With recent news of the Bismarck Bucks going on hiatus, there is a myriad of feelings that run through my slightly depressed mind. But after thinking of all the negative implications of such a beloved team and organization not playing in '23, I'm left with more happy memories than I can count.
The sudden demise of the Alliance of American Football (AAF), left my heart empty for football that wasn't the corrupt (my opinion) NFL. In my search to ease my sorrow, I stumbled upon a Bismarck Bucks game, where they were getting beat fairly soundly by the Sioux Falls Storm. But, they never would give up. Their resilience impressed me as they continued to grind and earn every yard in that arena. A drunk fan was often heard calling out above the rest of the crowd. Mike Tatum would make a play and the arena would ring with blissful excitement. Kids would dance and smile, often jumping up and down. The BEK broadcast was even well done, with the score, down and distance, and time remaining on the bottom ticker. It wasn't as elegant as the NFL, but it was professional. The talent astounded me on both sides of the ball. And me? I was hooked on the Bismarck Bucks when I found out they were 1-10 at the time and would never let up. Two weeks later, they'd upset the Quad City Steamwheelers who were contending for a playoff spot. They just wouldn't go away.
The Bismarck Bucks finished the season with a dismal 2-14 record in their first IFL season, but their following season, they only had one loss....consequently that was the only game they played due to Covid, but I was still impressed with how they played. The excitement was there, and the fans were loving it. The new-look San Diego Strike Force had come to town, and a noisy, passionate group of fans called the Horny Bucks would blow those hunter orange horns with enthusiasm. I cheered aloud on Eric Lauderdale's first TD catch. I also cheered when Strike Force Nathaniel Chavious took a swing pass to the house. I kept wanting to get into Taz Wilson's head to remind him not to overthrow Ryan Feiss (after it happened 5 times in the endzone). And rarely have I ever cheered as loud as the time when Zuril Hendrick broke the record for the longest Bucks touchdown, returning a missed field goal, breaking 4 tackles along the way and doing an elegant dive into the end zone for the Bismarck lead. BEK did a slow motion replay of his dive that looked like an elegant deer bouncing over a fence with a regal posture that resembled the finest British royalty, and, in the background, a congregation of fans religiously lifting their arms in praise. It was sacred! Watching on my 15" YouTube monitor, I felt the energy from the Bismarck Event Center 900 miles away! It was electrifying entertainment at it's finest. The Bucks would fall to a great San Diego squad 50-36.
Then, last year, they showed promise winning 3 of their first 5 games and putting up 76 points on the road in San Jose! Something happened after that, that I've never been able to pinpoint. The Bismarck Bucks would find a way to lose their final 11 games--some of them absolute nail biters. And while I have no actual favorite team, the Bismarck Bucks re-introduced me to Indoor Football and brought the second love of my life back to me. That's why, every night, I put on the beautiful antler-enshrined "B" shirt on as I sleep. I hope and pray that this isn't the end for the Bismarck Bucks. I hope and pray that mandatory Workers Comp. stipulations with WSI go to the hell that they came from and ease the burden of this amazing North Dakota team. Whether the Bucks ever come back or not, I just want to say...."Thank you! Thank you so much for the happiness you've brought to my life, and bringing this sport back into my heart. Thank you, my dear, Bismarck Bucks."
By Ducon Williams
Written by Chris Mabry
A few days after the 2022 IFL National Championship game game to a end, the Tucson Sugar Skulls have decded to part ways with head coach Dixie Wooten. Wooten was also the General Manager of the Sugar Skulls during his time with the team.
Dixie became the head coach in 2020 but never got to show his skills due to the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down the season. In 2022, the Sugar Skulls finished with a 9-8 record in western conference and placed in the playoffs as the 3rd seed. Their first round matchup was against the eventual champions the Northern Arizona Wranglers.
In two out of three official playing seasons, Dixie finished 17-16 with a 0-1 playoff record.
