Finishing games at home has been something the Iowa Barnstormers have struggled to do during the 2013 AFL season. Against the San Jose SaberCats, the Barnstormers defense kept their heads in the game and on the ball. Honoring military veterans on Saturday and thrilling the crowd inside Wells Fargo Arena, the Barnstormers kept the game close and, backed by their fierce defense, allowed the offense opportunities to make the right plays at the right time for a thrilling 73-68 home win.
Honoring veterans on the Barnstormers’ “Salute to Military” night, the Barnstormers took the field hustling through a runway lit with the headlight beams of the American Legion Riders on motorcycles. As the engines roared to life, so did the Barnstormers, being introduced one at a time with a member of the armed forces or an American vet. Completing the ensemble were a new camouflaged jersey for the players, an honor guard and a member of the armed services singing the National Anthem, a yellow lab at his feet. The jerseys were later auctioned off to excited fans, the money going to help the American Legion riders.
In one of their best all-around games, the Barnstormers defense and offense clicked to keep the SaberCats on their toes. A forced fumble by fullback Kai Brown on the opening kickoff to San Jose resulted in Iowa quarterback J.J. Raterink striking gold first with a pass to wide receiver Jesse Schmidt to give the Barnstormers an early lead. Raterink would finish the game with a career high nine touchdown passes and a completion rate of 33-of-44 for 376 yards. Schmidt logged two catches, both for touchdowns.
“Everyone came together and we have done that two weeks in a row,” said Raterink. “The tough times we went through earlier this year are only going to make us stronger!”
The Ironman player of the night was Barnstormers wide receiver Marco Thomas. Thomas recorded 15 receptions for 165 yards and five touchdowns. Fellow receiver Marcus Harris pulled in ten receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas also scored one touchdown while rushing.
The SaberCats relied on the arm of quarterback Russ Michna. Michna completed 28-of-39 passes for 392 yards and matched Raterink in touchdowns with nine. With the Barnstormers defense adding pressure, Michna was sacked by Mike Lewis. Lewis also forced a fumble in the game. Michna’s favorite target on the night was receiver Jason Willis, who pulled in nine receptions for 116 yards and five touchdowns. Fred Williams and Huey Whittaker recorded nine and eight receptions repectively for a combined four touchdowns.
As time clicked off the scoreboard late in the final quarter, Raterink found himself in a bad position and made a mental error by throwing a pass that was intercepted by San Jose’s Clevan Thomas. Ahead by five points, the Barnstormers defense made a determined stand and kept the SaberCats from being able to reach the end zone before time ran out, making a four down stop.
Barnstormers defensive back Jason Simpson could have had two interceptions late in the game as the ball bounced along the sideboards, but the plays were unfortunately ruled as incomplete passes due to fan interference. If the Barnstormers had lost, it would have brought up questions about whether fans would rather get a ball in the stands or let their team gain momentum, and possibly score, off of such plays.
The Barnstormers will be on the road next weekend in a rematch with the Philadelphia Soul on Saturday, June 22. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Eastern.
- Iowa Barnstormers Official Site
- Box Score
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