NAZ Wranglers knock out sugar skulls in first playoff game

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On Saturday night, the Northern Arizona Wranglers won their first playoff game in franchise history, defeating the Tucson Sugar Skulls by a score of 49-30.

The game started with Wranglers defensive back Bill Atkins tackling the Sugar Skulls kickoff returner in the end zone for a one-run red. The Wranglers took a 1-0 lead over the Sugar Skulls when the game kicked off and led Tucson for the rest of the game. Northern Arizona quarterback Kaleb Barker capped off his first offensive drive with a three-yard rushing touchdown. The Wranglers were up by an 8-0 score in a flash. The Sugar Skulls responded with a touchdown, putting six points on the board. The Wranglers offense returned immediately when Barker threw a pass to wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for an 11-yard touchdown. The first quarter ended with Northern Arizona holding a 15-6 lead over Tucson.

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Pictured in the back are #15 wide receiver Imeek Watkins, #1 defensive back Marquise Bridges and #8 wide receiver Glen Gibbons Jr.

The Wranglers kept their momentum going early in the second quarter, with huge play from defense. Wranglers defensive back Trae Meadows intercepted a pass at the Wranglers 13-yard line and pushed it back 16 yards, before being pushed against the boards by a Sugar Skulls offensive player. Wrangler wide receiver Imeek Watkins took a relay and headed into the end zone for the nine-yard touchdown. Tucson responded with a field goal, to make it 22-9. All of this action was just the start of what was to be an exciting second quarter.

Watkins managed to electrify the crowd at Pinnacle Bank Field at Findlay Toyota Center when he took a kickoff from his own end zone and fired it all the way for the 56-yard touchdown. Tucson was able to respond, this time with his own touchdown. On the Wranglers’ next possession, newly acquired kicker Craig Peterson made a 37-yard field goal. The Wranglers held a 32-15 lead with just 20 seconds left in the first half. On the ensuing possession, the Sugar Skulls scored a one-play touchdown, on a 45-yard bomb thrown by quarterback Daquan Neal. Tucson also threw a successful deuce on the ensuing kickoff, putting two runs on the board. Peterson made another field goal for the Wranglers, this time from 42 yards.

The Wranglers entered halftime with an 11-point lead over the Sugar Skulls, by a score of 35-24.

The Wranglers opened the third quarter on offense, with Barker himself taking the read option for a 14-yard trot, as he entered the end zone untouched. The Sugar Skulls couldn’t respond in their next drive, missing a field goal from 33 yards out. The Wranglers offense moved up the field in methodical fashion, as they finished the third quarter with possession on a third-and-goal situation. The third quarter ended with the Wranglers maintaining their lead over the Sugar Skulls, by a score of 42-24.

The Wranglers scored a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, as Barker connected with Chiaokhiao-Bowman for their second touchdown of the game. The Sugar Skulls bounced back on their next drive, scoring the game’s final touchdown. Tucson recovered their own onside kick but returned the ball directly to the Wranglers on their first offensive play. Wranglers defensive back Marquise Bridges surged forward and had her first interception of the season. Ultimately, the game ended with the Wranglers reigning victorious, with the victory by 19 points.

The Wranglers won their first-ever playoff game, in the team’s first appearance as a franchise. With the win, Northern Arizona advances to the Western Conference Championship Game. The Wranglers will face the winner of the game between the Duke City Gladiators and the Arizona Rattlers, which will be played at the Footprint Center on Sunday.

Many Wranglers fans, as well as Indoor Football League fans, expected to see the two Arizona teams face off for a trip to the IFL National Championship game, however, you may never be too certain. If the Gladiators can pull off an upset, the Wranglers will head home for a second straight playoff game on Pinnacle Bank Field at Findlay Toyota Center. If the Rattlers win the game against the Gladiators, the Wranglers will travel to Phoenix for one last showdown with their enemy in the state.

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