Short-handed Dawgs Outlast Erie for Xtreme Conference Championship
By Tennessee Tribune contributor McKinley Young Jr.
Rahiim Muhammad scores two touchdowns including the game winner in the final minute to propel the Bulldawgs into the GDFL championship game.
ERIE, Pa.- The Middle Tennessee Bulldawgs (9-1) traveled 600 miles to Erie, Pennsylvania to play a football game. Well, not just a game but a contest that winner would go to the Gridiron Developmental Football League championship. A loss would make the track back home seem even longer. Their opponent, the Erie Express (9-1) came in as the only undefeated team in the GDFL. The Bulldawgs came away with a hard fought 14-7 victory, as bruising running back Rahiim Muhammad scored both touchdowns for his team including the winner with 44 seconds left in regulation.
“We dealt with a lot of adversity this week so this win was gratifying,” said Muhammad. “This is my first year on the team but I have played many years on this level. I felt good coming in and they fed me the ball. Our linemen made it easy. I had lanes to run in. The last TD I walked in untouched. Our line leaned on them the whole second half. They wore them down.”
Fourth String quarterback didn’t “Lett” his team lose.
Clifford Lett has been a mainstay for the Bulldawgs as a linebacker averaging eight tackles a game. The first year Bulldawg, was told Friday evening that he would be the starting quarterback because the top three signal callers couldn’t make the trip. Things like this are unfortunate circumstances in developmental football.
Players sometimes can’t get off work, get injured or other circumstances makes it difficult to field a full team, especially on such a long trip. Lett himself has missed three games this season due to work and scheduled vacations. Lett rode with offensive coordinator Dequinn Watford to Erie and learned the playbook.
“When we got to our meeting place Friday night, we noticed that some guys couldn’t make it,” said Lett. “Our GM (Scott Wallace) looked at me and said ‘you will have to be the man’. I had to learn the calls on the way down. The whole team rallied around me. Our defense and special teams put us in great positions all night. My job was just hold it down and make a few plays. The support made me not want to let us lose. That was fun but I hope I can go back to playing on defense. But I will be ready if my number is called.”
Dawg Defense Slows Down High Powered Offense
The Bulldawg defense has been hearing all season that the Express defense was better than theirs. They also heard about how explosive the Express offensive attack was. The unit took it personally and challenged themselves to outplay the Express. A touchdown on the Express first possession made it look like it would be a long day for the Bulldawgs. They adjusted and pitched a shutout the rest of the way.
“We wanted to see what they would do then strategize against them from there,” said defensive coordinator Chauncey Smiley. “They have speed on the outside so we adjusted our secondary some. We wanted to avoid chunk plays and we did a good job of that. Our defensive line played great at the point of attack. I still say our unit is the best in the nation. This team averages almost 40 points a game and we held them to seven. I am very proud of that.”
Third Tennessee team will take a shot at defeating the Thunder for the GDFL championship.
Gridiron Bowl IX will be the third in a row for the Oklahoma Thunder who defeated the OKC Outlaws 20-0. The Thunder will be going for their third straight Gridiron Bowl championship. With the Bulldawgs victory, this makes it the third year that the Thunder will take on a team from Tennessee in this game. In 2016, they defeated the Nashville Storm at home. Last year it was the Chattanooga Eagles that fell victim. Now the Middle Tennessee Bulldawgs will try to make the third time a charm.
“The Thunder do things the right way,” said Bulldawg general manager Scott Wallace. “Their GM Dr. Steve Roper and I have been friends for four years now. They are the standard of how to run an organization at this level. They were very close to winning their conference in 2015 that would have made this their fourth trip to the championship. I would like for us to be where they are. We know they have stars like Brandon Noohi and Prentiss Elliott and a bunch of other guys that have played high level football on their roster. We will have our work cut out for us. I doubt if Steve and I will talk much up until after the game. He knows I will try to steal as much information from him as possible.”