Rangers host Iowa Western in the NJCAA playoffs

By Brian Lentz, Sports Information Director of the NWCC

For the second year in a row, the Northwest Rangers are returning to the NJCAA Division I Football Playoffs.

Northwest, which checked in Monday at No. 2 in the final NJCAA rankings, will host the third-ranked Iowa Western on Sunday, December 4th. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. at Ranger Stadium at Bobby Franklin Field, with live NJCAA ESPN+ coverage.

Tickets can be purchased in advance for $15 plus taxes and fees and at the box office for $18. to buy tickets, click here.

Northwest started the season ranked 4th in the NJCAA preseason polls and stayed in the top five throughout the season. Rangers led the table through the regular season, finishing 9-0 and clinching the MACCC North Division title for the fourth time in the last six seasons. Northwest then defeated Jones College in the MACCC semifinals before ending the season with an 11-1 record after a loss to East Mississippi in the MACCC title game, just the first loss of the season for the Rangers.

Despite losing the conference title game, the Rangers remained ranked No. 2 in each of the last two NJCAA rankings.

Northwest is led by a balanced offense and strong defense, and both units have guided the Rangers to victories throughout the season. Attacking quarterback Ren Hefley ranks second in the nation with 2,240 passing yards, trailing only Mississippi Gulf Coast quarterback Pat McQuaide. The Little Rocker native ranks fourth in the nation at averaging 203.6 yards per game and has completed 189 of his 308 pass attempts for a 61.4 completion rate that ranks eighth among NJCAA quarterbacks.

Additionally, Hefley’s 24 passing touchdowns with McQuaide are the most in the nation. His top targets are two 600-yard receivers, DT Sheffield and Jaycob horn. Recently named MACCC North Division Offensive Player of the Year, Sheffield has 677 yards and 11 touchdowns in 53 receptions, leading the nation in touchdowns and ranking seventh in the nation in rushing yards. To his credit, Horn has 43 receptions for 602 yards and four points.

On the ground, Jamarien Bracy and Cayden Betts carried the load well, with both players rushing for over 600 yards. Bracey has 156 carries for 727 yards and 10 touchdowns, ranking fifth nationally in touchdowns and eighth in total rushing yards, while Betts ranks 12th in NJCAA running backs with 649 rushing yards.

Defensively, the Rangers are stacked top to bottom, with countless players getting four-year deals. linebacker Sam Brumfield leads the charge with a total of 102 tackles in the season, the third most of any player in the country. Brumfield is also the team’s first player with 100 tackles since duo Terry Caldwell (122) and Malik Hawkins (106) in 2014.

However, Brumfield is just the tip of the iceberg for the Northwest Defense. Defender Rontavious “Dude” Person has 82 tackles with a team-high nine pass breaks and 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks over the year. His counterpart Byron “Tank” Pearson is just as effective, recording eight pass breakups and six interceptions. defensive back Jaylen Powell has also quietly raked in a total of 58 tackles, which is good for third on the team while he defends defensively B J Washington excelled in the second half of the season with five pass breakups, three interceptions and a total of 44 tackles.

Northwest is also stacked on the defensive line, led by Jykeveous Hibbler, Omar Pew and Quinzavious Warren. Hibbler and Pew lead the team in tackles-for-loss with 14.5 and 11.5, respectively, and combined for 115 yards lost. Hibbler’s nine sacks also lead the team, with Pew’s 4.5 sacks not far behind, trailing only Brumfield in third place. Additionally, Kyon Williams has played an important role in putting pressure on opposing attacks by leading the Rangers with eight quarterback rushes.

In special teams, the rangers are led by punters Shadow Foster and foosball Eli Hameln. Foster has 1,415 punt yards with six of his punts going 50 yards and 14 ending inside the 20 yard line. Hamlin has converted eight of his 14 field goal attempts and 45 of his 50 extra point attempts. In punt returns, Sheffield is once again number one, amassing 226 punt return yards and a touchdown in 20 attempts, and was also named MACCC North Division Special Teams Player of the Year.

Iowa Western (8-2) will also make the playoffs for a second straight season after finishing runners-up to the New Mexico Military Institute in last season’s NJCAA championship game. The Reivers’ offense is led by quarterback Aiden Niedens, who has rushed for 1,073 yards and seven touchdowns while completing 88 of his 161 pass attempts.

On the ground, the reavers are led by Staus Bryant Williams, who has 144 carries for 605 yards and four touchdowns. James Graham also leads Iowa Western in rushing touchdowns (8) while totaling 253 yards and 332 carries. Jaden Koger rounds out the Reivers’ fast attack with 366 yards of his own.

Overall, Iowa Western ranks fifth in the nation in rushing yards (1,940 yards) while Northwest leads the NJCAA with 2,070 yards.

Through the air, the Reivers are led by LJ Fitzpatrick and his 374 yards on 20 catches. Three other receivers have rushed for 200 yards or more, led by Micah Davis’ 277 yards and Aisea Toki’s 245 yards.

One of Iowa Western’s greatest strengths is on defense, where the Reivers have limited their opponents to 179.9 yards per game and allowed an average of 11.5 points. Rashion Hodge leads the Reivers with 60 total tackles and three forced fumbles, while Jackson Filer is team-bests in both categories with 26 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. Dylan Reyes and JoJo Johnson also had seven interceptions in the season.

Although these teams’ paths have not often crossed, both Northwest and Iowa Western have played before. This meeting came in the 2017 Graphic Edge Bowl in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where the Reivers rebounded from a 10-0 deficit to defeat the Rangers 36-19.

The winner of this semi-final competition will advance to the 2022 NJCAA Division I Football Championship against the winner of the other semi-final competition between KJCCC foes Hutchinson and Coffeyville. The game is scheduled for Wednesday, December 14th and will take place at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock at 8pm Central on ESPNU.