Photo: 93 Ulric Jones makes the final tackle of the game on Rattlers QB Drew Powell as 54 Tramond Lofton looks on
The Northern Arizona Wranglers have made it to the top in the Western Division of the IFL with a thrilling 37-34 come from behind win over the Arizona Rattlers, at the Findlay Toyota Center. The win secures a playoff spot for the Wranglers (10-2), after winning just one game last season.
The fans in Prescott Valley were treated to a hard-fought battle that saw eight lead changes. The Rattlers struck first as Jarrod Harrington zig-zagged his way up the field on the opening kickoff, shocking the home fans with a 50-yard TD return. An up close and unexpected meeting with Wrangler receiver DJ Stephens on the following possession, sent me to the locker room for the remainder of the quarter without missing any scoring, as the defenses ruled the roost.
Your humble correspondent returned just in time to see Jerrime Neal catch his first touchdown pass from Kaleb Barker, on a 28-yard touchdown pass, as the Wranglers tied the score at seven on the first play of the second quarter. The Wrangler defense continued to dominate. The Rattlers defense forced a Brandon Fischer 18-yard field goal but gave Northern Arizona their first lead at 10-7 with 8:28 left in the half. Barker hit Ulice Gillard on a quick two-yard TD pass, and the lead grew to 17-7.
The Rattlers, (9-3), picked up their second special team touchdown on an onside kick that backfired. Davontae Merriweather picked the ball up cleanly and bolted ten yards for the score, closing the gap to 17-14. The Wranglers were held again to a Brandon Fischer field goal, this time from 30 yards out, giving the home team a 20-14 lead with 1:45 remaining in the second quarter. The Rattlers regained the lead briefly on a 14-yard run by Drew Powell. Northern Arizona had the final say of the first half, as they went to the locker room with a 23-21 lead, on Fischer’s third field goal, this one from 20 yards.
Photo: 66 Josh Poe goes after 23 Treyvon Williams after he intercepted a Kaleb Barker pass. The play was called back because of an Arizona penalty
The Wranglers dodged a bullet early in the third quarter as Barker threw across the field and was picked off by Treyvon Williams in what appeared to be a pick six, but a twisting penalty by the Rattlers gave the ball back to NAZ. The drive stalled and the Rattlers offense went back to work.
Arizona took the lead back again on an 8-yard run by quarterback Powell. It was the last years IFL MVP, second of the game. Once again, the Wranglers came back as Barker connected with Gillard again for a three-yard TD giving Northern Arizona a 30-28 lead after three quarters.
It was an intense final quarter as the fight by both teams became more evident. The Rattlers used a Powell pass for a 13-yard TD pass to Jamal Miles and Arizona led 34-30 with 8:22 left.
The Arizona offense came up with a big third down conversion as Jamal Miles ran for the needed three yards on third down, for the first down as the clock ran down to the one-minute warning.
Photo: 11 Bill Atkins makes the stop on Rattlers quarterback Drew Powell
On the very next play, Powell lost the ball as he tried to fight for some yardage after the impact of three Wrangler defenders. Tevin Homer came up with the loose ball, and the Wranglers were back in business. Starting at their own 20, a completion to Stephens moved the ball to the Rattler 17. Arizona exhausted their three timeouts and Israel Tucker scored going to the left, getting enough space on the two-yard run with a big block by Cameron Carter. There was still :23 remaining, which is a lot of time in arena football. The squib kickoff gave the Rattlers the ball at the Wrangler 23. In field goal territory, the Rattlers went to the end zone resulting in two incomplete passes making it third down with :10 left. Ulric Jones blasted through the offensive line to sack Powell as the clock ran out to end the game. Jones said, “This is our house and we defended it tonight. We knew they would want to pass in the final seconds without any timeouts, so we just had to bring the pressure.”
The Rattlers were led by Powell who was 7-12 69 yards and a touchdown. Powell also led in rushing with 61 yards and a pair of TDs. Jamal Miles caught four passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. Kyree Woods led the Arizona defense with nine tackles.
Kaleb Barker led the Wranglers going 11-25, 113 yards, and connecting on three touchdown passes. Barker also led the team in rushing with 59 yards. Ulice Gillard had five receptions for 33 yards and two TDs. Gillard said, “They are a real good time. We went into this game knowing what we needed to do. We just had to execute the plays when we had the chance.” On the final minute of the game after the Powell fumble, “We were all very excited to get the ball back. You just have to keep playing, and you just never know what is going to happen. Tucker made a great move and took it in. We got that win we wanted so bad.” Sherrod Williams and Kiante Northington led the team with eight tackles each. Ulric Jones had another big game with six tackles and two huge sacks. The top defensive team in the IFL held the Rattlers to 34, actually 20, as two TDs came on kickoff returns, after scoring 83 versus the Bay Area Panthers last week.
Defensive back Bill Atkins said, “Giving up the kickoff returns was something we had to clean up. We made some adjustments at halftime and that made the difference.”
The Wranglers will enjoy this bye week before hosting the Duke City Gladiators. on Saturday, June 25 at 6:05pm.
NORTHERN ARIZONA WRANGLERS 37, ARIZONA RATTLERS 34
Score By Quarters- 1 2 3 4 – T
Arizona 7 14 7 6 – 34
Northern Arizona 0 23 7 7 – 37
AZ-Harrington 50 yard kickoff return (Lacayo kick)
NAZ-Neal 28 yard pass from Barker (Fischer kick)
NAZ-Fischer 18 yard FG
NAZ-Gillard 2 yard pass from Barker (Fischer kick)
AZ-Merriweather 10 yard kickoff return (Lacayo kick)
NAZ-Fischer 30 yard FG
AZ-Powell 14 yard run (Lacayo kick)
NAZ-Fischer 20 yard FG
AZ-Powell 8 yard run (Lacayo kick)
NAZ-Gillard 3 yard pass from Barker (Fischer kick)
AZ-Miles 13 yard pass from Powell (Pass failed)
NAZ-Tucker 2 yard run (Fischer kick)
Western Conference W L
NORTHERN ARIZONA WRANGLERS 10 2
Arizona Rattlers 9 3
Tucson Sugar Skulls 6 5
Duke City Gladiators 6 6
Vegas Knight Hawks 5 7
San Diego Strike Force 2 10
Bay Area Panthers 1 11
Eastern Conference W L
Frisco Fighters 10 2
Massachusetts Pirates 8 4
Sioux Falls Storm 7 5
Iowa Barnstormers 6 5
Quad City Steamwheelers 6 6
Green Bay Blizzard 5 8
Bismarck Bucks 3 10
Northern Arizona 37, Arizona 34
Frisco 47, Duke City 46
Sioux Falls 49, Bismarck 44
Massachusetts 48, Green Bay 30
Vegas 49, San Diego 23
Tucson 58, Bay Area 33