Photo: 93 Ulric Jones pumps up the crowd
The Northern Arizona Wranglers offense provided five touchdowns, and the smothering defense did the rest in bringing down the Strike Force 35-17, in San Diego on Saturday night. The win, along with the Arizona Rattlers 62-point road win over the Bay Area Panthers, sets up a showdown this Saturday night in Prescott Valley, where the Wranglers are a perfect 5-0, for sole possession of first place.
The Wranglers, winners of six straight, never trailed in the game and took the lead on a Kaleb Barker three-yard run. Brandon Fischer, who was perfect on the night, added the extra point for the 7-0 lead with 10:45 on the first quarter clock. The Northern Arizona defense was close to stopping the Strike Force on their first possession, but a breakdown in the defensive secondary saw quarterback Jorge Reyna hit Rashad Ross between two Wrangler defenders, for a 34-yard TD pass to tie the score 7-7.
The game remained that way for the next thirteen minutes before a four-yard run by Ulice Gillard put the Wranglers up 14-7, with five minutes left in the half. Reyna would answer with a two-yard run to tie the game at 14 with 3:21 on the clock.
Barker threw his only touchdown pass of the night on a 9-yard pass to Glen Gibbons, to close out the scoring in the first half.
Both teams’ turnovers in the final minutes cost them points. San Diego’s Chris Lewis made a nice catch but coughed up the ball running down the field, with some help by Tevin Homer. Northern Arizona could have gone up two scores, but a tipped pass from Barker was picked off by Marquis Rodgers with just :14 left in the half. Reyna was picked off on the next play by Bill Atkins. The Wranglers held a 21-14 lead at the break.
A key defensive stop by the Wrangler D, forced San Diego to settle on a 40-yard Tanner Kuljian field goal with 12:20 in the third quarter. That turned out to be the last points for the Strike Force in the final 27 minutes of game time. The Northern Arizona defense remained tenacious, perhaps bending at times, but never breaking. Sherrod Williams had a big night with eight tackles. JaQuan Artis and Bill Atkins paired up for eight as well. Ulric Jones was very active on the defensive line, even chasing down pass receivers, as these guys all play till that whistle blows.
It was not the greatest of nights for either quarterback. Kaleb Barker was 13-27 for 128 yards with one TD but had two interceptions. Jorge Reyna had similar game for San Diego 11-24, 116 yards, one TD, and two picks. Barker did have one more rushing touchdown than Reyna, as the Northern Arizona QB ran for 49 yards. Israel Tucker led the Wranglers in rushing with 57 yards and a touchdown. Israel Tucker caught six passes for 52 yards, Glen Gibbons five, and Ulice Gillard with two. Northern Arizona was once again without their top receiver Quentin Randolph.
The Wranglers defense held the San Diego offense to just eight yards rushing, and if you take away that one touchdown pass play of 34 yards, they held the Strike Force to just 90 yards for the entire game.
As Defensive coordinator Rob Keefe said to me earlier this season, “Defense wins games, more importantly wins championships.” You can’t argue with that after what the Wranglers did last night, and his league leading defensive unit had done this season. They will definitely be challenged as the Rattlers come to town, after scoring 83 points, this Saturday for a 6:05 pm kickoff.
NORTHERN ARIZONA WRANGLERS 35, SAN DIEGO STRIKE FORCE 17
Score by Quarters- 1 2 3 4 – T
Northern Arizona 7 14 7 7 – 35
San Diego 7 7 3 0 – 17
NAZ-Barker 3 yard run (Fischer kick)
SD-Ross 34 yard pass from Reyna (Kuljian kick)
NAZ-Gillard 4 yard run (Fischer kick)
SD-Reyna 2 yard run (Kuljian kick)
NAZ-Gibbons 9 yard pass from Barker (Fischer kick)
SD-Kuljian 40 yard Field Goal
NAZ-Barker 1 yard run (Fischer kick)
NAZ-Tucker 20 yard run yard (Fischer kick)
Western Conference W L
NORTHERN ARIZONA WRANGLERS 9 2
Arizona Rattlers 9 2
Duke City Gladiators 6 5
Tucson Sugar Skulls 5 5
Vegas Knight Hawks 4 7
San Diego Strike Force 2 9
Bay Area Panthers 1 10
Eastern Conference W L
Frisco Fighters 9 2
Massachusetts Pirates 7 4
Sioux Falls Storm 6 5
Iowa Barnstormers 6 5
Quad City Steamwheelers 6 6
Green Bay Blizzard 5 7
Bismarck Bucks 3 9
WRANGLERS 35, San Diego 17
Arizona 83, Bay Area 21
Duke City 51, Massachusetts 43
Green Bay 31, Quad City 13
Sioux Falls 42, Iowa 34