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Gladiators go for 2nd title vs Liberty

During a Friday news conference, Duke City Gladiators head coach Dominic Bramante discusses Saturday’s championship game against the Salina Liberty. In front is the trophy that will go to the winner.
Jim Thompson/Journal

It’s no wonder Duke City Gladiators coach Dominic Bramante spent countless hours this week at various Albuquerque java huts. He was guzzling coffee in an attempt to keep his eyelids from slamming shut.

The fifth-year Gladiators coach was mega-busy at those locales studying game video in preparation for tonight’s Champions Indoor Football title matchup against the Salina Liberty.

Kickoff is set for 6:05 p.m. at Tingley Coliseum as the Gladiators (10-3) seek a second straight CIF crown. Salina is 9-4.

“I’ve been watching a lot of film – I haven’t had any sleep since Saturday night,” Bramante said after his team’s two-hour sunrise practice Monday at Tingley. “But watching film for coaches is pretty much fun.

“You watch the same games over and over to try to get a feel for what (the opponent) likes to do.”

And often there will be an “aha!” moment that makes it all the more worthwhile.

“It’s like going to a movie and seeing something you didn’t see the first time,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to see it a few times to catch everything.”

This will be the third meeting between the teams this season, both winning at home while the visitor was playing its third straight road game: It was Salina 29-22 on May 4 and Duke City 43-26 on June 22 with the top overall seed in the playoffs at stake.

And though the Liberty just completed its second 10-hour-plus bus ride from Kansas to Albuquerque in the past three weeks, veteran coach Heron O’Neal saw a silver lining.

“We’re definitely travel-tested and battle-tested,” said O’Neal, who has won three indoor football titles in two leagues during his career. “And since we just did go down there, we know the environment and don’t have to wonder.

“And also, we played the toughest schedule in the league, so we’ll be ready. Every team we faced this year was in the playoffs last season.”

Plus, no team has more road wins than Salina with three in six outings. The other league teams went a combined 10-26 away.

The Gladiators, meanwhile, faced playoff teams nine times in addition to two forfeit victories when the Texas Revolution ceased operations.

One Duke City player particularly excited for the opportunity to play in his first title game is running back Romello Brown, who leads the team with 13 rushing touchdowns.

“I’m confident that no moment is too big for me, so I’m ready to come out and repeat as champions,” said Brown, who teams with veteran Gladiator Jestin Kelly to give Duke City the top one-two RB punch in the league.

Said Bramante: “It’s a luxury to have two stud running backs.”

Salina has a stud at RB, too. Tracy Brooks has a league-best 24 rushing TDs this season, including four in the Northern Conference final, a 44-42 victory over Omaha that the Liberty didn’t clinch until after time expired when a Beef pass was batted down on a 2-point conversion attempt. The Gladiators, meanwhile, were beating Amarillo 70-62 to win the Southern Conference.

In addition to the stout running backs, both teams have former Texas Revolution guys at quarterback: Salina with Andrew Jackson and Duke City with Robert Kent. Jackson ranks second with 52 scoring passes and Kent, who was picked up at midseason in the Revolution’s dispersal draft, is second with 227.4 yards per game.

Defensively, a key Gladiators component is defensive back Fred Griggs, who leads the league with eight interceptions.

“It comes from film study and experience,” said Griggs, 27, who has been playing indoor ball since 2016. “I’ve jumped a couple of routes, but other than that, I almost know where the ball is going more than the receiver.”


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