The 2019 season has been perhaps the least impressive for the Sioux City Stampede in recent years from a record standpoint, but a win on Saturday over the Fargo Invaders in Elite Bowl XII would certainly re-write the whole script.
On Saturday, Sioux City plays in its fourth consecutive league championship and is looking for its third consecutive title in a year that started out with lofty expectations before a few unforseen pitfalls.
“We came into the 2019 season winning back-to-back titles in two different leagues,” Stampede head coach Jason Garnand told Developmental Football USA. “We had been in three straight title games, dating back to 2016. Our goal for this year was to have a run at a national title of some kind, so we set out and scheduled some strong-out-of league games.”
“We played the Lincoln-Way Patriots, who should contend for the MSFL Title, the Omaha Stockmen, who were just in the MFA Title Game and the Midwest Titans, who are still alive in the MFL playoffs, not to mention a very competitive NEFL league we are in this season.”
In theory, that national title goal isn’t completely out of reach as much football is still to be played around the country prior to the national games which typically take place in December or January.
“That goal was soon halted when we didn’t prepare for what was to come for us in 2019,” Garnand said. “All it came down to was hunger. We weren’t hungry at the beginning of the season. We won two titles and we were used to winning, practices were short-manned, and games had zero energy with maybe 30 players on the sideline for any given game.”
During previous championship runs, the Stampede were used to being 50-men strong every game, but this year only three or four players have played in every Stampede game, Garnand said.
A little over a month ago, it looked like 2019 certainly wasn’t Sioux City’s year because they were definitely down, but they weren’t out.
“It was brutal,” Garnand said. “The hunger was lost, then a 28-0 beating by St. Paul at home changed everything. We did some cuts and suspensions on players, changed our identity, searched for the motivation and slowly began to find it again.”
After that moment, the Stampede strung together several impressive wins and began to rebuild momentum, only to drop their regular season finale to the Northland Bulls at home.
“The Northland Bulls is the definition of a team,” Garnand said. “True warriors of a team that played with 28 guys week in and week out. They play both ways and special teams and they out-gutted us that game.”
Few teams can say they have defeated the Stampede over the last three years and Developmental Football USA would have never in a thousand years thought the then 1-4 Bulls would join that list, until they did, and in convincing fashion.
Not long after that momentum-killing loss was in the books, the NEFL playoff bracket was released and Sioux City had to turn right around and play the Northland Bulls again. This time around, the story had a different ending.
“We have always had a strong roster with great talent, but haven’t been able to put them all on the field together until last Saturday,” Garnand said. “We had a good week of preparation for the playoff game and put it together when it counted.”
Although the road to get here has looked nothing like they planned, the Stampede are now exactly where they want to be – back in the title game.
“This is one of the most dominant Stampede teams, based on talent, but only good when everyone is there,” Garnand said.
Expect Saturday to be nothing short of an emotional game for both teams as the Stampede are looking to keep their title streak alive, while the Invaders are looking to get back on top.
“They are a great organization up north,” Garnand said. “We have seen each other a lot the last three seasons. However, this is the most confident team we will see. We have nothing but respect for this team, coaches and owners. This is the alpha of how semi-pro teams should be run.”
The Invaders have their share of trophies in the case from years past, but it’s been a few years and many of the young players on their squad don’t know what that tastes like. You can bet their hungry to find out, and the Stampede know it.
“This is the only game that matters now,” Garnand said. “We need to jump to a good start and play fast. We cannot let a team like this hang around and give them opportunities to win. They have a great defense and a quarterback and receiving core that can beat you on any play. Past results mean nothing against a team like this.”
A Sioux City win would close the 2019 season with a title and a 8-3 record, while an Invaders win would make them 8-4 for the year. Needless to say, the only numbers either team cares about right now will be the ones on the scoreboard on Saturday.
“This was what the vision was at the beginning of the season, we just took us some detours this season to get where we are now,” Garnand said. “Now we have a full roster and the mentality of a team. We are a very good semi-pro football team hungry to win it a third straight year.”
“I have gained immense respect for some players this season because they were unselfish and did what was needed to win and that was the positive vibe we needed to get us back in the championship.”