The Sioux City Stampede have put together two impressive wins in the last two weeks that has them gaining some buzz on the national scene, but with three tough games still to go, they’re not getting caught up in all the hype just yet.
In fact, they will be tested again this weekend when they have to travel to Des Moines to face the Blaze on Saturday night.
“They’ve been going through a little bit of struggle this season, but this is the Des Moines Blaze,” Stampede head coach Jason Garnand told Developmental Football USA. “These guys are the seven-time league champions. They have a great history, great players, great coaches, and they’re just a great organization that knows how to win.”
Sioux City knows how to win, too.
Two weeks ago, the Stampede routed the Fargo Invaders 60-27 at home. The Invaders have made some noise themselves after moving to a very competitive Northern Elite Football League, where there only other loss this year was to the St. Paul Pioneers.
“That was really a stepping stone of where we were going to be at,” Garnand said. “60-27, that gave us a lot of motivation and momentum going into playing the Kansas City Bulldogs, which is a fantastic football team.”
After spotting the Bulldogs 16 points in the first quarter, Sioux City escaped that one with a 21-19 win over the defending Midwest Football Alliance Champions.
While they’re 4-0 and riding the momentum through the rest of their schedule, the Stampede also find themselves in an all-too-familiar situation. Last season, they beat the Bulldogs in the regular season and rode a 9-0 record into the MFA Championship Game before watching Kansas City walk away with the trophy.
“We can’t have the same script as last season,” Garnand said.
Last season’s loss in the title game was the second one in three years for Sioux City and sometimes just barely missing the mark is harder to recover from than a total whiff.
However, so far this season, they’re right where they want to be.
“This off-season was kind of a question mark of what we were going to do come 2017,” Garnand said. “We had players we weren’t sure were going to return. We had a lot of people that lost motivation, once you’re at that high point and get knocked down at the championship game.
“Then, around January or February we started to really get a good nucleus of players back and it gave us an opportunity to say we may have another chance. A lot of guys bought in and we’ve been having 40 to 45 guys at practice.”
With a 28-7 all-time record, it’s just a matter of time before the Stampede adds some hardware to their resume and if they keep playing at this level, it could come later this summer.
“We know we have a great football team,” Garnand said. “We just have to stick together, overcome this adversity and execute.”
Offensively, second-year quarterback Scott Manley has turned some heads after taking the reins of the offense last season.
“We’ve had some really good success with him,” Garnand said. “He came in last year as a third-year player, but it was his first year as a starting quarterback. He was an All-Star selection and played well. This year, he’s really slowed the game down in his own mind and executed very well.”
Receiver Bret Van Muyden has been one of Manley’s favorite targets so far this year.
“He went off for 161 yards and a touchdown against the Kansas City Bulldogs, which probably have the best secondary in the entire Midwest,” Garnand said.
None of that would have been possible without solid protection up front, keeping a very talented Kansas City defensive line away from the quarterback.
“Our last four years, we’ve led our league in rushing and it has a lot to do with our offensive line,” Garnand said. “I think this year we have the best offensive line we’ve had since Year 1. With a good nucleus at offensive line, a good quarterback and good receiving core, good things happen right there.”
Defensively, some key off-season acquisitions have bolstered an already stout Stampede defense.
“We picked up Tyrae Kemp, who was the Des Moines Blaze’s strong safety last year,” Garnand said. “He came over to play with us this year. We also picked up Cory Wortman, who came from the Northwest Iowa Bulldogs. He was an All-League linebacker last year and he’s been playing very well.
“On the defensive line, we brought back Derek Geddings, who was the Midwest Football Alliance MVP last year. He tore his ACL in the playoffs. He’s come back and he’s getting better every week. Things are clicking unbelievably and I couldn’t be happier.”
These next three games will be a strong indicator as to whether or not others should hop on the Sioux City bandwagon as the Stampede positions themselves for the post-season.
“If we can get through the Des Moines game, the Omaha Stockmen (3-2) is having probably their best season ever in their organization and we’ll end up having to face them too.
“What’s great about this league, the MFA, we may not have the numbers of teams in our league, but the quality of teams we do have is fantastic. I think that’s what makes all the teams in this league play very well. Not saying we’re the most dominant league in the country, but we’re very competitive and professional. Teams interested in always playing a high level of competition, not having to worry about forfeits or about teams not making games, this is the league to be in.”
After facing the Blaze, the Stampede has a week off before traveling to Omaha to face the Stockmen. Then Sioux City will finish the season at home July 22 versus the Midwest Titans.
“That’s very good football team too,” Garnand said. “They were league champions in their football league last year.”