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Wranglers edge out Knight Hawks, knock them to 2-3

A fourth straight loss to Northern Arizona sent Vegas to a 2-3 overall record to start this season following a, 36-27, final from The Dollar Loan Center Friday, April 28.

After winning in Week 1 to open their inaugural season, the Knight Hawks have lost every meeting with the Wranglers. Earlier this season, Northern Arizona beat Vegas from Prescott Valley, Arizona by six points.

The Wranglers are the league’s reigning national champions.

“You never feel good after a loss,” head coach Mike Davis said. “But you’ve got to give them credit – that’s the team that won the championship last year and we didn’t make enough plays when it came down to it.”

With the loss, the Knight Hawks are now 1-3 in the West this season.

The loss to Northern Arizona brings an end to a three-game homestand for Vegas in which the team went 1-2 losing both games by a grand total of 10 points.

Up next, the team will travel to the Bay Area to do battle with the Panthers Saturday, May 6 from the SAP Center. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

“[The Wranglers] got us a little rattled and a little out of composure,” Davis said. “And that’s not like us. I just told the guys, we’ll regroup and be ready to go to a tough Bay Area team next week.”

A vital pass interference call on the Vegas secondary set up a crushing late regulation touchdown that proved to be the difference between a win and a loss. Three plays later, Northern Arizona found the end zone from four yards out on the ground to take a 35-27 lead before a made extra point pushed the lead to nine points.

“We just kind of lost our composure,” Davis said. “Good teams don’t make those mistakes and we’re just not quite there yet.”

The Wranglers scored on the ground two times in this one while quarterback Garrett Kettle threw for three more in addition to 96 yards through the air.

It appeared the visitors gave the home team every advantage possibly including granting the team 149 yards on 12 penalties. On the other hand, the Knight Hawks tallied 58 penalty yards on nine flags.

“I feel like [the referees] just have to let us play,” receiver Caleb Holley said. “It’s hard to play against the refs too. I’m not blaming them and saying that’s the reason we lost, I’m just saying just let us play.”

Vegas did miss two field goals throughout the course of the game that could’ve tightened the margin of the final score.

“This one hurts for sure,” Holley said. “We’re better than we definitely played tonight so it hurts.”

One week after being named the Indoor Football League’s Player of the Week, quarterback Joe Mancuso, returned to his backup role in favor of former two-time league MVP Daquan Neal, who missed the last two games dealing with a foot injury.

“He looked good,” Davis said. “I don’t care who it is, quarterbacks miss throws, we miss blocks, we drop balls – that’s part of the game. You just have to eliminate how many of those occur or reoccur back-and-forth.”

Neal made his presence felt early with a quick one-strike touchdown pass to Holley for a 25-yard touchdown on the second play of the game. Holley finished with 55 yards on three receptions with two touchdown grabs.

“Individual awards don’t mean anything to me,” Davis said. “Our receiving core is probably one of the better ones in the league and that’s what makes losing a game like this frustrating. To put up 27 points when we should’ve put up at least 50 every time we step on the field – it leaves a lot to the imagination for us. We just have to be better.”

That opening touchdown went down as Neal’s 10th touchdown of the year and the 205th of his IFL career with his rookie year taking place in 2019.

After finding Holley as the recipient of his first two touchdown passes, Neal found big, lanky target Jordan McCray in the third quarter on a 4th and 2 to climb to within two points of the Northern Arizona lead.

McCray now has three touchdowns in his last two games after making his season debut against Duke City last week.

Northern Arizona would match with a score early in the fourth quarter but Neal would once again bring his team to within striking distance.

Neal found the end zone again through the air, this time to receiver Quentin Randolph as he nearly flipped over the wall in the back of the end zone as part of his scoring snag. Randolph’s grab secured his seventh touchdown of the year and his third against his former team.

Vegas would miss the two-point conversion with a chance to tie the game at 29-all.

The team didn’t have much else going for them in this one as the team rushed the ball five times for a grand total of -9 yards.

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