Photo: 9 JaQuan Artis and company will be challenged by a very good Quad City offense
Quad City Steamwheelers vs. Northern Arizona Wranglers
Dollar Loan Center (5567 capacity) Henderson, Nevada
Saturday, August 13, 5:05 pm Pacific Time TV: KAZT-TV, IFL YouTube Channel
This game will be the first ever meeting between the two teams, and the stakes could not be higher. The game will be played in the new 2022 facility where the Vegas Knight Hawks play, and is where the Wranglers played their worst game of the year, a 21-9 season opening loss to Vegas. Northern Arizona did get the bad taste out with a 45-18 win in the same arena on May 8. The game will feature both players of the year, offensively and defensively, and a head coach.
Quad City, (3) seed, has taken their act on the road for the playoffs, knocking off two higher seeds in the process. First they traveled to Massachusetts, nipping the Pirates 39-38 in overtime. Second, they took down the top seed in the eastern division, the Frisco Fighters 48-41. The Steamwheelers bring an (11-7) record into the championship game, winning three in a row and five out of their last six.
IFL offensive player of the year, Quarterback E.J. Hilliard threw for 1687 yards and 31 touchdowns, with a quarterback rating of 157.4. Hilliard also likes to run, picking up 758 yards and 28 touchdowns. Keyvan Ruud, Mike Carrigan, and Isiah Grice are three targets that will get a lot of looks, all being a threat to score anywhere on the field.
Defensively, Antwan Smith and Darreon Jackson are ball hawks and can cover ground very quickly to make plays. Kimo Naehu does the kicking and had mixed results during this season. His longest field goal of the season was 46 yards and came in the playoff game at Massachusetts. You may wonder where the Quad City Steamwheelers call home. Well they play their home games at the Tax Slayer Center in Moline, Illinois, which is 165 miles west of Chicago, on the border with Iowa.
The Northern Arizona Wranglers (2) seed came in with a whole new team with the exception of place kicker Brandon Fischer. Coach Les Moss earned himself coach of the year, as the Wranglers have gone from a dismal (1-13) to (14-4). The Wranglers handled Tucson at home 49-30, but had the battle of the season for their playoff life in Phoenix. The difference was a late missed extra point, in an exciting 52-51 over the Rattlers.
Like Quad City, the Wranglers rely heavily on quarterback Kaleb Barker, who is a dual threat with his legs and his arm throwing for 2176 yards and 46 touchdowns, plus 750 yards with 16 TDs on the ground. Barker, in his first season has done an excellent job of managing the offense with Offensive Coordinator Rod Windsor. Barker has a load of talent to choose from when throwing the ball, and also is willing to take off running if need be. Receivers Quentin Randolph (42-536 yards 13 TDs), Glen Gibbons Jr. (43-485 yards 11 TDs), Ulice Gillard(31-335 6 TDs), Jerrime Neal (25-313 9 TDs), and Ramaud Chiaokhiaho-Bowman (15-161 5 TDs), have all been in the spotlight this season, and anyone of them could be the crucial playmaker on Saturday. Behind Barker in the backfield is Israel Tucker (301 yards rushing with 11 TDs), with his explosive speed has the potential on any play to go the distance. An offense is only as good as the men protecting them and the line has done what it has needed to do to give the skill position players the space to excel. Jakobi Smith, Michael Bailey, Josh Poe, Zech Thomas, and Cameron Carter have earned their stripes this season and will be tested big time by the defense of the Steamwheelers.
Recently acquired kicker Craig Peterson, has been rock solid in the three games he has played in, and could be the determining factor in close contest. On returns keep an eye out for Imeek Watkins, who proved he is a threat to run the ball back from anywhere on the field.
Northern Arizona picked up a pair of honor awards with Head Coach Les Moss being named Coach of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors went to JaQuan Artis, (40 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks), who made life a living hell for offenses throughout the season. There are many others who have shined on the the opposite side of the ball, including Tramond Lofton, Darin Hungerford, Bill Atkins, Trae Meadows, Tevin Homer, Marquise Bridges and motivating fan favorite Ulric Jones.
Coach Moss has done a phenomenal job in his first season as head coach for the Wranglers, but the assistant coaching staff is also to be commended for their hard work and dedication. The number one ranked defense was led by Defensive Coordinator Rob Keefe, who said, “Defenses win championships. The players are all in, and we as a team will be working hard to achieve that goal.” That goal is very likely, and if the Wranglers can limit their mistakes and take advantage of any given opportunities, the championship trophy will be awarded to the Northern Arizona Wranglers.