Photo: The Wranglers celebrate with the Western Conference Championship Trophy
Kaleb Barker threw six touchdown passes with the biggest one coming on a 12-yard pass to Glen Gibbons Jr., with just 45 seconds left to beat the Arizona Rattlers 52-51 in the Western Conference Final in Phoenix. The only time the Northern Arizona led in the game was in the final minute, but that’s when it counted the most.
Barker said, “We have always leaned on that we are a second half team. The coach has been giving us some garbage about it, but we always seem to regroup in the second half. We came out and really needed a stop. The defense got the pick and then momentum started to shift our way. The offense feeds off the defense. and the defense feeds off the offense. I am just super excited. This is awesome.”
Trailing 38-24 at the half, the Wranglers were going to need to make some plays to have a chance. Marquis Bridges picked off a Drew Powell pass on the first play of the third quarter for a big interception setting up the offense at the Rattlers 14-yard line. Barker’s touchdown pass to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Brown closed the deficit to 38-31.
The Rattlers went back up two, scored 45-31 after Drew Powell scampered on a 20-yard run. The Wranglers would score the next two touchdowns to tie the game at 45 with just under five minutes remaining.
Arizona took their final lead on a 25-yard pass from Powell to Braxton Haley with 3:49 left. The key play came after the touchdown. A failed two point attempt after a Rattler holding call, kept it a six point difference. Plenty of time, and the Wranglers were able to take the clock to under a minute as Barker connected with Gibbons Jr. Peterson added the clutch PAT and the lead was one with still a lot of time to play.
The Wrangler defense played their best in those final seconds, allowing only one positive play out of five that Powell and the Rattlers had. The offensive threat ended with a pick in the end zone by Marquis Bridges and he and Bill Atkins smothered the intended receiver. Barker took the final snap and heaved the ball down field and into the crowd as the clock ran out. The visitors stormed the field in jubilation as a shocked Arizona Rattler fan base stood in shock.
Barker played remarkably under plenty of pressure all night, completing 15-27, for 164 yards and six touchdowns, and just one interception. Ulie Gillard carried the ball only three times for 17 yards and a touchdown. Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Brown had five receptions with three of them touchdowns. Glen Gibbons Jr. also had five receptions, and one TD. Gillard and Jerrime Neal each caught a TD pass. Craig Peterson was perfect making all seven extra points, including a 33-yard field goal.
The defense was a complete team effort led by Trae Meadows, JaQuan Artis, Bill Atkins, and Ulric Jones, all with five tackles each. Meadows and Marquis Bridges had the interceptions of last years IFL player of the year Drew Powell.
The Northern Wrangler’ quest from being the worst team in the IFL to the best continues as the Wranglers will face the (3) seed in the Eastern Conference, the Quad City Steamwheelers. The Steamwheelers upset top seed Frisco Fighters 49-48, after upsetting number two Massachusetts 39-38, to earn a spot in the championship game that will be played Saturday, August 13 in Las Vegas. Kickoff is set for 5:05 pm.
NORTHERN ARIZONA WRANGLERS 52, ARIZONA RATTLERS 51
Score by Quarters- 1 2 3 4 – T
Northern Arizona 14 10 14 14 – 52
Arizona 14 24 7 6 – 51
AZ-Powell 1 yard run Lacayo kick)
NAZ-Chiaokhiao-Brown 17 yd pass from Barker (Peterson kick)
AZ-Haley 27 yard pass from Powell (Lacayo kick)
NAZ-Neal 7 yard pass from Barker (Peterson kick)
AZ-Powell 1 yard run (Lacayo kick)
NAZ-Gillard 10 yard pass from Barker (Peterson kick)
AZ-Haley 30 yard pass from Powell (Lacayo kick)
NAZ-Peterson 33 yard Field Goal
AZ-Powell 1 yard run (Lacayo kick)
AZ-Lacayo 18 yard Field Goal
NAZ-Chiaokhiao-Brown 8 yard pass from Barker (Peterson kick)
AZ-Powell 20 yard run (Lacayo kick)
NAZ-Chiaokhiao-Brown 2 yard pass from Barker (Peterson kick)
NAZ-Gillard 13 yard run (Peterson kick)
AZ-Haley 25 yard pass from Powell (Pass failed)
NAZ-Gibbons Jr. 12 yard pass from Barker (Peterson kick)
Eastern Conference Final
Quad City 49, Frisco 48
Championship, Saturday, August 13, Las Vegas, 5:05 pm
Quad City (11-7) vs. Northern Arizona (14-4)