IFL playoffs: Duke City Gladiators at Arizona Rattlers, 3:05 p.m., Footprint Center, Phoenix. Streams on the IFL YouTube channel.
Though plenty of unfinished business lies ahead, you can excuse Duke City if it’s still feeling a little euphoric from the happenings of the previous weekend.
After all, the fifth-seeded Gladiators are coming off an improbable first-round Indoor Football League playoff victory over the Iowa Barnstormers in Des Moines, Iowa, in which Dello Davis took a wide receiver handoff and found Jared Elmore for the game-tying touchdown as time expired. In most situations, Davis, who has 31 TDs on the season, would have been a primary target for quarterback Nate Davis, who leads the IFL in passing yardage (2,901) and scores (79).
“That play definitely goes down in history in my book just because it’s a total team effort the whole way through,” said Dello Davis during a Gladiators press conference held at a local bar and grill Thursday.
The beauty was in the deception, though there was some skepticism surrounding the call initially.
“The backstory of that last play, is everybody at the table thought it was going to be a poo-poo play when I first brought it in. Take that play back to Pop Warner, it ain’t gonna work,” recalled first-year head coach Robert Kent. “My biggest thing is that these guys decided to trust me and believe that what I was saying would be true.”
That sequence — along with an essential PAT from Kevin Goessling to provide the final 34-33 margin — allowed the Gladiators to keep the dream of a championship three-peat alive. Only this time, after 2018 and 2019 titles in the Champions Indoor Football, Duke City is the lowest seed remaining in the IFL postseason and something of an underdog. They’ll play the No. 1 Arizona Rattlers in a semifinal matchup at the Footprint Center in Phoenix at 3:05 p.m. MT on Sunday. The game will stream on the IFL YouTube channel.
“I don’t think we feel like we’re underdogs. Playoff seeding is just numbers,” said offensive lineman Jordan Mosely. “It’s not about that. It’s about 16 gentleman going out there and achieving a common goal as the fifth seed. As the fifth seed we’re going to win the United Bowl. We can be the fourth, the sixth, the eighth, the seventh, the second, the third or the first — it wouldn’t matter. It’s just a number to us.”
The Gladiators are facing a tall task in taking down the Rattlers (13-2), a six-time champion with a pair of victories against Duke City (8-7) during the regular season. It’s a matchup of the two highest-scoring offenses in the IFL during the regular season, as both teams averaged more than 50 points per game. The Rattlers, with a league-high 117.8 ypg rushing, are the more ground-oriented offense, while Duke City’s 206.4 ypg through the air exceeds the next-closest team by more than 50 yards.
“They’re gonna run the ball. They’re gonna push the ball down our throats,” Kent said. “But our thing is bend, don’t break. Offensively we’re gonna put points up and we’re gonna make them try to keep up with us. If they’re gonna run the ball, it’s gonna be a long day for them.
“The biggest thing is, it’s hard to beat a team three times in a row. … This is the playoffs. Nothing else matters. It’s who’s gonna be better on Sunday. Right now, we’re gonna be the better team.”