.”
East Lake’s starting quarterback didn’t make the game against the Chiefs and will be out again against the Jets, so look for Mike Searcy to lead the charge offensively for the War Eagles.
The War Eagles still have a shot to make the playoffs, but right now their focus is on winning these next three games and letting the playoff picture take care of itself.
“It’s hard to say where we stand,” Nielsen said. “The top seven teams in each conference are going in. It’s not a divisional thing, but a conference thing. Right now you might be able to make it with seven wins, you might be able to make it with five wins. It depends on how these next few weeks play out. Three wins would be nice, two might be enough, heck one might even be enough, but that’s not what we want. We’d have to travel to Opelika again and as a first-year team, that’s not what we want, from a financial angle. I think we could give Opelika a run for their money, heck maybe come out with a win, if we had a full team.”
Despite their recent two-game skid, East Lake still appears to have a good foundation in place and be on their way to becoming an established organization in the APDFL
“We were able to put this season together with five weeks,” Nielsen said. “That’s putting together the entire roster, the coaching staff, and installing a whole new offense and defense. This got thrown into my lap the first part of the year. I was supposed to be the offensive line coach, then stepped in as the owner.
“We only retained nine players from the former team. At the time this was going on, I was a full-time student, working at a school as a teacher. I recently finished school so I’m not doing that anymore. War Eagles LLC is now my full-time job from here going forward. I cannot wait to see what we do with an entire off-season. We can have a full tryout and have our choice of guys and we have time to go out and get sponsors. I’m extremely confident that with our success as a first-year team we can pick up some good sponsors.”
Once East Lake gets more established in the community, they’ll make some steps towards their long-term goals and their vision for the organization.
“One thing I said about this organization when I took over is if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right and that’s what we’re going to do,” Nielsen said. “We want to provide a platform for young players that missed their opportunity to have an opportunity to go to college or even to pro, whether that’s NFL, CFL, or an arena league. That’s our goal, to get them an opportunity.”