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Gladiators began defense of title with home playoff opener

The road to the 2019 Champions Indoor Football title will be going through Albuquerque for the second straight season beginning tonight, when the Duke City Gladiators open postseason play against the Amarillo Venom in the Southern Conference championship game at Tingley Coliseum.

The Gladiators (9-3) finished with the best record in the eight-team league, one game ahead of second-seeded Amarillo (8-4) largely by virtue of winning the season series 2-1. The home team won each of the meetings.

Although Duke City coach Dominic Bramante can find comfort looking at his 2018 CIF championship ring, the sting of previous defeats still resonates. Especially a 70-41 road loss to the Venom in the first round of the playoffs two years ago.

“I hate Amarillo and everything about Amarillo,” Bramante said Thursday. “I haven’t forgotten they put us to sleep in 2017.

“Yes, it’s beautiful to see that championship banner up there, but that’s burnt grass. Losing still cuts like a knife because you don’t know if you’re going to get back (to compete for a title).”

Home field has played a big role in the Gladiators’ success. Dating to last season, Duke City has won 11 straight league home games, including three in the 2018 playoffs. Amarillo, meanwhile, has lost seven of its last eight road games, including 70-30 and 60-43 drubbings at Tingley this year.

“The benefit is we get our crowd,” Bramante said. “I believe it’s the best crowd in the league, although I haven’t been to an Omaha game, and I hear those fans are pretty passionate, too.

“I know the fans here in Albuquerque — the ‘9th Man’ I call them — give us an advantage because you get to feel the emotion. Our players do feed off that emotion.”

The Gladiators are led by QB Robert Kent, a midseason pickup in the dispersal draft when the Texas Revolution was booted from the league. Top receivers are Dello Davis, whose 19 TD catches are second most in the league, and acrobatic WR Sedrick Johnson, who has 14 TD receptions.

Duke City also has emphasized the running game in recent games, with newly reacquired RB Jestin Kelly joining bulldozing Romello Brown in the backfield.

“I think that’s about (assistant coach) Landrick Brody being a former fullback and understanding the nuances of the run game and having balance in the offense,” Bramante said.

Over the past three weeks, Duke City has had at least 20 rushing plays. By contrast, in its last meeting with Amarillo, the Venom had only one carry by a running back.

On defense, 2018 CIF co-Defensive Player of the Year Jayson Serda, a Manzano High and ENMU alum, leads the league with 8.7 tackles per game. Fred Griggs has had a team-high eight interceptions.

SPECIAL NIGHT: The Gladiators will be recognizing the athletes of Special Olympics New Mexico tonight, with Santa Fe delegation member Elena Romero singing the national anthem. There will be pregame festivities with a representative mentioning the mission and events. … For a discount on tickets visit www.DukeCityGladiators.com and click BUY TICKETS and enter BOGO for the promo code for the Buy One Get One Free.

LOOKING AHEAD: The winner of this game will play at home in the CIF title game July 13 against the winner of tonight’s Northern Conference showdown between the Salina Liberty and Omaha Beef.


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