Below is the statement that the Sugar Skulls released on social media
Written by Chris Mabry
Today in Tulsa Oklahoma, the Indoor Football League announced that Tulsa will add a team for the 2023 season. The team will play their home games at the BOX Center.
From 2009-2011 it was home to the Tulsa Talons of the af2 and Arena Football League before moving to San Antonio. No word on if they are bringing the Talons name back. You can see the entire press conference below curtsey of the IFL YouTube Page.
The young league called the American West Football Conference will hold it's 3rd title game tonight in Pasco, Washington as the undefeated Tri-City Rush look to repeat their win from a year ago. Their foe is the Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks, who punched their ticket with an impressive road win over the Idaho Horseman.
For young leagues trying to get a foothold, things don't always go as planned. The original 2022 schedule included the So Cal Red Tails, but they never played a game. The Yakima Canines were also on the schedule but with lingering Covid uncertainty, and a big financial hit from last year, they didn't play. The remaining AWFC teams combined resources to create another team to fill in scheduling gaps. The NorthWest Elite were born and played a few games to keep the schedule full and the league even played a few independent games as well as a crossover game with the Las Vegas Kings--members of the American Indoor Football Alliance.
As a result, the standings looked like this:
In year one, the Idaho Horsemen finished with an undefeated season and won the championship. This year, the Tri-City Rush have the opportunity to do it. Throughout the 2022 season, the Rush have glided through teams with huge margins of victory. The closest margin was a 13-point victory for the Rush over the Horsemen. From there, they made it look easy.
The Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks face the Tri-City Rush for the 3rd time this season. In week 3, Tri City won 65-13. But, their next meeting in late May, the Skyhawks significantly closed the point-margin gap--still losing 43-20. That was actually the last time Tri-City played. They've been waiting for over a month to have an opponent for the championship. The Skyhawks have had 3 matchups since that time, going 2-1. If they are to have an advantage, it would be that they're in their groove. No doubt the Tri-City Rush have been practicing within that time, but going 5 weeks without a matchup could manifest a little rusty play early in the game. This matchup looks to be more and more interesting.
Given the red and green colors being touted by these teams, it feels a little like Christmas in July, especially for Northwestern inhabitants. While most of arena/indoor football gets played on the East Coast and the Midwest, it seems to be very lacking on the West Coast. Not today. The state of Washington will be holding an epic battle tonight to crown a champion in the NorthWest. What the future holds for this league and these teams is unclear, but it's satisfying to report that they've made notable improvement, and that improvement is coming during a challenging Covid recovery, inflation, and it's in Spring Football that is beginning to be over-saturated. When it comes to elevating and contributing to the game of arena football, I find myself rooting for these organizations to take the next step. Game on!
By Ducon Williams
While the current forecast of professional football in Bismarck looks like a dismal, dark night, fans look for a flicker of hope to shine a warm light on their brand. It's no secret that the Bismarck Bucks of the Indoor Football League have shocked fans for the wrong reasons lately. After a 7-8 regular season a year ago, and a playoff trip that ended at Massachusetts to a Pirates team that went on to win the United Bowl--things looked decent. Then, the start of 2022 looked decent. In the first 3 weeks, the Bucks beat the Green Bay Blizzard twice and had a Chase Allbaugh deuce tie the game in the Battle of the Dakota's. His deuce would have tied the game up at 38 against a Sioux Falls Storm team that Bismarck has never beat in their history. The problem? Coach Kurtiss Riggs called a timeout to ice the kicker on a deuce attempt! That's a first! He missed the next attempt and later had a field goal attempt to win the game by one. It was blocked! Storm win 38-36, but Bismarck cemented themselves as a viable foe....or so we thought.
After another loss at Massachusetts, the Bucks went to San Jose and routed the Bay Area Panthers 76-46! 76 points in one game is no small feat on the road. Bismarck looked good! Then.......the downfall. It took them 3 1/2 games to get another 76 points. They looked stagnant on offense putting up 17 on Quad City, and then Green Bay, a team Bismarck had won 6 straight times, comes into town and routs the Bucks 55-14.
