From the outside looking in, the Midway Marauders have surpassed expectations for their inaugural season in Midwest Professional Indoor Football, but those inside the organization have believed they would be here from Day 1.
“The season has been going according to plan,” Marauders owner Chris Mathews told Developmental Football USA. “I honestly thought by now we’d still be undefeated, but we lost to the Cincinnati Flex. It was 34-34, with four seconds left on the clock and their quarterback made a great play to beat us.
“We came in with high expectations. Even though we were a first year a team, we expected to win a championship and so far we’re still going down that road. With the talent and staff we’ve put together, I still feel like we’re championship contenders.”
Despite the loss earlier in the year, the Marauders have posted a 7-1 regular season record on their way to a No. 1 playoff seed and a MPIF Semifinal match-up against the Tri-Town Titans, a team they’ve already beaten twice.
The winner of that game will take on the winner of the other semifinal game between the Flex and the Illinois Cowboys.
“Out of everyone we’ve played, we’ve only taken one loss between the pre-season and the regular season,” Mathews said. “We’ve beaten the Cowboys twice, just last week I think 56-32 and we beat the Titans twice, once in pre-season, once in the regular season.”
Assuming the Marauders get past the Titans and the Flex get past the Illinois Cowboys – both results the odds certainly favor – Midway will get another shot at Cincinnati in the MPIF Championship Game in a would-be battle between two first-year teams.
“We’d really like to play the Flex in the championship, since they’re the only team to beat us,” Mathews said. “We’re not going to overlook anyone, but we’re hoping to play Cincinnati again because it would mean so much more to beat the team that beat us.”
While success in football takes many different pieces working together effectively, Mathews feels his team wouldn’t be in this same position without his gunslinger, who is the undisputed MVP of the offense, and possibly the entire league.
“Definitely my quarterback Andre Locke,” Mathews said. “With how great of a leader the guy is, not only is he a great leader, he’s been with my team every day through everything. He’s never missed a beat. He’s also been performing like the league MVP.”
Locke, who has accounted for 43 combined touchdowns on the ground and through the air, is a nominee for MPIF League MVP and could end up bringing the award home.
“Not only with his playing on the field, but also his football IQ,” Mathews said. “The guy puts in a lot of hard work into the game. He’s always on time pushing the guys. The team would not be 7-1 without him, I can guarantee that. There’s no telling where we would be as a team, he keeps the team together and also performs like a champion.”
Jermell Smith has also been a vital part of the Marauders offensive attack with 13 receiving touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns on the year.
Defensively, one player has been a major surprise for Midway and also has himself in the running for some post-season hardware.
“A guy that has come on strong lately is Denzel Whitaker,” Mathews said. “Denzel is actually a starting receiver for me also, but we have ben thin on the defensive line, so he’s a receiver that went to defensive end. Now, he’s leading my team in sacks and tackles for loss, with 13 sacks in a part time role. Every time he’s in, he’s unblockable. It starts up front and Denzel has been an unblockable force the last five games.”
Inside linebacker Gregory Barksdale, formerly with the Northern Illinois Huskies, is also in the running for Defensive MVP.
“Barksdale is leader on the field, not so much vocal, but what he does on the field,” Mathews said. “The guys rally behind him, he’s a tackle and turnover machine.”
Teams have two weeks off before their April 29 playoff match-ups to determine which two teams will play for the championship, in a league that has greatly improved in competition from one year ago.
“The defending champion of this league, the Northern Indiana Renegades didn’t make the playoffs this year,” Mathews said. “It shows how much more this league has gotten competitive with the addition of all these new teams.”
While it’s been a good regular season run for Midway, there’s still work to be done to accomplish what they’ve set out to do.
“I feel like we’ve had an amazing year,” Mathews said. “We’ve met my expectations, but when it’s all said and done, we want to win the championship. I want this team to be known and our players to be known. Our players put in a lot of hard work and we’re not going to stop until we go get it.”