SIOUX CITY | Needless to say, the Sioux City Stampede experienced a long bus ride home from the Twin Cities Saturday night following last Saturday's bizarre and frustrating 15-14 loss to the St. Paul Pioneers.
“Nobody was worried about the loss, they were just frustrated with how they played,” said Garnand, whose 7-1 squad will host Northland (5-2) in a key Northern Elite Football League game tonight at Memorial Field.
“As a coach, that makes me feel better, knowing we’re not leaving everything out on the field. We’ve got room to improve and set the fire more. We controlled the game and we could have controlled the outcome, but we did not do that. People will see that in the next few games for Sioux City.”
An inadvertent timeout was granted by a referee who saw the signal Stampede outside linebacker Tyrae Kemp offered in the closing seconds, injured after he tackled a player out of bounds and didn’t realize time had expired.
Players from both sides were shaking hands when the official put two seconds on the clock, enough time to set St. Paul up for a game-winning 54-yard field goal.
As Garnand puts it, he’d rather have a late-season defeat rather than for it to occur in the playoffs. His team still controls the the No. 1 seed in the NEFL playoff picture which includes a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which begin July 28.
Fox Valley (6-3), one of five teams with 5-2 NEFL records, is currently seeded second and in position to receive the other first-round bye. Defending NEFL champion Minneapolis (6-2), along with St. Paul (6-3) are tied for third while Fargo (7-2) and Northland (5-2) are seeded fifth and sixth, respectively.
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“What we have to work on is getting back to what got us this 17-game winning streak,” said Garnand. “It’s execution and commitment. You can’t just show up to play the game or you’ll get beat. We have to regroup, be more aggressive and play every play like it’s the last play of the game. Once we get back to playing at that stride, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
The Stampede still boast the NEFL’s best offense (279 points) and top defense (49 points), but didn’t always perform as such in the loss to St. Paul, the NEFL champion from 2010-16. Wide receiver Jake McDonald’s team-best sixth touchdown catch was the lone offensive score, while cornerback Warren Joyner’s second interception touchdown of the season also translated into points.
Running backs T.J. James (350 yards) and Larry Taylor (347 yards) rank third and fifth, respectively, among the league’s top rushers. Quarterback Dorian Ballantine, third in the NEFL with 1,112 yards passing, has the third (Bryce Harshman) and fourth (McDonald) receiving leaders at his disposal, athletes who have 391 and 355 yards.
Joyner has six of the Stampede’s 18 interceptions while lineman Chris Williams has 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Williams and fellow lineman Derek Geddings (14 TFL, 5.5 sacks) have a new teammate on the line who isn’t really a stranger with the Stampede.
Devin Groenhagen will mark his second game for Garnand’s squad tonight. Roughly a month after recording 37 tackles, 2.5 TFL and a fumble recovery for the Champions Indoor Football runner-up Sioux City Bandits, the former Morningside College gridder is well into his fourth Stampede season, contributing three tackles and a sack against St. Paul.
Groenhagen’s presence is important. Defensive line pressure is among the keys for the Stampede, who will face one of the NEFL’s top quarterbacks in Northland’s Brett Schreiner, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound force who has passed for 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns.
“(Groenhagen) has played fantastic,” said Garnand. “He gives us added depth on what is already a solid defensive line. He played full time for the Bandits this year and had one of his best seasons. So when he comes to play for the Stampede, he brings energy. That, in itself, is contagious for everyone. He’s positive. He’s motivating. He’s a huge asset.”