RIO RANCHO – At 6-feet, 2-inches tall, Duke City lineman Mason Newton does not look like a kick-blocking fiend.
But for the second time this season, Newton thwarted two potential field goals, helping turn the tide for the Gladiators (8-8), who came from behind Saturday to beat Northern Arizona 39-32 in their regular-season finale.
Duke City now heads to Phoenix to meet the Arizona Rattlers in the first round of the Indoor Football League playoffs. Arizona is the top seed in the West. Duke City is fourth-seeded. The date and time are to be determined.
“It motivates the guys,” Duke City coach Sherman Carter said of the win in the finale. “It gives them that step that they are successful and that they can beat any team in this league.
“Yeah, we lost to them earlier in the season, but the reason we lost, it came down to special teams. The guys did a great job this week on understanding that special teams beat us last week and they took care of it this week.”
Both of Newton’s blocks came in the last five minutes of the game and led to the Gladiators’ final two touchdowns.
Trailing 32-26 with 4:39 left, Newton sliced through the Wranglers’ line and took Adrian Trevino’s 57-yard attempt off his chest. The ball popped up and teammate Eriq Swiftwater returned it 12 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
And with 1:30 left, Newton got his right hand on Trevino’s 40-yard try and was able to recover it himself.
“That’s the best feeling there is,” Newton said. “Especially when you swallow the ball. Or when you turn around and your buddy comes and takes it on into the end zone. One blocked field goal and it sways everything.”
In this case it was two blocks, but Carter will certainly take it.
“Getting pressure on field goals, that’s not a play for us,” he said. “They took that to heart. That’s some big O-lineman they got. Our guys had the heart and fought through and were successful.”
As for Newton, “he’s a workaholic,” Carter said. “He understands leverage, which helps him in the game. And then he’s got teammates helping him out, helping create those holes.”
Still, there was the matter of breaking the 32-all deadlock.
Backup QB Javin Kilgo, a former Gladiators player who recently led Salina to the championship of the Champions Indoor Football league, found another returning Gladiator in Demarius Washington – also late of Salina and a former IFL MVP – for the game-winning touchdown with four seconds left.
“The game-winning touchdown, Jav, I’ve been his security blanket for a while now,” Washington said. “We just won the ‘ship in the CIF. I felt like he was going to hit me, so I had to make a big play.”
It was Washington’s second TD catch of the game since he returned to New Mexico after already playing a full indoor season.