Chandler Raiders win second consecutive flag national title - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Raiders win second consecutive flag national title

February 27th, 2022 development
Chandler Raiders win second consecutive flag national title
Sports and Recreation

By Drew Schott, Contributing Writer

When the Chandler Raiders arrived in Las Vegas, Caleb Ely and Trey Knox felt like they and their teammates would be lifting a trophy after the NFL Flag National Championships.

Since Dec. 2016, the Raiders — led by head coach Harley Ely and assistant coach Percy Knox, the fathers of Caleb and Trey — had numerous reasons to back up the prediction.

They have succeeded on multiple levels of flag football by building a team of players similar in age across multiple seasons.

They have the pedigree of winning big games, earning a title at the 12-and-under level in the 2020 NFL Flag National Championship game.

“I just felt that we had a connection and some of the other teams didn’t,” Trey Knox said. “I just felt like we had this in the bag.”

But there was a more nostalgic reason, as well. Harley Ely said the tournament was “probably the end of our flag football run” due to players moving on to high school and aging out.

So the Raiders made sure to make a lasting memory in what was likely their final game together, winning the 2022 14-and-under NFL Flag National Championship 13-12 over the Apex Predators at Allegiant Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.

“It was just a great way to go out and reward these boys for all the hard work and preparation they put in,” Harley Ely said. “It’s just great to go out on top.”

According to Percy Knox’s calculations, the Raiders — who won back-to-back national championships — have been one of the country’s most dominant teams in flag football.

Across the last 10 national tournaments, the Raiders have either won the event or lost to its champion, giving the squad a 95 percent rate of making it to the tournament semifinals or farther.

​ This success can be linked to how the Raiders developed their players. For example, when the program was at 12-and-under status, Harley Ely and Percy Knox led numerous 11-and-12-year-olds so the program would have the veteran experience necessary for a championship chase when the 2019 regionals rolled around.

It paid off in 2020 when the Raiders became the first flag football team from the East Valley since 2013 to win the NFL Flag National Championship.

“Looking back, it’s amazing what we’ve done,” Percy Knox said.

Ahead of the Pro Bowl, the Raiders played in three tournaments. They won the first, a local event called the Hard Count Turkey Bowl, before finishing as runner-ups in the Southwest Showdown a week later to Elite 25.

However, the loss didn’t deter the Raiders, who beat Elite 25 in the regional tournament before winning the regional championship to book a trip to Las Vegas.

In Nevada, the team would have an advantage they hadn’t had since the start of the campaign: a full roster playing together.

“We had two kids that couldn’t play with us at the regional,” Percy Knox said. “So we went into it with eight (players) and won with eight, and then those two, once they were done with what they were doing, they were able to then come in and practice with us. Literally, our first time together was on (Feb. 4) in the pool play.”

The 10 players would lead the Raiders to a 2-1 record in pool play, enough for a berth in the 12-team single-elimination championship tournament.

Knocking off New England Flag Football 26-12 and Metro Select — a team the Raiders played last season — 6-0 earned a championship clash with Apex Predators, based out of the Las Vegas Valley.

It also gave the Raiders a significant upgrade in their playing environment, from fields at Heritage Park to Allegiant Stadium, one of the NFL’s newest stadiums with a price tag of $1.9 billion and a seating capacity of 65,000 people.

“It’s not every day that you get to go to the Pro Bowl and play in Allegiant Stadium,” Caleb Ely said.

But Feb. 6 was one of those days. And it ended in triumph for the Raiders, whose celebratory activities included taking a picture with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The players also walked through the AFC and NFC’s locker rooms and saw numerous players warming up for the Pro Bowl.

Next season will likely be the Raiders’ first operating as a seven-on-seven club organization. Yet no one plans on forgetting the team’s storied run as a flag football squad anytime soon.

“We were very successful,” Trey Knox said. “It was great to be able to go through all this and win as much as we did.”