The Duke City Gladiators surely didn’t see this coming.
Midway in the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s football game at Tingley Coliseum against the Salina Liberty, the winless visitors held a two-point lead and had first-and-goal at the Duke City 8. The Gladiators’ realistic hopes of qualifying for the Champions Indoor Football league postseason in June were in jeopardy.
But coach Dominic Bramante’s defense stiffened to force a field goal and then the offense took over for a 52-50 victory over Salina (0-7) in front of announced crowd of 2,192 in the building.
“We were fortunate to win tonight,” said Bramante, whose team won 79-29 on the road last week against the Centex (Texas) Cavalry. “If you win by one or by 50, like we did last week, it’s still one game.”
Duke City (4-3) kept hold of fourth place in the South Division of the CIF with five games remaining. The top four teams in the division reach the playoffs.
Even Salina coach Mike Bonner was able to force a smile moments after the game.
“We’ve actually played some really, really good games,” he said. “But we just played three games in 14 days and it’s just been a really tough schedule.”
Early in the fourth quarter with the Liberty holding that 40-38 lead, Duke City’s Larry Cobb caught a pass over the middle from Donovan Porterie. But before being dragged to the ground, Cobb attempted a lateral that wound up recovered by Salina at its 19-yard line, at which point Bramante’s head dropped face-first into the sideline dasher.
But he said it wasn’t a sign that he felt his team was en route to defeat.
“No, we never give up,” Bramante said. “We were still in it right then and the defense stopped them.”
Early on, Salina running back Tracy Brooks was the star, with four touchdowns, including a fumble recovery in the Duke City end zone on the opening kickoff.
With about 4 minutes left, Brooks was headed toward his fifth, which would have given the Liberty the lead after Duke City’s Antonio Bray scored his third TD of the game on a 3-yard run to give the Gladiators a 45-43 edge, counting the extra-point kick by Brian Weems.
From the Duke City 13, Brooks caught a crossing pattern and was about to score when the ball was forced from his grasp at the 1 and recovered in the back of the end zone by Dontrell Johnson.
Bray then scored on a 45-yard run to give Duke City a 52-43 lead and the Gladiators held on.
Porterie tossed three TD passes to increase his league lead to 35.
LONG TRIP EVEN LONGER: When the Liberty boarded the team bus en route to Albuquerque on Friday morning the players knew they would be in store for a knee-crunching, back-crimping 11-hour ride.
“But then the bus broke down,” grumbled wide receiver Derek Racette. “It happened about an hour outside Salina and we were stuck on the side of the road for three hours until they could get us a new one.”
NOT PAID ENOUGH: There was a delay of about five minutes midway in the first quarter while staffers with the Gladiators were beckoned to clean up a player’s vomit at the Duke City 9. And the 6. In the second quarter another cleanup was requested at the Duke City 12.
DOWN TIME: The Gladiators will be off the next two weeks before returning to play at Amarillo against the North Division-leading Venom (5-0) on May 6, a team Duke City has lost to twice this season by a combined four points.
“The back-to-back byes are an unusual situation that I’ve never had before,” Bramante said. “The players will get to go home and the positive is they’ll hopefully come back full of energy.”