The Duke City Gladiators couldn’t have scripted a better night at Tingley Coliseum on Saturday.
The defending Champions Indoor Football titlists (6-3) not only took over first place in the Southern Division with a 60-43 victory over the Amarillo Venom (5-4), but all but guaranteed themselves home field for the first round of the postseason.
In addition, during a halftime ceremony before an announced crowd of 3,100, members of the 2018 team received their championship rings. An elaborate championship banner (10-by-18 feet) also was unfurled from the rafters.
“We knew how important it was to have home field,” Gladiators coach Dominic Bramante said after the game, only three hours after saying that he didn’t care if his team had to meet up with Amarillo again in a parking lot. “We didn’t turn the ball over. That was big.”
That was in stark contrast to the Gladiators’ 88-62 loss in Amarillo five weeks ago when they had seven turnovers, including two interceptions returned for TDs.
Gladiators linebacker Jayson Serda, a Manzano High and Eastern New Mexico alum, was a wrecking crew Saturday. In addition to having 15 tackles, more than double anyone else in the game, he had a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown after he shook free from a neck-high tackle attempt.”
“Yeah, it seemed like he was trying to take my head off,” Serda said. “And we wanted home field bad. They came at us hard. But we kept swarming and challenging them.”
With three weeks left in the season, all the Gladiators need to do to secure that top Southern seed is to win on the road vs. the expansion Oklahoma Aces (2-7) next Saturday. Against the Aces on April 13 at Tingley, the Gladiators earned the most lopsided league victory in their five-year history, 92-6.
As for Amarillo, one more Oklahoma loss or Venom win gets it at least the second and final seed.
Saturday’s victory came just five weeks after the Venom beat the Gladiators in Amarillo behind nine TD passes from Nate Davis. This time he had five scoring throws but a season-high three interceptions, including two returned for scores.
The other pick-six was by Duke City’s Dontrell Johnson, who ran the length of the 50-yard field without an enemy in sight for a back-breaking score that made it 49-21 midway in the third quarter. That touchdown came a little more than four minutes after Serda’s score.
The turning point in the game came in the second period with the Venom threatening.
With Duke City leading 21-14, Venom receiver Mazio Rhodes teamed with Davis for a 34-yard gain to the Gladiators’ 9-yard line. But at the end of the play, DB Anttonio Brown wrestled the ball from Rhodes and zoomed 41 yards for a Duke City touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
Amarillo cut it to 28-21 late in the second period but were outscored 21-0 in the third to start the rout.
Romello Brown led the Gladiators’ rushing attack with 72 yards and a TD. By contrast, the Venom had only one carry by a running back, for zero yards..
DOWN THE ROAD: Barring the unforeseen, these teams will meet four weekends from now at Tingley in that first-round showdown.
It will be the third time the teams have played in Tingley this year. In Week 2, Duke City was a 70-30 winner over the Venom.
SHORT RIDE HOME: At least the Venom’s bus ride home was scheduled to be only about four hours. Two weeks ago, the team endured a 17-hour trip to Sioux City, Iowa, to face the Bandits.
Said Amarillo DB Levi Holmes: “It should have been 12 hours, but we had a detour, and when we got to Iowa, we had another detour to avoid where it was flooding.” Sioux City won, 79-71.
PORTERIE: Ex-Lobo QB Donovan Porterie, who started Duke City’s first seven games, has been released.
“But the possibility of him coming back are open,” Bramante said.