A year ago, the dms West Bay Hellcats were seemingly on the decline.
The preeminent dynasty of local flag football limped into the 2013 playoffs and were eliminated in the second round. The veteran core of the team stuck together over the offseason and produced a stellar campaign, resulting in a berth in the men’s final for the 2014 Digicel Premier League, put on by the Cayman Islands Flag Football Association.
Dms will look to garner an eighth championship on Saturday, at the Ed Bush field in West Bay, from 4 p.m. against the Lone Star Mustangs – a team they swept in the regular season and defeated in 2012 for a fourth consecutive crown and seventh title over a nine-year stretch.
Hellcats head coach George ‘Teddy’ Hydes has been a central figure throughout and says this year’s team is motivated.
“We got a lot of heart and we weren’t happy with the way our season finished last year,” Hydes said. “We’re back to do one thing and one thing only and that’s to win a championship. We just have to come focused, execute, play Hellcat football. We know our opponent, we’ll get prepared for them and get ready to win a championship.”
Hydes, who has been assisted by former player Jayson Gonzalez, boasts many of the pieces that form the Hellcat puzzle. Oliver Parker remains the crucial figure behind the running attack. Jacob ‘Frecko’ Ebanks is still a crafty quarterback who can consistently find targets like Perry Levy and Nikolai Hill downfield. The defense is as tough and resilient as ever behind Damian Barboram, Nate Narcisse and Phil Brown. Moreover, the offseason additions – specifically receiver Nigel Solomon, tight end Andrew Wisdom and offensive lineman Andrew Graham – have made seamless transitions.
All of those aspects translated to a dms side that had the No. 1 seed with an 11-1 regular season record and a stout defense that allowed a league-low 55 points.
Levy says the hunger for more championships has always been consistent.
“With the Hellcats, the brand, the franchise, it’s always been about the name on the front and not the one on the back,” Levy said. “Everyone on the team is just sacrificing individual gains or goals just for the results of a win. We just want to win another championship. The team has always been bigger than anybody else. I think that’s what has always separated us from everybody else. We might show a kind of attitude or whatever but within the team itself, we love each other and that’s how we show it on the field.”
With that being said, the Mustangs should not be overlooked. Historical shortcomings aside, Lone Star overcame an indifferent stretch in the season where they hovered around .500 to end the year 8-4 and nab the No. 3 seed. Chris Spigner, Brandon Copico, Neil Carle and company would then earn their finals berth with a 7-3 upset of Chris Lucas, Nicholas Roberts and the defending champion Burger King Panthers.
Dms had a similarly tough road to the finals, beating the Island Heritage Predators, 6-2, last Saturday. Clay Coleman had the winning score for the Hellcats while Michael Swaby garnered a safety for his Predators by sacking Jacob Ebanks in the West Bay end zone.
Hydes felt the victory was in typical Hellcat fashion, saying: “It came down to us playing our type of football. Rushing the ball, setting up the pass, it came down to execution of the plays and it came down to heart.”
Levy said the result was less about strategy and more about a desire to rewrite the history books.
“I think they’re a pretty up and coming squad. I think offensively, they’ve shown throughout the season that they’re going to be a force within the next couple of years. Defensively, they have some things they need to clean up but, offensively, they’re on the right path. It didn’t come down to anything about Xs and Os in my opinion. We just wanted it a little more. We’re hungry, this is what we do, we play for championships and we’re trying to get back. This week is one more game and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”
It should be noted that Island Heritage was a rookie club that had the No. 4 seed this year with an 8-4 record. Rookie of the Year candidate Jordan Stubblefield shared QB duties with Barrett Edri and helped produce a stellar offense that scored 235 points – second-most in the league. The newcomers have leaned largely on veterans like Will Peguero Jr. and Ernesto Ebanks who previously played for the Maples Dolphins and WestStar Saints, respectively.
Clayton Lopez served as the Predators head coach and said while his team is a work in progress, dms should be the favorites on Saturday.
“I was the last piece of the puzzle,” Lopez said. “It’s my understanding that this is a compilation of two teams that weren’t very successful. For them to come out and form a team – two different systems, two different ideas that come together – and do what they did this year, it’s a credit to them for all of their hard work. That’s kind of how the team came together.
“I think the difference in the game was on defense, I thought they did an exceptional job on defense. We had an opportunity to make some plays, down the field, and they closed on us pretty good. We didn’t make the plays that we wanted to make on offense. I give credit to them on defense. Whoever makes it to the championship and plays the Hellcats, I think it is going to be a great game. That’s a great team, a veteran team, they know what they’re doing and how to do it. It’ll be an interesting match.”