From there, Bismarck would lose 3 straight road games by one score. Every game, they were in the hunt. But let's be honest: Bucks get hunted every year. Whether you ARE game, or IN the game, the name Bucks just tends to lead to death, or defeat.
At times, Bismarck has shown great heart in fighting to the bitter end. 5 of their 12 losses were by one score. It seems that no matter where the Bucks turn, the Bucks stop there. What's behind all of this? What's behind the last two years where Bismarck starts hot, then declines? Is it the constant switch in personnel? Whenever a player has a bad game, he gets benched or released? Whenever a kicker misses a pair of PAT's, the kicker gets no more attempts for the game? Whatever happened to Tahj Tolbert? At least Bismarck was 3-7 with him; 0-5 since he was released. It's hard to say, really.
To be fair, the coaches know what they are dealing with better than any passionate fan could. The small town of Bismarck, amid the plains of the North Dakota prairie isn't exactly the tourist attraction that would excite the best athletes to come play. Most people probably haven't heard of Bismarck since their fifth-grade geography class. I'm just glad they have a professional football team! They don't lack in the entertainment department, and the coaches may have obstacles that most couldn't hardly handle. Still, in the mind of many of the fans, we wonder what can be done different. After 10 straight losses and a trip to Northern Arizona, to play the league-leading Wrangler defense, it's been a dismal end to what seemed to be hopeful at first.
While the fans may be holding their heads low, we certainly hope that Rod Miller and his coaching staff are holding their heads high and will right the ship. The Ship, after all, is what they have in their scope. Other IFL teams might have Bucks in their scope with their finger on the trigger, but perhaps Miller and Company will have set up a decoy and will hunt the hunters in 2023. Don't give up hope!
By Ducon Williams
For a team that's used to winning championships, being #4 in their conference with a losing record, must be unfamiliar territory. The Duke City Gladiators find themselves fighting for a playoff spot with a VERY deceptive 6-8 record in the Western Conference of the Indoor Football League.
Their nickname, "Gladiators", bears an interesting parallel with the history of gladiators, themselves. According to multiple sources, gladiators were slave warriors who would often fight to the death in a large arena, while spectators watched. In many cases, they were rarely expected to win as their opponents were often given greater resources in the form of armor, weapons, and sometimes horses and chariots--and the favor of emperors and senators. On the rare occasion that the slave gladiators won, it was an utter surprise to the spectators attending the games. In the movie, Gladiator, Maximus, played by Russell Crowe, wins in a match which has the spectators dropping their jaws to the floor in disbelief. He yells out, "Are you not entertained?!" Yes, Maximus, Dello Davis, Jayson Serda, Byron Cooper, Sherman Carter, Greg Dent and many other Gladiators. We are VERY entertained! Some of the most intense matchups all season have included the Duke City Gladiators. Some of the most wild finishes one could ever conceive have come from the hands of these warriors.
However, with a 6-8 record, many believe they're not a viable playoff contender. A 58-55 loss in the Semis to Arizona a season ago seems like a distant memory. A controversial no-call in the end zone, followed by a missed field goal doomed the Gladiators to defeat, leaving Quarterback Nate Davis to question why he wasn't given the shot to score on the final play. He did, after all, break the TD passes record in the IFL last year.
Fast-forward to this year. Expectations were high that the Gladiators would give the Rattlers a run for their money in the Western Conference. The first game was highlighted as Duke City returned to Phoenix to face their newly-hated rival. After an intense first half, the Rattlers led 29-28 in what seemed to be anybody's game. Then..........a season-ending injury to quarterback Nate Davis. Then........a 60-33 defeat at the hands of the Frisco Fighters, followed by another loss to Arizona in Albuquerque. At 0-3, the Gladiators appeared to be looking for answers, and looking for a quarterback to stick with for the remaining of the season. Nate Davis was promoted to Offensive Coordinator. Suddenly, the Gladiators were in the hunt. Ramone Atkins rose to the occasion, and the defense started holding their own.
