Barnstormers, Storm face off in historic United Bowl

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Barnstormers players celebrate with the conference championship trophy after defeating the Nebraska Danger 48-17 on Friday.

Powell | Gorman.

Harrold | Hayes.

Brown Jr. | Jones Jr.

Barnstormers | Storm.

These are the matchups that fans at Wells Fargo Arena will see this Saturday as the Iowa Barnstormers battle against the Sioux Falls Storm in the United Bowl: the Indoor Football League’s (IFL) championship game.

“We’re the best league in arena [and indoor] football,” Wooten said. “All eyes are going to be on us.”

Barnstormers, Storm face off in historic United Bowl

After finishing the season as the IFL’s top seed with an 11-3 record, the Barnstormers are primed to host the United Bowl against the No. 3 seeded Storm.

“When you get a chance to play in the championship, it’s an exciting time for the team, the city, and all of our fans,” Barnstormers quarterback and IFL MVP Drew Powell said. “I’m excited.”

The 2018 United Bowl will be the first championship game Iowa hosts since their 1996 ArenaBowl loss to the Tampa Bay Storm.

During that loss to Tampa Bay, Iowa was stopped four plays in a row on the goal line, not being able to finish.

Even though none of the players from the 1996 Barnstormers were remotely close to playing this season, 22 years later, finishing is exactly what the team is focusing on going into this game.

“We’re just going to have to finish,” Powell said. “There’s going to be a lot of stuff going on in this game with it being the championship. With it being two high-caliber teams, every play is going to count and we know that.”

In their last meeting with Sioux Falls, Iowa had an 18-point lead against the Storm late in the third quarter, but a freak safety would change the momentum of the game and hand Iowa the loss.

“We’re practicing hard,” Powell said. “Every play is counting. There’s no giving up an 18-point lead. When we’re on top, we’re going to try and stay on top. We’re going to put our foot on their neck while we have the chance. There won’t be no more of [blowing 18-point leads].”

Barnstormers coach Dixie Wooten concluded the same.

Wooten, who was named IFL coach of the year for the second season in a row, said the team has to play their own football.

“We’re just trying to make sure we take care of us,” Wooten said. “The last two games that we lost to them was because of mistakes that we made. It’s not really about them, it’s about us.”

Iowa will need to hoan their success in order to keep Sioux Falls from the trophy.

The Storm have been in every single United Bowl since 2010, and have racked up a record of 6-2 in those appearances.

“At the end of the day, they’re always in the championship game, so you know what type of organization and coaching staff they have,” Wooten said. “We’re happy it’s in Des Moines.”

The Storm, however, are used to playing the United Bowl at home.

Seven of the last eight championship games have been played at Sioux Falls, and the last time the team went on the road to play one, they were downed by the Billings Outlaws.

“They have to do something different to get prepared for this game,” Wooten said.

Judd Harrold (Sioux Falls) tries to get around Jamie Bender (Iowa) during the United Conference Championship in 2017.

The Barnstormers are being tasked with defending an all-IFL, dual-threat quarterback acrost the field.

“We are going to make sure we do what we do best, and that’s contain him,” all-IFL defensive lineman Keith Jones Jr. said. “We make sure we stop the run and have some fun.”

This season, Brown Jr. sits in second place in the IFL in both passing yards and rushing yards, proving to be one of the most versatile players once again.

His efforts this season landed him on the all-IFL second team.

“[Brown Jr.] is dynamic,” Powell said. “He does a lot for that team. Whenever they need a play he’s able to make it. He’s the ultimate play-maker for those guys.”

Wooten attests that as the reason the Storm can stay in every game and ultimately make it a close game.

“He’s got championship rings,” Wooten said. “He’s gone to the championship game ever since he’s been a starter. It’s a challenge to get ready for [Brown]. He’s going to come in and understand everything we are trying to do to him. We’ll try to give him some different looks and confuse him, but I know he’s going to make a lot of plays.”

To the left and right of Brown Jr. sits an intimidating receiving corps made up of league veteran Judd Harrold, Damien Ford, and former Hawkeye Damond Powell.

The star of the group is Harrold, who sits third in the IFL in receiving touchdowns. Paired with him was the now-injured Mike Tatum.

“We know they have a couple guys who can make plays over there,” Iowa’s Powell said. “They’ve got a couple guys who were able to do some stuff against us the times we’ve played them.”

As time went on in the season, Storm coach Kurtiss Riggs signed Ford and Damond Powell, to bulster the receiving corps into arguably the team’s top unit.

“Coach Riggs hit it on the head when he signed Ford and [Powell],” Wooten said. “Those guys with Judd Harrold is amazing. They fly around. Our DB’s are looking forward to the challenge.”

Though, the defensive backs for Iowa will be fully prepared to face Sioux Falls, as the Barnstormers’ wideouts are near the top of the league in each category, too.

The unit is lead by Brady Roland, an Iowa-native that lead the league in touchdowns with 20.

“When you have a [Roland], a Balentine, and an [Augustine], it’s hard for other db’s to cover [your team] up,” Wooten said. “Sioux Falls has a great secondary, but I’m glad we’ve got the receivers we have.”

Sioux Falls secondary contains Jabari Gorman and Trey Wafford, who have combined to nab eight interceptions this season.

The two are the most highly regarded Storm players on the defensive side of the ball.

“Woffard is a big time hitter,” Wooten said. “He sets the tone when it comes to receivers in the blocking game. Gorman is the type of guy that can cover you up, both as a corner and a safety, so I think those two guys make the Storm who they are. That’s why they’re in the championship.”

Other Barnstormers had different reactions when asked about the Storm defensive backs.

“Who is that,” Augustine said. “I’ve never heard of him.”

The two teams, which resemble a long-time rivalry, will match-up once again in the United Bowl on Saturday, but it will be a different game for both teams.

The veterans on Sioux Falls’ squad have played in championship games season after season.

As for Iowa, this will be some players’ first championship game ever.

“It’s a blessing to be able to do that at this level,” Powell said. 

Most of the team hasn’t played in any sort of title game throughout their lives, and even though the team across the field has, the narrative doesn’t change.

“We ready,” Jones Jr. said.

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