The Missouri Valley Pitbulls have had a solid season so far on their way to a 5-2 record, but with the Gridiron Developmental Football League playoffs right around the corner, a win this weekend would go a long ways. A win certainly won’t come easy though, as the Oklahoma Thunder ride into town on a 17-game winning streak.
“The way it looks right now, if we win we’re in,” Pitbulls head coach Damon Tuel told Developmental Football USA. “If we lose, I need help from either the Steeldogs or the Mississippi Road Warriors. I need them to lose. That’s the way it looks to me.”
Last year’s GDFL Champions, the Thunder, are looking to be the first ever team to win back-to-back titles in this league and they are considered by many as the best team in the country at this level.
“These guys, from what I’ve seen, their defensive line is what Impresses me the most,” Tuel said. “Stopping them is going to be the key. All four of their guys across the line have a motor on them. What separates them from other teams is that they finish plays. They have guys that go full speed and finish plays that are five, six and seven seconds long. A lot of teams have guys that aren’t in shape, but these guys are in shape. We’ve got to beat them there first.
Talent and depth on both sides of the ball is a big reason Missouri Valley has won more than 70 percent of its games this year and they’ll look for a joint effort from all three phases of the game in hopes of knocking off the Thunder on Saturday.
“As guys have gotten banged up, other guys have stepped on up and performed well,” Tuel said. “That’s one thing that’s helped us out quite a bit. We’re a fast team. We’ve got a lot of speed on the team. This is our fifth year as the Pitbulls. It’s one of our fastest teams and it’s also one of the youngest teams.”
Offensively, the Pitbulls are led by quarterback Arlando Bailey, who has several weapons at his disposal to spread the ball to.
“He has really kept everything together,” Tuel said. “A couple of our receivers have set themselves apart: Ronnie Bertelsmeyer and Chris Jones. Those two receivers have done an exceptional job. We’ve got a deep receiving core. Running back wise, Kourtney Pollard has really stepped it up.”
While Oklahoma has a fierce pass rush, Missouri Valley has one as well. Leading the Pitbulls’ defensive line is 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive end Tashon Lattimore.
“He’s always one of the sack leaders on the team,” Tuel said. “He’s always in position, he shuts down the run, he rushes the passer and he’s very fast for his size. Him and Stevie Dotson – he’s the Vince Wilfork of our defensive line. At 6-foot-3, 385 pounds, he’s a force to be reckoned with and owns the middle. He gladly takes on double teams and never gets pushed backwards.”
Another player that finds a way to stand out on a defense full of athletes is veteran cornerback Joe Buie.
“He’s a true leader on this team,” Tuel said. “He leads by example and he’s always in position on the field. He leads the team in interceptions this year. He’s a veteran, he’s getting to the end of his years and starting to slow down a bit, but as smart of a football player as he is, it hasn’t affected him with anything except maybe trying to get a pick six.”
In addition to putting together a solid program in a developmental league that competes nationally, the Pitbulls coaches and players also help coach the eighth grade team at Lutheran High School.
“We just started practice with that this week,” Tuel said. “We’re working with LHS, helping out their young football players and getting them ready for high school.”
Lutheran High School is where Missouri Valley plays its home game and is where you can catch Saturday’s game against the defending GDFL Champions, which kicks off at 7:00 p.m.