Some vocal internet hecklers don't believe the Gladiators will be a threat in the playoffs. Some cite the fact that the teams Duke City has won, don't have very good records. After all, they beat the 1-12 Bay Area Panthers twice and the San Diego Strike Force, who currently sit at 3-10. If you add the current records up, of all the teams Duke City has won, they combine for 26 wins to 53 losses. It appears, by this number, that the Gladiators aren't very good--mediocre at best. However, there's another part to the story that you might not have noticed.
Gladiator Losses - To Whom?
If we were to add up the records (yes including every time they've played the same team) of the teams that the Duke City Gladiators have lost to--and by how much, we might see a story similar to Roman history. Whether the Emperors and Senators of the IFL scheduling did this on purpose or not, is not for me to say. However, like the gladiators of ancient Rome, these Duke City Gladiators were given opponents that would likely seal the doom of the slave warriors this season. Let's observe who they've lost to:
First, the 11-3 Rattlers, thrice! Next, the 12-2 Fighters, thrice! Two of those times were by 1 point! One of those times was on a final play that is still being debated, where Quarterback TJ Edwards was awarded a touchdown as time expired. Some say his knee was down before the ball crossed the plane. Some say it wasn't. It could have been called either way and still debated. If the refs would have called him down, the Gladiators come away with a 46-41 win rather than a 47-46 loss. They're now 7-7. But alas, the call was made.
Let's look at another road loss by 1 point. Duke City scores a touchdown with 5 seconds remaining. They're leading 41-40. Then, the unbelievable happens. The extra point is blocked and returned by Tucson Sugar Skulls', White, for a 2-point return. Tucson wins 42-41 in one of the most bizarre finishes of all time. And let's not forget the Glads were up 41-28 at Northern Arizona this last week, with 5 1/2 minutes to play, and a pair of onside kick recoveries helped NAZ win it 49-41. Oh, they're 11-2 by the way. First place in the Western Conference--and it was at their house. So what's the point?
The point is: their record is deceptive. They're way better than it shows. They've had by far the most difficult schedule this season!
- 7 of their 8 losses come from teams with double digit wins. All their losses come from teams with winning records (Frisco and Arizona are the only others)!
- ALL of their losses come from teams that have already clinched playoff berths.
-Half of their losses were by one score.
-All their opponents records combine to 113-76. The Gladiators have 2 games remaining at San Diego and home versus NAZ.
-They're the only team in the league to have played the top 4 teams (currently). Those opponents have made up HALF of their schedule. After playing NAZ in the season finale, 9 of their 16 games will have been from the top 4 teams in the league.
-They beat the defending champs, Mass, and have hung tight with every opponent they've played except for Arizona.
So even if they end up 7-9 in the playoffs, they may have as good a chance as anyone to punch a ticket to the United Bowl. If anything can be said negative about the Gladiator's on-field play, it would be they need to finish games! In games that were decided by one score, they are currently 3-4. They may be 6-8, but they are three measly plays away from being 9-5. Watch out! Because they're not going to give up. Like the gladiators of old, they are well aware that they must fight to the death--and nothing motivates warriors like the fear of death!
By Ducon Williams
Photo by Sam Valenti
FRISCO, Texas - From the start, it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be a good night for the Green Bay Blizzard.
On their first play from scrimmage, the center snapped the ball past quarterback Jack Sheehan into the end zone. The Blizzard fell on it, but the Frisco Fighters had recorded a safety. Those first two points were the first of 50 as the Fighters dominated the Blizzard 50-27 in front of their home fans.
The best team in the Eastern Conference showed why they are in that position by getting out to a 36-14 halftime lead, which led to a breezy second half. Frisco quarterback T.J. Edwards shined bright once again with a masterful performance, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another. All three of Edward’s touchdown passes were caught by Jerminic Smith, who’s emerged as one of the best receivers in the IFL this season.
Another standout for the Fighters was running back Ed Wesley, who recorded two rushing touchdowns. Wesley had the difficult task of starting in place of Justin Rankin, the leading rusher in the IFL, but he made the most of his opportunity and contributed mightily to the victory.
