At halftime of the Shanklin Bowl Saturday, Justin Willis of the Texas Bullets was honored as the Most Outstanding Quarterback and Most Valuable Player of the Minor Professional Football League.
Only one thing remained to finish a proverbial hat trick, which Willis completed by leading his team to the MPFL championship with a 27-20 victory against the Texas Broncos out of Houston.
This all happened after Willis was uncertain if he'd ever play again. He suffered a knee injury in the final game of the season and had anterior cruciate ligament surgery that forced him to miss all of the 2015 season after he and the team went undefeated and captured the championship of the Texas United Football League in 2014.
"That's sweet," Willis said of Saturday evening, which capped a 13-0-1 season. "I've got a great team. This is one special night."
Willis completed 16 of 28 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with Ricky Gross for 60 yards, with Corey Charles for 21 yards, and with Anthony Jackson for 12 yards.
"I'm very proud of him. He's worked so hard to come back," said Bullets coach Adam Sharp. "He deserves every bit of this. He's a one-of-a-kind ballplayer."
Among those providing protection for Willis was center Justin Holcomb, who was named the league's Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman during the halftime ceremony.
Willis was also quick to praise his defense, which preserved the victory. After holding the Bullets inches short on fourth-and-2, the Broncos (12-2) took over at their own 35 with 1:20 left in the game and no timeouts.
The Broncos moved to the Bullets' 48, but were then pushed back 9 yards. The contest ended with an incomplete pass.
"Hats off to our defense. They've done it all year and they did it again tonight," Willis said.
Outside linebacker B.J. Flowers led the Bullets defense with 10 tackles. Also, defensive backs Sean Alexander and Justin Johnson had interceptions deep in Bullets territory to thwart possible touchdowns. Johnson's pick, in fact, was at the 1-yard line.
On the Bullets' first touchdown, Gross caught a screen pass at his own 40 and broke free down the right sideline. Then, after the Broncos took an 8-7 lead, Charles caught a score to put the Bullets ahead for good, 14-8.
The pass to Jackson capped a 53-yard drive in 36 seconds during the final minute of the first half for a 24-14 halftime lead for the Bullets.
Kicker Zac Atterberry added field goals of 43 and 29 yards.
When the Bullets left the TUFL for the MPFL there were skeptics, said owner Jeromy Puckett, who also plays offensive guard. He said that makes this championship even more special.
"Not only did we do it, we did it undefeated," he said. "It's special because of that, and we weren't sure what was going to happen with Justin. To win this championship, and to have him have the kind of season he did is so great."
And, like Willis, he lauded the defense.
"I had nothing but confidence in our defense. They're the unsung heroes of this team," Puckett said.
Along with their two league titles in three seasons, the Bullets have won three consecutive state championships. They also played for a national championship in January of 2015.
The Bullets are 52-7-1 in Sharp's four seasons as coach, including 46-0 over the past three regular seasons. Puckett said they will likely get invited to play for another national championship after this win.
"We should be headed to Daytona or Miami in January," he said. "We're not finished yet."
Minor Professional Football League Championship
▪ Texas Broncos 8 6 6 0 - 20
▪ Texas Bullets 14 10 3 0 - 27
Bullets - Ricky Gross 60 pass from Justin Willis (Zac Atterberry kick)
Broncos - Colton Chapman 5 run (Spencer Herron run)
Bullets - Corey Charles 21 pass from Willis (Z. Atterberry kick)
Bullets - Z. Atterberry 43 FG
Broncos - Derrick Williams 1 run (run failed)
Bullets - Anthony Jackson 12 pass from Willis (Z. Atterberry kick)
Bullets - Z. Atterberry 29 FG
Broncos - Jamaal Johnson 19 pass from Williams (pass failed)
First downs 15/16
Passing yards 191/243
Bullets individual leaders
Rushing - Michael Armstead 7-38, Justin Willis 17-15.
Passing - Willis 16-28-1, 243 yards.
Receiving - Michael Armstead 5-89, Gross 3-66, Corey Charles 2-41, Anthony Jackson 4-35.
Tackles - B.J. Flowers 10, Cody Price 6.
Interceptions - Sean Alexander 1, Justin Johnson 1.