In the Minor Professional Football League’s Standing Four, which features four of the premier developmental teams in Texas, three of the teams are fairly familiar with each other. However, none of them have ever played the West Texas Pride.
The Pride routed the West Texas Lions 53-8 on Saturday to advance to the semifinals at 11-0 on the year (7-0 in MPFL). With the Denton County Rhinos’ upset of the Texas Bullets, the Pride have now moved up to the No. 1 seed and will host the Rhinos this Saturday in Midland.
“I think we should all call them the King Slayers, the Rhinos,” Pride owner Harold Fuller told Developmental Football USA. “They’re a legit football team and this is going to be the biggest football game we’ve had all year. It’s going to take us all playing well together as a group. It’s going to take everybody playing at the top of their games to get past the Denton County Rhinos.”
The Rhinos finished the regular season 5-5 and snagged a wildcard spot in the Metro Division of the MPFL Playoffs. A week after a 34-14 road win against the Dallas Vikings, the Rhinos shocked the world with a 55-51 upset of the Bullets.
“We try to take it one game at a time,” Fuller said. “Everyone was saying the Bullets, there was no way anyone was going to beat them. When a team has a 24-game win streak, maybe everyone was right. I think it was difficult for the Rhinos to beat them. Now the Rhinos are the King Slayers and they’ll have a lot of confidence coming to Midland, having just beat the team that a lot of people said couldn’t be beaten.”
With the Bullets now out of the picture, every team’s path to hoist the Shanklin Trophy now just got easier. But for a league as competitive as the MPFL, just getting to the championship game won’t be easy at all.
“This is going to be a big-time football game that I hope a lot of people get the opportunity to come out and watch,” Fuller said. “You don’t get the opportunity to see a big football game like this very often. This is a big playoff football game between two very good football teams.”
In Saturday’s game against the Lions, the Pride scored first on a run by quarterback Chris Ware. Then, as the Lions marched down the field to tie it up, the Pride were the recipients of a major momentum shift.
“Albert Jones got an interception and returned it 102 yards for a touchdown,” Fuller said. “That changed the whole layout of the game. The Lions were going in for a score to tie it and that changed the whole game. That was a big play that helped us go on to dominate as we wanted to.”
From there, the Pride continued to extend the lead and went into the half up 27-2.
“I think our team came out ready to play and there was a couple of big turnovers that occurred and the Lions had to try to play catch up,” Fuller said. “Sometimes when you try to play catch up it comes back to bite you. You leave your game plan. I just think our guys were ready, I’m not saying their guys weren’t, I’m just proud of the overall way our guys played. Our defensive backs got I think four interceptions and a few fumble recoveries as well. Hopefully we can take that same intensity into this weekend.
“That’s the best I’ve seen them play as a unit all season. Our defensive line pressure I was real impressed with and that made a big difference in being able to get pressure and get the interceptions that we got. We’ve got good defensive backs, but that pressure gave them the opportunities to get turnovers.”
As the league learned last weekend, any game can go anyway when it’s a win-or-go-home situation. Now, with no clear-cut favorite to win it all, every team is going to give it their best shot.
“We haven’t faced the Rhinos, so we don’t know a whole lot,” Fuller said. “I do know that a lot of people around this level talk about Jim Mundy and have a lot of respect for Jim Mundy. He runs a quality franchise there. I was thinking the other night, this is our second year, to be in The Standing Four with the Vipers (9-2), the Stampede (11-3) and the Rhinos (7-5) – all organizations that are very well respected – it’s an honor to be with them and we’re going to do our best.”
Kickoff is set for 7:00 on Saturday at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland for the Pride’s (11-0) final home game of the season.
“I’d also like to congratulate the Lubbock Liberty Eagles,” Fuller said. “We were able to play them twice this year and came home with two victories. They were able to bring back the RGFL Championship and hopefully we can bring back one of our own as well. That would be fantastic for this area to bring back two championships.”