Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
KELLER – Get your guns up, because for the first time ever the undefeated Texas Bullets are Texas United Football League champions.
For close to a decade, the semi-pro team that calls Mineral Wells home has quested for even an appearance on the TUFL's biggest stage. Now, after a rallying to a dominant 41-17 victory over the defending national champion North Texas Longhorns in Keller ISD's Athletic Complex Saturday night, the Bullets will tote their newly christened TUFL championship trophy and No. 1 national ranking to Daytona Beach, Fla., and an appearance in the semi-pro national championship game in January.
"Seven years we've been trying to win that thing. We finally got it," Bullets owner Jeromy Puckett said of the elusive TUFL championship. "Everything came together and it was just an amazing season."
The long-awaited win did not come easily for the Bullets and their fans. At first, it seemed the Bullets' bid for a 13-0 season was in jeopardy when the Longhorns – who had won four of the past six TUFL crowns – jumped out to a 10-0 in the first quarter courtesy of two Bullets turnovers.
But the Bullets collected themselves, fighting to a 17-13 deficit at halftime before opening the floodgates in the second half. An interception to open the third quarter provided the initial spark the Bullets needed to cruise to the 41-17 blowout in front of an announced crowd of 750 fans, most of whom were supporting the Bullets.
"We just kind of had a good talk, calmed down, got the jitters out and started playing ball," Puckett said.
The Bullets' offense and defense – both ranked first in the nation out of approximately 1,300 semi-pro teams – were on full display in the victory.
Quarterback and SMU-ex Justin Willis shined as he had all season, throwing for 510 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 86 yards rushing. A 2014 season that saw Willis rack up 5,983 yards passing and 54 touchdowns earned him the title of national Offensive MVP in semi-pro football.
Benefiting from the bulk of Willis' looks Saturday was Michael Armstead, who rattled off 145 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The Bullets’ defense totaled four interceptions on the day with cornerback Will Fields snagging two to accompany seven tackles. Linebacker Josh Mosley and cornerback Kedrion Betts grabbed the other two picks.
Puckett said the Bullets' opponent in the national championship game likely won't be announced until August or September, but it should be a team from the north. In the meantime, the Bullets will shoulder the difficult task of staying in game shape until time for the championship on Martin Luther King weekend.
"It kind of stinks for us," Puckett said of the layoff which will last over half a year. "We're going to try and organize some practices and maybe some tune-up games that don't mean anything to just try and stay in synch. That will be the hardest thing. But we've had 16 games, so it will be kind of nice to have a break to heal up."
Puckett spoke highly of the first Bullets team to finally get over the hump and win a TUFL championship after a long journey to the top. He said many former starters had to "check their egos" and ceded their positions to talented newcomers for the good of the team. But the Bullets' family mentality prevailed en route to their first title.
"We've been on the cusp for the last three years, wondering what were the missing pieces to this puzzle," he said. "Over the offseason, we really recruited hard and filled in some guys that really bought into the program and were the final pieces to that big puzzle. We had a really deep roster and that's what helped us get through these 16 games."
Puckett thanked the city of Mineral Wells for its consistent support. He added he hopes to bring a national championship trophy home soon and hold a celebration of some kind in town.