On the other side of the contest, Green Bay was unable to keep their momentum going after an impressive 42-40 win over Sioux Falls last week. The Blizzard offense was inconsistent, and their defense was unable to mitigate the Fighters offensive attack.
With the victory, Frisco has now won seven straight games and have swept Green Bay this season after defeating them 38-36 in their previous meeting. The Fighters are getting closer to clinching the #1 seed in the east for the playoffs, while the Blizzard will definitely need some help if they want to sneak in.
Frisco will play next against the Quad City Steamwheelers while Green Bay will also return in two weeks to go up against the Sioux Falls Storm.
By Chris Mabry
Since 2009, the IFL’s top two teams played in the United Bowl, the league's version of the Super Bowl. Now as we enter the new era of the league the IFL, the league is changing the game once again. This year, the IFL championship game as it’s called now will be held at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada (home of the Vegas Knight Hawks) on August 13th. The now defunct Arena Football League (AFL) was the first league to hold a neutral site championship game when they hosted the ArenaBowl at the Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus. Ever since the first championship game in the IFL, the location of the game has been located at the home of the highest seed. Now, it will be at a natural site. More information will be revealed tonight at 8 p.m. CST on the Indoor Football League's YouTube channel.
Up North in the plains of North Dakota, a small city called Bismarck, offers a unique entertainment experience every Spring and Summer. The city of roughly 75,000 occasionally comes together on the weekends to watch some gorgeous and glorious football--as their beloved Bismarck Bucks battle opposing teams in the Indoor Football League.
A fairly dedicated fanbase shows up and makes noise to help the home team win a few games, donning antler headbands, hunter orange, and even blowing annoying horns to distract or rile the opposing teams. The "Horny Bucks" fan group will get close to the visitors bench and noisily try to get in their heads. It's quite magical, really. The entertainment value that the Bismarck Bucks provides for a small ticket price is quite extraordinary. The intimacy of football is felt in an arena where fans are only a couple feet from the sidelines; where errant throws can end up in fans hands, and even players might land in their laps. For those who have been to these games, they understand that the entertainment value far exceeds the cheap ticket price.
On the football side of things, however, the Bismarck Bucks have struggled with consistency. Of course, this is no mystery to the players, coaches, and front office. It certainly isn't meant as an insult. The team has made dramatic improvements on the field since their joining the Indoor Football League. When they first played in 2019, the team finished with 2 wins and 14 losses. In 2020, they hosted one game prior to a Covid shutdown in which they lost. In 2021, they made the playoffs, finishing with a 7-8 regular-season record, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Massachusetts Pirates, 44-19. The Pirates went on to win the United Bowl. Now we come to the current season, where the Bismarck Bucks are currently 3-4 and play again tonight against the Green Bay Blizzard. While a 10-13 record the last two years doesn't sound bad for Bismarck, it doesn't help when we mention that 6 of their 10 wins have come against the Green Bay Blizzard, who are currently 7-14 the last two years. On the flip side, they'd be 7-8 if it wasn't for the solid play of the Bismarck Bucks.
So where does my "bewilderment" come from? What's confusing about the Bismarck Bucks? To be frank, it's their lack of consistency. It's carried over from last year into this year. It seems as though they've established a pattern: "One step forward, two steps backward." Case in point: last year they win the Blizzard on the road, then come home and only put up 18 points against the Pirates. A 36-18 loss. Later in the year, they'd have an outstanding, gritty one-point victory over the 5-1 Frisco Fighters, 43-42. The next game, they'd go play the struggling Tucson Sugar Skulls, down 34-27, in the red-zone with a chance to tie the game. One play left, and the QB rolls his ankle and falls to the turf without throwing the ball. Then, they'd repent and beat the Blizzard again 41-30, then head to Iowa, force overtime in dramatic fashion, and with a chance to tie the game again, a line-drive kickoff hits a Bucks player and Iowa recovers. Game over. They wouldn't win again the rest of the season.
