The Lone Star Mustangs are becoming synonymous with faltering in big moments.
After a sixth failed title run, questions loom about Lone Star’s future in local flag football. While some would say the wilting is a sign of drastic changes to come in the offseason, others like Mustangs offensive captain Todd Hazlewood see multiple appearances in the championship game as a proud fact.
“Everyone’s going to say what they’re going to say,” Hazlewood said. “We’ve had a great quality team for 10 years now. We’ve had a lot of the same guys, we’ve moved guys in and out. If you put it on a points-based system, based on where you finish every year, we’d be up there. We would actually be right there with the (dms West Bay) Hellcats. But we don’t have the championship to show for it.
“You look at the NFL, guys like Eli Manning. Is Eli Manning better than Peyton Manning because he’s got two Super Bowl rings and Peyton has one and last two? I don’t know.
“I think the team is better but we’ve consistently been there. We’ve been there now six times in 10 years and no other team can say that. The Hellcats have been there, I think, five of the last 10. In that sense, we’re a very good team. We’re not a great team because we haven’t been able to meet that final goal of a championship.”
The Mustangs, coached by Neil Daniels, have many positive constants. Quarterback talent has been in abundance and this season, the team sported three legitimate hurlers in Chris Spigner, Jamie Stephens and defensive captain Brandon Copico. The defense has had good building blocks, like sack-happy defensive lineman such as Chip Whitney and talented secondaries like Paul Reichard.
Their seasons have often been gritty displays of mental toughness. The same could be said of this year’s campaign in the 2014 Digicel Premier League, put on by the Cayman Islands Flag Football Association. After a slow start and an indifferent stretch in the season where they hovered around .500, Lone Star rallied to an 8-4 regular season record and the No. 3 seed. A finals berth would come after an upset of the 2013 champions, the Burger King Panthers.
Long-time Mustangs receiver Jon Pump says the 2014 season speaks to his team’s consistency.
“I like to think we’re one of the most consistent teams in the league,” Pump said. “We’ve been to six championships over nine years, I think that’s a pretty good record. I would take that over never making the playoffs. I’m pretty happy with that. But yeah, it sucks to be second place all the time, that never feels good.
“I’m happy we made it to the finals. I knew at the start of the season, we started 0-3 and we had a lot of guys off island, we were missing a lot of guys for the first few games. We always kind of knew where we would get to and I think the last three or four games, we kind of put things together. It just didn’t come quite altogether, it is what it is.”
Lone Star would see its season end last Saturday at the Ed Bush field in West Bay. The Hellcats would claim their eighth title in franchise history by defeating Hazlewood and company, 13-7. It is not the first time Cayman’s reigning dynasty have prevailed over the Mustangs. Pump dismisses the idea that dms have Lone Star’s number.
“The game was as expected, it was close both ways. Guys did what they were supposed to do, both teams made some good plays and it came down to not executing for us in the end. They did what they needed to do and we didn’t quite pull it out.
“It’s not the Hellcats, we’ve lost to every other team in the finals. It just happened to be the Hellcats more than once. I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you what it is. I think the team’s definitely good enough to win a championship. We just can’t get over that hump. We got a monkey and it’s a big one now.”
Hazlewood echoes those sentiments, pointing to West Bay’s execution as the reason why they prevail in title games.
“It was a really well-played game on both sides of the ball. Those guys came out prepared and our guys played their hearts out, they gave everything they had down to the last second. It just wasn’t meant to be. We played a team that knows how to win, they’re champions. They’ve got the heart of a champion and they did what they had to do in the end to win it. They just do what needs to be done in the end to win and we just don’t. We have that opportunity to finish it off and we haven’t made the plays that we need to make in order to win.
“Give them all the credit, they deserved to be holding that trophy up. They earned it.
“You know what it is, I think it’s a mental thing. We come in and there’s been years when we’ve had better teams and they’ve won. There’s been years when they’ve had better teams and they’ve won. It’s always the same result. We’ve played them in the finals now three times, we’ve been to the finals six times and lost. We played them three of those six times and they’ve won every time. The last two times were in overtime but every game has been close.”
Whether the core of the team sticks together in the offseason remains to be seen. One of the biggest talking points will be the role of Hazlewood in future teams. He says he is hanging up his cleats for good.
“I am retiring, this is my last game,” Hazlewood said. “I won’t be a coach, a player, this was my last game. But I hope the core of the team comes back because we have a lot of good players, they have a lot of heart and I think they can get back to this level again.”
Pump is quick to brush off any notion of a Mustang team without its emotional leader.
“I would like to think most of these guys will be back next year,” Pump said. “This is one of the most fun teams I’ve had to play with in the nine years we’ve been doing this. These guys are all really a good bunch of guys. I know Todd said the same thing (about retiring) last year so hopefully I’ll change his mind by coed season and we’ll see what happens.”