Bay Area Panthers running back Justin Rankin runs the ball in for a touchdown in the July 29 IFL Western Conference Championship game at SAP Center. Photo: Jonathan Natividad

The Morgan Hill-based Bay Area Panthers Indoor Football League team won their conference championship game July 29, continuing a major turnaround from last season’s lackluster performance when they only won a single game. 

The Panthers on Saturday beat the defending champion Northern Arizona Wranglers 68-46 to win the IFL Western Conference Championship playoff game at SAP Center in San Jose. The Bay Area team will play Aug. 5 in the league’s National Championship game against the Sioux Falls Storm at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas. 

In the July 29 Western Conference Championship game, Panthers running back Justin Rankin set a franchise record with six rushing touchdowns, according to the team. Rankin leads the team with eight touchdowns in the playoffs. 

“Being able to turn around a program like this is amazing,” Rankin said in a press release. “We came here to do this and it’s great to see it all come to fruition. We just have to do it one more week.”

Bay Area (12-5) took the lead for good in the second period when Rankin’s 3-yard run capped a 7-play, 34-yard drive for 14-12 advantage. The lead expanded to 20-12 when quarterback Dalton Sneed hooked up with receiver JT Stokes from eight yards out, says the press release. 

NAZ twice cut the lead to eight points in the second half but couldn’t come up with a stop as the Panthers scored over 60 points for the fifth time this season, the press release adds. Rankin rushed for three scores in the fourth on the way to a new franchise record. His six rushing TDs eclipsed his own team record of four, set three times. 

The defending champion Wranglers entered the game with the second-best scoring defense in the league but surrendered 10 touchdowns on 10 possessions, including seven rushing scores. 

Sneed finished 4-7 for 73 yards and three scores—two to JT Stokes and one to Nih Jackson, according to the team.  

During the trophy presentation, Sneed was showered with the chant of “MVP” by teammates and fans.

The Bay Area Panthers celebrate after winning the team’s first IFL Western Conference Championship in San Jose July 29. Photo: Jonathan Natividad

The Panthers’ quarterback said the MVP honor is a team award and noted that Bay Area still has some work to do before their year is over.

“This is not the final destination,” said Sneed. “This is not where we want to be. We’ve got one more to go with Sioux Falls on our minds. We’ll see you all in Vegas, baby.”

The Panthers earlier this year moved their team and practice headquarters to Morgan Hill, where they train at the Outdoor Sports Center on Condit Road. The team’s support from Morgan Hill runs deep, with sponsorships from local businesses advertised prominently at home games and a loyal fan section making their presence known each time the Panthers put more points on the board. 

Mayor Mark Turner is pictured with the Bay Area Panthers’ Western Conference Championship trophy on the SAP Center field after the July 29 game against the Northern Arizona Wranglers. Photo: Robert Guynn

City officials are often seen at home games, on the field during halftime and in the stands. Morgan Hill Mayor Mark Turner was among those attending the July 29 game, proudly hoisting the Western Conference Championship trophy on the field after the Panthers won. 

Turner noted the Panthers’ playoff success this year is particularly impressive after they finished the 2022 season with a dismal record of 1-15. 

“This turnaround says a lot about the commitment of team owner Roy Choi and his coaching staff,” Turner said. “The players themselves have not only been committed to excellence in all they do, but they have been committed and active in our community. We are grateful for the team’s involvement in Morgan Hill and we are looking forward to having them back next year and for years to come.”

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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