The Austin Chronicle

Wranglers Tied for First

By Christopher Bond, June 30, 2008, 5:15pm, The Score

Pretty aqua pants, but they didn’t help the Texas Copperheads put any points on the board early in their 38-41 loss to our own Austin Wranglers. Three and out is not a way to start the game.

After the first drive stalled, a fan got to come out on the field and take a few field goal kicks. An Arena League game always has events lined up during time outs, and this game was no different. He lined up, took a step toward the ball, the follow through, and it hit the backside of a Copperhead player! The other players and fans had a nice laugh. I think the holder, who happened to be a Hooters girl, distracted him.

The referees at Wranglers' games take their job seriously, but they like to have fun. There is one ref who takes his job a little too seriously. When he needs to move the chains or grab a football for the other refs, he runs as if he just committed a crime and is being chased by the police. He could also be seen doing push-ups before the opening kick off. Take it easy guy, you’re going to hurt yourself.

With the Wranglers up 7-0, the Copperheads had the ball at Austin's 10 yard line. “Rush situation,” yelled the Wranglers' head coach. “Don’t be offside!” The ball was snapped, and Texas’ quarterback dropped back to pass. He threw a laser for a touchdown, then ran over to the Copperhead receiver to celebrate. “Woo hoo,” he screamed. “Great catch, baby!”

On the next drive, Andy Hall found Mel Long over the middle for a touchdown. It was a nice move by Long to get separation from the defender. “He’s grabbing my arms, ref!” a defender yelled in frustration. “He can’t do that!” Are the players now coaches? I guess so.

Wranglers' special teams have been solid all year with one exception. They have given up good field position on kick returns too often. As was the case on the next return, only the Wranglers' kicker was able to save the touchdown. But it didn’t do much good as the Copperheads scored on their next play to tie the game at 14.

Interesting side note, the kicker for Texas has a heck of a right leg, but no right arm. I was chatting with the Copperheads general manager, Michael Aradillas, and he told me the ir kicker was born with only one arm, but he’s widely considered the best kicker in the league. “These guys are playing for the love of the game,” stated Aradillas. “They only get paid a couple hundred bucks a game and some do have aspirations to play in AFL1 or even the NFL. Our team is pretty much all rookies. It’ll take some time to improve, but they love the game.”

On the next drive for the Wranglers, Hall drops back and shoots a missile over to LeJuan Edwards, who leans against the wall. A defender strips him before he goes down and runs the ball back into the end zone for a score. The fans are stunned.

Every few games, the Wranglers have two sumo wrestlers come out onto the field and try to score a touchdown before the mascot, Trigger, can stop them. This time, the sumo wrestlers decided to take it into their own hands. They ganged up on Trigger, using wrestling moves that would have made the WWF happy. At halftime, I caught up with Trigger to see how he was doing. “You OK, buddy?” I asked. “Those guys didn’t hurt you too badly did they?” He replied, “No, not too badly.” I think his pride was more hurt than his body.

The Wranglers locked down the Copperheads in the third quarter and didn’t allow a single point. Demetrie McCray was flying all over the field as he batted away several passes and made seemingly every tackle to frustrate the Copperhead offense. He seemed to be playing the best game of his season until he got beat deep by a Texas receiver to make the score 35-31 in favor of the Wranglers.

Austin’s offense stalled, giving Texas life, and they took full advantage. The Copperheads ran the ball down the Wranglers throats, eventually putting the ball into the end zone and taking a 38-35 lead with two minutes left.

You could see the desperation as the Wranglers didn’t want to lose this game and fall below .500 again. A sense of urgency was needed, and the fans chanted and encouraged the players, giving them hope. After several successful passing plays, Kamau Jackson flattened the Copperhead defenders, running into the end zone for the winning score.

Wranglers win again!

I caught up with Coach Ben Bennett after the game to see what he thought of the performance:

Austin Chronicle: Good season coach. A bit up and down, but a great turnaround wouldn’t you say?

Coach Bennett: Well, think about the terrible start we had [0-3], and what we have done since [7-6 overall]. We are improving. We’re still tied for first place [in the division] even after that bad start.

AC: That’s all that counts.

CB: Well, we got three more games to win the division, so we’ll see what happens.

Yes coach, we will see what happens. But after this amazing turnaround, no one is considering you a failure.

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