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The Northern Arizona Wranglers couldn’t keep up with the Bay Area Panthers in the Western Conference Championship Game, on Saturday night, as they fell 68-46.
The Wranglers began the Western Conference title game on offense and scored on their first possession. Quarterback Nick Watson located wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for the game’s first touchdown. The Wranglers jumped out to an early 6-0 lead over the Panthers.
The Panthers would respond with a touchdown of their own and take the lead by one point. The Wranglers closed the game’s opening quarter with a touchdown from Watson to running back Jarrod Ware Jr. Northern Arizona led Bay Area by a score of 12-7 at the end of the first quarter.
The Panthers opened the second quarter with a touchdown, and would not look back. The Wranglers’ offense couldn’t generate points on their ensuing possession and would chase the Panthers’ lead for the remainder of the game. The Wranglers fell behind the Panthers by a score of 20-12 and pulled within two points courtesy of a great pass from Watson caught by wide receiver Ryan Wisniewski. Wisniewski climbed the ladder and made the grab over a Panthers defender, as he walked in for the score. Just nine seconds remained in the first half and the Panthers had possession of the football. Northern Arizona then surrendered a deflating 39-yard touchdown pass. The Panthers essentially ended the half on this Hail Mary throw.
The Wranglers entered the locker room with a manageable deficit, as they were behind the Panthers by a score of 26-18.
The Panthers extended their lead with a touchdown to open the second half. The Wranglers responded with another touchdown from Chiaokhiao-Bowman, this one on the ground. The Panthers and Wranglers traded touchdowns again on the next two drives. Watson got the score on the ground this time. The third quarter ended with the Wranglers still behind the Panthers by eight points. The game’s score was 40-32 in favor of Bay Area.
The Wranglers continued to chase the Panthers in the fourth quarter, and separation began to be created between the two teams. The Panthers scored a touchdown to extend their lead to 15 points again, and the Wranglers’ offense turned the ball over on downs on the following possession. The Panthers scored a touchdown to extend their lead to 22 points with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game. The Wranglers and Panthers traded touchdowns on each of their next two drives. The Wranglers’ defense couldn’t come up with a stop to give them an opportunity to fight back in the end. The Wranglers ended up losing by that 22-point differential that they faced with over 10 minutes to go.
Northern Arizona fell one game short of their second consecutive Indoor Football League National Championship Game appearance. It was a great and thrilling season for the Wranglers but didn’t end the way they had hoped. Within the IFL, you never know how many players and coaches will remain on the same teams or get opportunities elsewhere. The Wranglers look forward to 2024 and hope to keep a core of their team intact. Congratulations to both the Bay Area Panthers and Sioux Falls Storm, who will be competing in the Championship game next Saturday. The Wranglers will have a few former players and defensive coordinator Rob Keefe competing in that Championship Game on the Panthers’ squad.
View the Northern Arizona Wranglers 2023 games, with dates, matchups, and results at nazwranglers.com.
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