Matchup: Nebraska Danger (4-10) at Iowa Barnstormers (11-3)
Arena: Wells Fargo Arena (15,110)
Location: Des Moines, IA
Kickoff: 7:05 p.m. CT
TV: Mediacom Channel 22
TV Commentators: Larry Morgan (PxP) and Ben Bruns (Color)
Radio: 1040am WHO
Radio Commentators: Joe Stasi (PxP) and Larry Cotlar (Color)
This Friday, the Iowa Barnstormers have a chance to do something that the team’s fans haven’t seen since 1997: punch their ticket to a championship game.
The Barnstormers will have a shot to qualify for the IFL’s United Bowl championship game for the second straight year.
Last season, Iowa came up short, and was blown out by Sioux Falls on the road in the semi-finals, coming up short once again.
Barnstormers playing for first championship appearance since ‘97
Though the Barnstormers haven’t closed out a championship since they started play in 1995, the team has had a quite a few close calls.
In 1996, Iowa hosted its first and only championship game in Des Moines, losing to the Tampa Bay Storm after after having a shot to win it all with less than a minute to go.
Fast forward a year. The team, still lead by future NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, qualified for a second-straight championship game, but ended up getting knocked by the Arizona Rattlers.
The 1999 Barnstormers made it to the semi-finals with an 11-3 record, like this years team, but was upset by the last seeded Orlando Predators in Des Moines, IA.
After another year of making the playoffs, the team took an eight-year hiatus and returned in 2008. After a decent first season, Iowa made some leaps and found themselves primed for another run in 2009.
Lead by quarterback Brian Villanueva and wideout Tim Dodge, the Barnstormers finished the season with a 12-4 record and earned the second seed in the Arena Football 2 (AF2) playoffs.
However, the run came up short when the team was upset by the Green Bay Blizzard at Wells Fargo Arena in the quarterfinals.
The Spokane Shock, coached by Adam Shackleford, would go on to win the AF2 championship that season.
Now, Shackleford’s name is their for a reason. He is one of the two, interim head coaches of the Nebraska Danger, who face Iowa this Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
Just how did the Danger get to the point of needing two interim coaches, some would ask.
First of all, the Danger started off the year by winning four of their first five games, which included beating the Barnstormers at home on March 30.
Although, since that game against Iowa, the amount of success for Nebraska went down a slippery slope.
The Danger lost their starting quarterback to injury, and ensuingly lost each of their next six games, prompting the dismissal of head coach Mark Stoute.
That left Shackleford and IFL hall of famer Pig Brown leading the charge in Grand Island.
“They have great coaches and they’re going to come in here and play really hard,” Barnstormers wide receiver Sheldon Augustine said. “That’s their [strongest advantage].”
Although the pair’s venture with the Danger so far has gone about as well as Stoute’s did.
The co-head coaches lost two games to the No. 2 seed Arizona Rattlers, which is understandable. However, the Danger also dropped a game to the previously last-place Cedar Rapids Titans.
That puts the Danger on a nine-game losing streak as they come into Des Moines this Friday. Though, the Barnstormers aren’t taking Nebraska lightly.
“Nebraska is a very sound football team,” Augustine said. “We never overlook an opponent. Every team [that we see] on the schedule, we study to a tee.”
That’s how the Barnstormers have treated every team on the schedule this season.
Under head coach Dixie Wooten, Iowa players have been treating every game as if they were playing in a championship.
So a playoff game at Wells Fargo Arena feels just like home for the team.
“It’s all about having home field advantage,” Wooten said. “You wake up in your own bed, come to the field to have your normal day. I’m excited to be here with our fans.”
The Barnstormers and Danger will kick off from the Well at 7:05 p.m. this Friday.
“These guys feel like the championship is close,” Wooten said. They’re flying around, having fun, and they cant wait until Friday night.
“A lot of teams wish they were in our shoes, so we’ve got to take care of business.”
*The Iowa Barnstormers from 1995-2001 and 2008-2018 were owned and operated by two, different groups of people. The franchises are not considered the same, but LWOS views their histories as one.*