(Phoenix, AZ) The Rattlers came into the Footprint Center looking for a win against in-state rival Northern Arizona to make their fourteenth appearance in the Championship Game.
Quad City won the Eastern Division last night at Frisco Texas on the games’ last play, a forty yard touchdown pass.
Both in-state teams boasted their stout defenses which finished first and second in the IFL.
The Rattlers and Sugar Skulls had the league’s most prolific offenses and the Wranglers were the stingiest on the defensive side of the ball.
Northern Arizona won the coin toss and on the opening possession, Kyree Woods (San Diego State) picked off Kaleb Barker and two plays later 2021 League MVP Drew Powell dove into the end zone for the first score and put the Rattlers up 7-0.
The turnover bug came early and let the hometown Snakes jump out in front early in the game.
Northern Arizona didn’t flinch and on their second possession, Barker hit Ramadan Chaiaokhiao-Bowman (Northwestern) by the back wall of the end zone from seventeen yards out and this game was tied 7-7 before the seats got warm in the arena.
Lots of fans came down from Prescott and helped fill up the Snake Pit. This is only the Wranglers second year in the IFL.
Braxton Haley (Illinois State) caught a twenty seven yard jump ball pass from Powell in the corner of the end zone and what was thought to be a defensive game quickly turned into a track meet with both offenses strutting their stuff. Snakes up 14-7 with 4;15 to go in the opening quarter.
Barker (Troy) threaded the needle to Jerrime Neal (Langston Univ) and Northern Arizona didn’t let the Rattlers catch their breath before tying the game back up 14-14.
Twenty eight combined points to start the game with both team’s defenses trying to get in sync.
The second quarter started just like the first with Powell (Livingstone College) running in for the score on third and goal from the two yard line. Snakes back up 21-14.
The ensuing kickoff saw the Wranglers’ Imeek Watkins (Chowan Univ) ran it back thirty five yards to the Arizona ten yard line. On the next play, Northern Arizona scored and tied it back up 21-21.
That lead just lasted seconds as Powell threw a perfect pass to Haley fr his second touchdown of the game. Rattlers up 28-21 with just under eight minutes left in the half.
Neither team wanted to give an inch and for good reason, this was for a place at the table in Henderson in two weeks.
Arizona’s defense finally stopped the Wranglers forcing a field goal and maintained the lead 28-24 with 4:11 left in the half.
The Rattlers took advantage of their defensive stop and Powell once again called his own number and scored to put Arizona up 35-24 with a minute left.
Coach Kevin Guy rolled the dice and called for an onside kick which the Snakes recovered.
A quick pass and a roughing the passer by Northern Arizona put the ball at the seven yard line first and goal.
Powell and company had one more chance to steal a score and another defensive penalty by the Wranglers with 2.1 seconds left.
Enter Ernesto Lacayo (Hastings College) kicked a quarter ending field goal with one second left and Arizona hit the locker room up by two touchdowns 38-24.
Three big plays jumped out in the first half. The interception on the Wranglers opening drive, the big defensive stop near the end of the second quarter and the onside kick with under two minutes left in the half which Arizona converted into a field goal.
To make matters seemingly worse for Northern Arizona was the Snakes got the ball first in the second half. Fortunes were with the Aqua and Orange as they returned the favor and picked off a Powell pass and not fall further behind.
The Wranglers offense seemed to have stalled at the Arizona ten after two incomplete passes but also a defensive penalty. On a big third down at eight, Barker threw an incomplete pass.
Instead of attempting a field goal, Coach Les Moss dialed up a fade pattern in the back of the end zone to Chiaokhiao-Bowwan and the game tightened up 38-31 Arizona with 8:45 left in the third quarter.
Powell came back with a bomb on the first play and a pass interference call put the ball on the Wrangler 20. The Snakes wasted no time as Powell dropped back for a split second and then took off for the score and Arizona was back up 45-31 midway through the quarter.
That was a big answer to the previous possession where Powell was picked off.
Now the Wranglers seemed a little out of sort, but a clutch fourth down completion kept the drive alive at the Arizona nine yard line.
A touchdown pass was caught but the wall jarred it l0ose and such is life in the IFL.
Two plays later came the Wranglers’ reward and they scored to stay close at 45-38 with just under a minute and a half left in the third stanza.
Arizona began the final quarter with the ball on their own seventeen yard line. Powell tried to play short ball as Northern Arizona took the long pass away.
Three consecutive penalties pushed the ball way to force a third and thirty six. This is what the Wranglers’ defense was waiting for. A long forty five yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Northern Arizona got the ball back with a chance to tie the game back up with just under ten minutes left in regulation.
Arizona’s defense stepped upo to force a fourth down and seven from the Wranglers’ eight yard line, but Northern Arizona converted to live another set of downs.
A spectacular catch by Glenn Gibbons Jr (Lindenwood College) as he smacked the wall but held on. The following play, Barker faked everyone out on a bootleg and waltzed into score the tying touchdown.
With 4:11 left, the game was once again tied 45-45.
Powell pulled a rabbit out of his hat and threw a wobbly pass to Haley who managed to hold on for the go ahead score. The biggest play of game followed where the extra point was good injuring the Lacayo.
There was a holding call which forced Arizona to attempt a two point conversion from the twenty yard line where Powell was sacked. Coach Guy wanted a roughing the kicker penalty, but after review, it was determined the defensive player was blocked into Lacayo.
Snakes up only 51-45 with 2:53 left and a golden opportunity for Northern Arizona to steal the game. Coach Kevin Guy was giving the refs an earful.
Things continued to go south for the Rattlers with yet another penalty on the kickoff, which put the ball at midfield and under two minutes left.
Gibbons Jr, made a nice catch along the board and suddenly after trailing the entire second half, Northern Arizona had the ball first and goal at the Rattlers’ two yard line.
A sweep left was short, but a big holding penalty was called against the Wranglers to back up the ball to the twelve.
Arizona Defensive Back Winfrey made a shoe string tackle on Shannon Brooks (Minnesota), but that just delayed the tying touchdown and the go ahead point after.
Wranglers with their first lead 52-51 of the second half with just 45.1 seconds left.
One last shot for the Snakes didn’t start off well as Powell was stopped for a loss of a yard on first down and 36 seconds left.
After a series of clock resets, a Hail Mary pass in the end zone was picked off to seal the win for Northern Arizona 52-51.
In only their second year in the league, the Northern Arizona Wranglers are going to the Championship Game and will face the Quad City Steamwheelers on August 13th.
Arizona will regroup as still be one of the favorites next season despite today’s loss. Coach Guy will make adjustments, but also as an owner, he wants to review the way the game is officiated. Stay tuned, change may be on the way.
The Post Game press conference can be seen at www.facebook.com/602sportstalk
Tonight’s Attendance was 10,260.