In Bismarck's defense, they circulated through 5 quarterbacks a season ago. Kelly Bryant showed alot of promise and was promoted to the CFL--cuing another Bucks QB change. Keyante Allen took over toward the end of the season and had flashes of brilliance but consistency was found wanting. Fast-forward to 2022. Through 7 games, Bismarck has managed to only circulate through 2 quarterbacks. Much of their 2021 team returned to the Quad City Steamwheelers, and I give huge credit to Head Coach Rod Miller for finding the right personnel and coaching them to relevance considering almost every single player is different from last year's playoff team. With that said, the "one step forward; two steps backward" pattern continues with Bismarck. How does a team go to San Jose and put up 76 points, then return home to score only 17? After a 76-46 win over the Bay Area Panthers, the Bucks slumped at home against old teammates and coach (Corey Ross), in a dismal 36-17 loss to the Steamwheelers. They'll surely do better next week right? After all, the 1-4 San Diego Strike Force are coming to town. Easy win for the Bucks! Except not. They got down early. First two passes for San Diego? Two touchdowns. A 14-0 deficit early in the game can be hard to overcome. A 38-28 loss leaves Bismarck at 3-4, struggling for a playoff spot in a competitive Eastern Conference. This pattern of blowing a team out, to consecutive losses where the offense struggles, is what plagues the Bismarck Bucks. To score 76 points in a game on the road, and then return home to only score 45 combined points the next two games, is the inconsistency I'm talking about. I could be wrong; often am. But it seems as though, the Bismarck Bucks have a bit of a hangover with each glorious win. Perhaps they can stay humble and keep working every time they have success, so it doesn't appear that they have a victory hangover. Some may call me critical; others, observant. I call myself an honest fan of the Bismarck Bucks. My hope is to see them win a United Bowl championship within the next couple years. They're a great organization, a good football team, and have captured my heart. If anything, I offer this as constructive criticism. They're aware of this, and I will keep cheering them on. Until then, this inconsistency by the team leaves me wary and "Bewildered by the Bismarck Bucks."
Wide Receiver JT Stokes scores a touchdown against the Frisco Fighters in 2021
Written by Chris Mabry
Frisco Fighters 27, Massachusetts Pirates 30
After a slow start in the first quarter, the game picked up steam as points were being scored and both sides were competitive. The Frisco Fighters had two coaches lose sideline privileges and one player being ejected. All three accrued a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Then in the fourth quarter with 4 seconds left in the game it came down to one kick and it was all on Pirates kicker Josh Gabl. If he makes it, Massachusetts wins. If it's missed, we go in overtime. The kick went through the uprights and ended the game with the Pirates winning and starting the 2022 season 1-0. Josh Gabi ended up being the IFL's special teams player of the week.
Bismarck Bucks 26, Green Bay Blizzard 23
Like the Frisco-Massachusetts game, the list few seconds of the Bismarck-Green Bay game came down to one play. The Blizzard had control of the ball and were about to score a touchdown. If they score the touchdown, they could go for two and win the game. They got their touchdown but as they did, time expired ending any hope of coming back. Bismarck quarterback Tahj Tolbert was named the offensive player of the week. He led the Bucks to their first win of the season over the Green Bay Blizzard, 26-23, on Saturday in Green Bay. Tolbert threw 16-27 passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns. Tolbert led the Bucks to a 16-10 first half lead. He also started the second half with a 28 yard score to receiver, Rob Brown, extending their lead to 23-10.
Quad City Steamwheelers 25, Sioux Falls Storm 34
After being the one and only team to win a game in 2020, the Quad City Steamwheelers make their return to the field after sitting out last year. Unfortunately they couldn't keep up with the Sioux Falls Storm as they won by the final of 34-25 a two possession game. Defensive player of the week Marquis Hendrix for the Sioux Falls Storm delivered jarring hits and defended dasher board to dasher board. He finished the night with eleven total tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss.