DALLAS -- The Dallas Vigilantes are approaching new territory as they prepare for the franchise's first playoff game Friday in just their second year, but their first-round opponent Chicago Rush will be all-too familiar.
The Central division rivals will duel for the third and final time this season at Allstate Arena in Chicago. The Vigilantes have made significant strides since they finished 3-13 during their inaugural season, finishing 11-7 this year with a 6-2 record in the division. But both divisional losses came against the Central champion Rush.
"Revenge is definitely in our eyes," Vigilantes defensive back Jason Harmon said. "I'm not trying to pump nothing up, but we've lost two games to these guys and you look at it as revenge because you've failed to them twice in the season. We know what they got. It's kind of like a rivalry game."
The Vigilantes had a chance to win both games against the Rush. Dallas scored eight touchdowns on 12 possessions and led in first downs and total offensive yards in their first matchup against the Rush, but fell 69-57. Vigilantes quarterback Dan Raudabaugh threw two interceptions, one returned 55 yards for a score by Rush defensive back Kelvin Morris, to a defense that had 42 picks on the year -- an AFL single-season record.
"We know we have to play solid to beat them, they're well coached," head coach Clint Dolezel said. "They've got a lot of talent, but we've just got to take care of the football. That's the few things when we've lost, we've struggled to take care of the football."
In the most recent matchup between the foes, the Vigilantes' box-score victory once again didn't translate into a win on the field. The rush clinched the Central division with a 53-44 win, despite not taking a lead until 2:28 remained in the game. Quarterback J.J. Raterink's 47-yard strike to Reggie Gray made it 51-44.
"It's not so much them, it's just we've been making mental errors," wide receiver DeAndrew Rubin said. "Offensively, we have to capitalize when the defense gets turnovers and stops. We haven't been helping the defense out."
Results against teams like the Rush has been an underlying issue for the Vigilantes, who have had trouble beating quality teams this season. Despite making the playoffs, the Vigilantes recorded only one win against a team with a record of .500 or better during the regular season, defeating a Jacksonville Sharks team that had a number of injuries heading into the game.
They're not letting any of that faze them heading into postseason play.
"It doesn't mean anything now," Dolezel said. "Everybody has the same record, 0-0, and we've got just as good of a shot to win this just as anybody else."
Dolezel doesn't believe the revenge factor is a bad thing, but he doesn't want his team to get caught up in that mindset. And he knows beating a team three times in a season is difficult. After all, during his 2001 ArenaBowl run as a quarterback for Grand Rapids, Dolezel defeated a trio of teams three times before winning his lone championship.
"We're not going to try and cry ourselves a win. We're just going to go play good football," Dolezel said.
"We're taking that mentality all the way to the end," Harmon said. "We know -- us as a team -- as long as we know what we can do facing Chicago, we know we'll be able to compete with them. Both games we were winning but end up losing. We just got to keep balling all four quarters and I think we'll be straight."
Master Tesfatsion is a reporter for ESPNDallas.com.