The Duke City Gladiators certainly weren’t suffering from a championship hangover Saturday night. The defending Champion Indoor Football titlists started fast in their season opener and didn’t ease up in earning a resounding 76-24 victory over the Wichita Force.
The game wasn’t as close at the score might indicate. The Gladiators were in front 14-0 before four minutes expired and led 49-3 entering the fourth quarter before both teams wound up scoring in rapid-fire fashion late. The 52-point victory was larger than any the team had in its 13-2 run to the title in 2018.
Gladiators newcomer Dee Washington, a receiver who missed half of last season with a torn Achilles tendon while playing for the last-place Kansas City Phantoms, had one of the widest smiles on the field after the game. He had four catches for 85 yards and two scoring passes from QB Donovan Porterie, who was his teammate in KC last year.
“It’s always like home when we’re out there together,” Washington said regarding his quarterback. “It felt good to get out there and it felt even better to be on the winning squad.”Porterie and receiver Dello Davis were the biggest Duke City offensive stars playing before a crowd that appeared to be larger than any the team had last year. But no attendance figure was announced.
Porterie, who was the league MVP for the Gladiators in 2017 before his stint in KC, had seven TD throws with no interceptions. Included were three scoring passes to Davis, two of which came on the team’s first two offensive snaps.
Davis also had a 50-yard kickoff return for a score to open the second half. That made it a 35-3 game and effectively snuffed out the visitors’ hopes for a comeback.
The Force, which averaged more than 42 points a game in three meetings with Duke City last year appeared flummoxed through three periods until the wild-and-woolly fourth period when there were seven total TDs, with four by Duke City. The last came with 42 seconds left when LB Jayson Serda intercepted a Joe Hubener pass at the Wichita 10 and dove in for the score.
Serda also led the team with 11 tackles and two sacks of Hubener, a Kansas State alum.
“We have a real young team with a lot of potential, but we have to eliminate those little mistakes,” Hubener said. “Those little mistakes put in some bad situations.”
Such as when the Force lost a fumble on the game’s first play from scrimmage and the Gladiators immediately scored. Hubener also spent a lot of time reaching for shotgun snaps that bounced in or were at ankle height.
Duke City lineman Fatu Ulale also was a force for the defense, including one particular snot-bubble tackle on a running play late in the game.
“We came together a lot faster,” Ulale said of the defense. “Camp got us all together, playing like a family, playing off each other’s energy.
“We just got after it today. It was emphasized at camp that we’re the guys at the top of the mountain right now and it’s going to stay that way.”
But, what about that tackle-eligible pass play that he just barely missed at midgame?
“To be honest, I stopped and then I saw Donovan throw it away from me,” he said shrugging. “But no excuses, I should have gotten it.”
RETURN VISIT: The Gladiators will be seeing the Force again on May 10 when they make the 9.5-hour bus ride to Wichita, Kan., which will be Duke City’s fourth consecutive road game.
NEXT WEEK: When the Amarillo Venom visit on Saturday it will be a rematch of one of the Gladiators’ most excruciating losses in their history. With the Gladiators holding a 49-43 lead at Tingley, the Venom scored a touchdown with one second left on a 17-yard pass.Â The winning kick was made by Connor Hollabaugh, who now plays for Duke City and was 10-for-11 on PATs on Saturday.