Iowa Barnstormers: United Bowl Champions

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Jamal Tyler took a hand-off from quarterback Drew Powell.

Iowa trailed Sioux Falls 38-35 in the United Bowl championship game with 21 seconds left on the clock at the start of the play.

Tyler split two defenders before running into a third and spinning away.

A win would give the Barnstormers their first league championship in franchise history, dating back to their 1995 inaugural season.

While Tyler stayed on his feet, he met a trio of Sioux Falls defenders separating him with the end zone by two yards. Behind him came help from the Barnstormers offensive line.

Ken Van Heule and Brandon Haskin put their weight into the back of Tyler, pushing the smaller running back into the end zone, and giving the Barnstormers the lead.

However, there was a flag on the field.

Indoor Football League officials gave an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Van Heule for taking his helmet off to celebrate the go-ahead score.

Sioux Falls coach Kurtiss Riggs was given a choice to enforce the 15-yard penalty on the point-after-touchdown or on the kickoff.

He chose to move the PAT back.

That would mean that Josh Gable, Iowa’s kicker that ranked 5th in the league in field goal percentage coming into the game, would need to bomb a 35-yarder to put his team up by four.

“When the ball is brought back, I love it,” Gable said, referencing the longer field goal distance. “The ball straightens out when I kick from further distances.

Gable made it.

The crowd roared. Iowa had gone up by four, and the fans were ready to celebrate. The only thing that would ruin the score was a freak hail-mary or long kickoff return.

Then Riggs threw his challenge flag.

Although it wasn’t originally called on the field, Riggs and the Storm were challenging that there was holding on the PAT attempt.

In what was already a ridiculous rule, the IFL overturned it.

Gable would have to come back out and try to make a 45-yarder to yield the same result. He didn’t flinch.

“I was happy that it would be further,” Gable said. “Now they get to see what I can do.”

From 45 yards out, he split the uprights, right down the middle.

Iowa had a four-point lead with 13 seconds to go, and the crowd grew quieter as the kickoff approached.

On the kick, Ryan Balentine, a usual wide receiver, came up with a big tackle and held Sioux Falls kick returner Damond Powell to just five yards.

Wells Fargo Arena was buzzing.

The Sioux Falls offense put together 17 yards on the next play before an incomplete pass, and would control the ball at midfield for the last play of the game.

One Iowa Barnstormer didn’t watch though.

“I was in the locker room,” IFL MVP quarterback Drew Powell said. “I was just waiting on the crowd. When the crowd went crazy, I just came out.”

Powell was accountable for every touchdown prior to Tyler’s game winner, either throwing the ball or running it in each time the Barnstormers scored. He was the MVP for a reason.

As Powell listened from the locker room, Sioux Falls had one play left. Two seconds remained on the clock.

Brown took the snap and escaped the pocket, which was pressured by Keith Jones Jr., B.J. Butler, and Byron Bennett.

He threw a high pass to his Damond Powell who leaped over the boards trying to catch it.

The ball was knocked out by Tyrell Pearson, and ruled incomplete.

The Iowa Barnstormers had won the United Bowl.

Confetti rained down from each corner of the arena, Sweet Caroline echoed through the air, and the franchise experienced its greatest day in team history.

“[We’ve got] a f*cking United Bowl championship,” defensive lineman B.J. Butler said. “It’s the first for me in my football career and it feels amazing.”

Butler earned the first touchdown of the night that gave the Barnstormers the momentum they would need to keep pace with Sioux Falls.

Despite starting on the defensive line, Butler lined up as a receiver behind the offensive line and caught a nine-yard dump pass to put his team up 7-0.

“I honestly didn’t think that that play was going to get called [so early], but I’m glad it did,” Butler said. “It shows my versatility of playing both sides of the ball and also that I can catch the ball. Me being a big guy and all, some people think I’m just going to go in and block. I can do a lot of stuff if given the opportunity.”

Through the season, Butler had been wearing a towel that hung from his waste-band that read, “Overrated,” which was a quote from Arizona Rattlers coach Kevin Guy describing Butler in an interview.

Butler had a message for Guy following the game as well.

“What did he call me again?” Butler said. “Overrated? Iowa. Winners. That’s all I’ve got to say.  See you next year, man.”

Leading the team with three touchdowns on the night, and winning United Bowl MVP was Balentine, the same who had the tackle on the final kickoff.

“What can I say about it?” Balentine said. “It was a great game, we came out with the dub.”

Balentine had been playing on teams with Barnstormers coach Dixie Wooten on the staff for five straight seasons. This is the first title either of the two have won.

When asked if Balentine would come back for a reunion tour with Wooten, he had a confident answer.

“You know I am,” Balentine said.

As the confetti sat on the green Wells Fargo Arena turf, and jubilant fans riddled the playing surface celebrating with the players, it couldn’t have felt more perfect.

The city of Des Moines had won a professional sports championship, no matter how small the sport may be viewed.

“We’ve been putting in work since before February [for this],” defensive lineman Keith Jones Jr. said. “I’m glad we were able to win this for the city. They’ve been loyal.”