Watertown Rebels set to kick off their 2022 season on Saturday

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Dylan Duvall of the Watertown Rebels (left) scrambles for some yards during a Southern Plains Amateur Football League game against the Sioux Empire Crusaders in 2021. Duvall and the Rebels are set to open their 2022 season on Saturday with a game against the Tri-State Buffaloes at Sioux Center, Iowa.

Dylan Duvall of the Watertown Rebels (left) scrambles for some yards during a Southern Plains Amateur Football League game against the Sioux Empire Crusaders in 2021. Duvall and the Rebels are set to open their 2022 season on Saturday with a game against the Tri-State Buffaloes at Sioux Center, Iowa.

Finding a way to return to the championship is a big goal for the 2022 Watertown Rebels as they prepare for their sixth season in the Southern Plains Football League.

The Rebels won seven of eight regular-season games a year ago before having their season end with a 20-14 loss to the Mountain Lake Lakers in the quarterfinals of the league’s playoffs.

The loss marked the earliest playoff exit for the Rebels since their first two seasons in 2016 and 2017.

“Absolutely, this is definitely going to be a redemption season for a lot of the returning guys,” said Rebels head coach Tommy Whitley. “This is going to be a season to prove ourselves and get back to the championship.”

The best season for the Rebels came in 2019 when the team’s 9-2 season ended with a 42-33 loss to the Sioux Empire Crusaders in the league’s championship game. The 2020 season was wiped out by COVID-19.

The Rebels kick off their scheduled eight-game regular season on Saturday, when they visit the Tri-State Buffalos at 5 p.m. in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Some More Details on the League

The Southern Plains Football League (SPFL) is an adult nine-man full contact amateur football league that has teams in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

The league has evolved over the past 20 years and has been called the SPFL for the past 10 years. The 2022 season will feature 10 teams in two divisions.

Watertown is in the West Division along with the Buffalos, Buffalo Ridge Wildcats of Tyler (Minn.), Dakota Bulldogs of Mitchell and Sioux Empire Crusaders of Harrisburg. The East Division includes the Albert Lea (Minn.) Grizzlies, Central Iowa Chiefs of Blairsburg, Med City Freeze of Rochester (Minn.), Mountain Lake (Minn.) Lakers and Midwest Rampage of Alden (Iowa).

Teams will play each team in their division twice during the regular season that runs through the end of June. After two bye weeks in early July, the final three weekends of the month will feature the league quarterfinals, semifinals and championship.

There will be a new league champion this year. The Des Moines (Iowa) Blaze, who downed the Sioux Empire Crusaders 34-21 in last year’s title game, are no longer in the league.

What can we expect from the Rebels?

Whitley is beginning his sixth year — and fifth season (remember no games were played in 2020) — as the team’s head coach and has been practicing with a group of about 36 players. Others interested in playing can reach out on the Watertown Rebels’ Facebook page or contact Whitley, who also spent last fall as the head coach of the Waverly-South Shore high school football team.

Tommy Whitley (right) is back for another season as the head coach of the Watertown Rebels, one of teams slated to compete this spring and summer in the Southern Plains Amateur Football League.

Tommy Whitley (right) is back for another season as the head coach of the Watertown Rebels, one of teams slated to compete this spring and summer in the Southern Plains Amateur Football League.

A number of team’s veteran players — Patrick Eggleston, Ricky Ratigan, Dave Severson and others — have retired and Whitley said the mix of players currently practicing with the team are split about 50-50 between returnees and newcomers.

“We’ll definitely miss the veteran guys and it’s going to be a bit of a new look, but it’s still going to be the same old Rebels,” said Whitley. “We’re going to be the same hard-nosed, hitting hard and making you confused on defense Rebels that you’ve seen in the past.”

The group of returnees includes Dylan Duvall, the team’s quarterback a year ago who will move to safety; running backs DaMarcus Cox II and John Kuchac; receivers Jeremiah Hoekman, Peyton Reitz, Ketin Houle and Spencer Titus. Titus played cornerback a year ago.

Dakota King, Zach Stangeland and Mike Reitz are back to lead the defense along with Dakota Hills’ high school coach Zach Noffsinger, who was injured early in the season a year ago.

Trevor Taylor of Ellendale (N.D.), who spent the last few years playing semi-pro football with the Fargo Invaders of the Northern Elite Football League, is the new signal-caller for the Rebels.

“The players don’t talk about championships, they just try to focus on taking things one week at a time,” said Whitley. “As a coaching staff, however, we truly feel we have the potential to be one of the top teams in the league.

Running back John Kuchac of the Watertown Rebels (40) picks up yardage against during a Southern Plains Amateur Football League game against the Tri-State Buffaloes in 2021. Kuchac is one of the leading returnees for the 2022 Rebels, who open their season on Saturday.

Running back John Kuchac of the Watertown Rebels (40) picks up yardage against during a Southern Plains Amateur Football League game against the Tri-State Buffaloes in 2021. Kuchac is one of the leading returnees for the 2022 Rebels, who open their season on Saturday.

Other Details About the Team

Whitley will be assisted this spring-summer by Nick Ernst, defensive coordinator; Thad Buri, special teams coordinator; and Darin Mack, a Great Plains Lutheran high school assistant who will serve as a defensive assistant.

Since the team’s inception, the Rebels have steadily developed into one of the league’s top teams.

The Rebels went 2-7 in 2016 and 3-6 in 2017, losing in the first-round of the playoffs both years. They went 5-5 in 2018 and advanced to the semifinals and have followed with 9-2 and 7-2 marks the past two seasons.

The league’s playoff system is set up so one team from each of the two divisions advances to the championship game.

While Whitley is expecting big things out of the Rebels, he knows the team can’t overlook anybody in its division.

“I look for the Crusaders and Buffalo Ridge to be very good again and Tri-State and Mitchell (Dakota Bulldogs) are always competitive,” he said. “It’s going to be challenge for us. With some low numbers and losing some veterans, we’re going to have to find our true identity again.”

The Rebels’ 2022 Schedule

Here’s is the team’s season schedule. The Rebels will again play their home games at Great Plains Lutheran High School. More information on the team can be found by visiting the team’s web site at www.watertownrebels.com.

The Rebels have bye weeks on May 21 and July 9 and the SPFL has league bye weeks on May 28 and July 2.

Saturday, April 23 — at Tri-State Buffaloes, 5 p.m. at Sioux Center, Iowa.

Saturday, April 30 — Dakota Bulldogs, 4 p.m. at GPLHS.

Saturday, May 7 — Buffalo Ridge Wildcats, 4 p.m. at GPLHS.

Saturday, May 14 — at Sioux Empire Crusaders, 6 p.m. at Harrisburg.

Saturday, June 4 — at Dakota Bulldogs, 3 p.m. at Mitchell.

Saturday, June 11 — Tri-State Buffalos, 4 p.m. at GPLHS.

Saturday, June 18 — at Buffalo Ridge Wildcats, 5 p.m. at Tyler, Minn.

Saturday, June 25 — Sioux Empire Crusaders, 4 p.m. at GPLHS.

Saturday, July 17 — Playoff quarterfinals, TBD.

Saturday, July 24 — Playoff semifinals, TBD.

Saturday, July 31 — Championship weekend, TBD.

This article originally appeared on Watertown Public Opinion: Amateur Football: Watertown Rebels set to kick off their 2022 season on Saturday

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Anna C. Knight

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