Last night marked the 2022 IFL Championship game. The culmination of 22 weeks of play for the Indoor Football League. There were three teams that stood out from the pack this season, the Frisco Fighters, Arizona Rattlers, and the Northern Arizona Wranglers. By the time the dust settled only one team remained….your 2022 IFL Champion the Northern Arizona Wranglers.
Wranglers Win First Championship
Having launched in 2021, the Wranglers are getting their first taste of victory in just year two as a franchise. Led by head coach Les Moss, the Wranglers have had some turbulent times in their short history. Originally Dominic Bramante was hired to serve as the head coach in 2021.
Having previously served as the head coach of the Duke City Gladiators, and winning CIF Championships in 2018-2019, Bramante came with a solid resume. Despite this, in their first season the team won just one game all season. Finishing with a 1-13 record in 2021.
This led to a change at head coach. Ousting Bramante for new head coach Les Moss. Moss had previous IFL experience having served as a head coach in Iowa with the Barnstormers. He also spent time with the Jacksonville Sharks as their head coach from 2010-2016. Moss is an arena football lifer, and is the son of AFL Hall of Fame Coach Perry Moss.
Les is More
Les Moss spent just one season with the Iowa Barnstormers in 2021 before jumping ship for the Wranglers. Joining the Wranglers with over 30 years of coaching experience 30 of which came in the arena game, Moss is about as experienced as they come. He was hired as an AF2 head coach in 2004. In his first season he would win the AF2 Coach of the Year award. He held that title until 2010 when he accepted the position with Jacksonville.
He would stay with the Sharks for seven seasons. During his first season with the Sharks he was named AFL Coach of the Year. He followed it up with an Arena Bowl victory following the 2011 season. He was ultimately fired following a 5-9 season in 2016. With the Sharks he held a 70-50 record. He had just two seasons with seven or less wins. He won 10 or more games in five of his seven seasons there.
Following the 2016 season he took a year off. He would join the Albany Empire as an t assistant head coach on one of the most talented teams left in the AFL at that time. In just his second season with the team they won the Arena Bowl, in what would ultimately be the last season ever for the AFL. After just two seasons, and one cancelled year in 2020, Moss was named head coach of the Iowa Barnstormers.
He would spend just one season here. The Iowa ownership group saw his track record of first season success and expected big things. Unfortunately the Barnstormers stumbled to a 6-6 record. This led to his release by Iowa, and ultimately led to his availability for the Northern Arizona Wranglers in 2022 where he wins a Championship in year one. Moss also was named the IFL Coach of the Year.
By the time the season ended the Wranglers had scored the 4th most points in the 14 team league with 755 points in 18 games. Averaging just under 42 points per game. Granted this wasn’t anywhere near the 948 points scored by their cross state rival the Arizona Rattlers, it’s still an impressive feat nonetheless.
Ironically they fell just behind their rivals once again in the defensive category of points allowed with 567 to the Rattlers 564. On July 2nd the Wranglers lost to the Rattlers 40-28. They knew if they wanted any shot at the title they had to beat the Rattlers. On July 30th, the Wranglers won a close game 52-51 over the Rattlers tying their records at 14-2. This began the run the Wranglers would go on to finish their season with a Championship victory.
Star Players Help Build a Powerhouse
The offense centered around one main man. Kaleb Barker the quarterback. Barker ended up leading the team in rushing yards with 806 yards abs 16 touchdowns. The nearest player in terms of yards? Israel Tucker with 301 yards and 11 touchdowns. However this wasn’t exactly a fair fight, Barker would end the season with twice as many carries.
In the passing game Barker was money. Completing 57% of his 343 passes for 2,176 yards 46 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions. Barker seemed to develop a rapport with three names in particular. Quent Randolph, Glen Gibbons, and Jerrime Neal. These three receivers combined for 33 touchdowns.
Israel Tucker deserves his recognition as well. He served as the primary running back with 77 carries for 301 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was tied for third in receptions with 32, for 262 yards and 1 touchdown He topped it off as the primary kick returner with 30 attempts for 562 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ending the season with 1,125 yards, and 14 touchdowns total. Placing him second on the team in touchdowns scored behind only Barker.
Defense Wins Championships
A trio of defenders pulled off the hat trick this season each logging three interceptions. Trae Meadows, Bill Atkins, and Marquis Bridges had nine of the 18 interceptions their defense logged. This unit was also able to give the ball back to their offense 13 more times on fumbles. An insane stat is the fact that Wrangler opponents fumbled 27 times in 2022.
In the pass rush again three men stood apart. JaQuan Artis managed 9.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 2 pass break ups, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.
Dar Hungerford was second on the team in sacks with 6.5, he added 13.5 tackles for a loss, 1 interception, 5 pass break ups, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 safety.
Last but certainly not least Ulric Jones who had 5.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 1 interception, 2 pass break ups, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 forced fumbles.
Early in the season the Wranglers struggled in the kicking game. Finishing the season 12 of 29. Veteran Kicker Craig Peterson was brought in late in the season to solidify the position. His arrival happened to correspond with an uptick in special teams performance.
Peterson brought with him another valuable experience, he had just won a Championship game with the Albany Empire of the NAL in 2021. This hype man of a kicker, was the perfect last minute addition to round out a Championship roster.
Winning in Dramatic Fashion
The Wranglers might as well be called the cardiac kids after some of the victories they have found this season. The Championship game was no different. With less than two minutes left in the third the Wranglers were up by 12 points. Quad City picked up some steam in the fourth quarter closing the gap to three points with less than five minutes remaining.
Despite a failed onside kick recovered by the Wranglers, the Steamwheelers wouldn’t let Northern Arizona seperate. By the end of the game the Wranglers had won by just two points. Managing to avoid the upset and clinch their first ever Championship victory in franchise history.
Congratulations to the Northern Arizona Wranglers!
All statistics courtesy of goIFL.com