The Duke City Gladiators are home to stay.
That could mean a rematch with the Salina Liberty in two weeks.
The Gladiators, Champions Indoor Football’s Southern Division champions, secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs Saturday night with a 43-26 victory over Northern Division winner Salina in the regular-season finale at Tingley Coliseum.
The Liberty, who fell to 8-4, will have a home playoff game next Saturday at Tony’s Pizza Events Center against Northern Division runner-up Omaha. Duke City (9-3) will entertain the Amarillo Venom with the winners meeting the following week at the home of the higher seed.
Salina, which handed Duke City its last loss — 29-22 on May 4 in Salina — took its only lead early in the second half before the Gladiators put the hammer down. The Liberty trailed 9-6 at halftime but went up 12-9 with 8:27 left in the third quarter on an 8-yard touchdown strike from Andrew Jackson to Ed Smith. Jimmy Allen missed the extra point.
Duke City answered with a scoring drive that took up nearly four minutes to go in front for good, 15-12, on Robert Kent’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Romello Brown. The Gladiators then blew it open with two more scores — a 9-yard Kent-to-Sedrick Johnson pass play and a Jestin Kelly 1-yard run — to lead 29-12 with 9:14 to play.
Salina traded touchdowns with Duke City the rest of the way, getting a 28-yard scoring pass from Jackson to Rashad Pargo and a 49-yard kickoff return from Tracy Brooks, but giving up TD runs of 3 yards by Kelly and 14 by Brown.
Duke City had a slim advantage in total offense, 219 yards to 200, but won the turnover battle 4-3. Each team had three interceptions, but the Liberty had a costly goal-line fumble by Brooks near the end of the first half.
The Liberty had a chance to take the lead just before the break, but on first and goal from the Duke City 1, the Gladiators’ Dailin Young forced a Brooks fumble and recovered to end the threat.
Billy Perry missed the extra point, but with 14:54 left in the half he extended the Gladiator lead with a 19-yard field goal.
The Liberty came back with an eight-play, 30-yard drive, picking up a first-and-goal at the Duke City 7. Brooks picked up 5 yards on first down before Andrew Jackson hit Rashad Pargo for the 2-yard touchdown.
For Salina, Jackson completed 17 of 37 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns with three picks. Smith caught five passes for 78 yards and Pargo four for 44. Brooks, the CIF rushing leader, was limited to 23 yards on 11 carries but caught four passes for 36 yards.
Kelly had 52 yards rushing with three touchdowns for Duke City. Kent completed 15 of 31 passes for 124 yards and two scores.