No mayhem, ejections and forfeits this week. Just the Duke City Gladiators pouring it on in the final 17 minutes of play to earn a 51-34 Champions Indoor Football victory Saturday night over the San Angelo Bandits at Tingley Coliseum.
A crowd estimated at 700 saw the Gladiators (1-1) “put the pedal to the metal” to outscore the visitors 22-0 late in the game and take their first victory in franchise history. San Angelo dropped to 0-4.
New Mexico State alum Seth Smith rushed for touchdowns of 7 and 12 yards for Duke City, and Kasey Peters passed for four TDs, including the most acrobatic play of the game by wide receiver Dexter Manley.
In the second quarter, with San Angelo up 14-13, Manley leaped at the back of the end zone for a 6-yard catch and was hit by two Bandits and sent out of sight.
“Kasey put it in the right spot,” Manley said. “I knew I had to go up and make the play. I knew I was going to go over the wall. I was prepared for that one. I flipped over on the other side and landed on what felt like metal. But I was all right.”
The Gladiators appeared to come out at the start with a lot more intensity than in last week’s home exhibition vs. All-Stars Mexico. In that outing, a brawl resulted in referee Land Clark calling off the game with 1:17 to play in the first half and Duke City leading 27-13.
“Coach (Dominic) Bramante beat it in to us that we had to come out and play hard tonight,” Manley said. “A couple of weeks ago we came out flat and we wanted to come out with a lot of intensity this week. We attacked every single drive.”
In that game two weeks ago, Duke City was a 56-16 loser to the host Texas Revolution.
On Saturday night, the Gladiators were trailing 34-29 late in the third quarter when Manley got the go-ahead score on a 33-yard reception. That triggered the team’s late surge.
Midway in the fourth quarter, ex-UNM Lobo Emmanuel McPhearson scored on a return of a missed field-goal try by San Angelo’s Art Arteaga, who was attempting a 56-yarder. McPhearson caught the ball at the 2 and ran molested up the left sideline for the score. Duke City was up 43-34 and the fight appeared to be over.
“Any team that comes in, they’re not prepared for that 5,000 feet,” Manley said. “Nobody’s prepared for that. They can’t train for that.”
Bandits DE Kyle Patterson disagreed.
“No, it wasn’t the altitude,” he said. “It was just us having to keep up the fight and keep a warrior mentality.”
Despite the victory, Bramante said he saw plenty that will make watching film uneasy for some Gladiators.
“We could play a lot cleaner game,” a raspy-voiced Bramante said. “We had a lot of mental mistakes on execution, a lot of offensive mistakes. We missed tackles. We have to clean that up.”
A pair of guys who didn’t miss many tackles were DE newcomer Braxton Magalogo and line cohort John Fernandez.
“We knew coming in they had some sycamores up front,” Bramante said of San Angelo’s offensive line. “Their average was 6-6. Our goal was to get those guys running up field and exhausting them for the third and fourth quarter.”
HAPPY FANS: Fans Steven Sanchez and wife Tammy Willey of Albuquerque were on hand Saturday for whatever fireworks were in store.
“It kind of reminded me of hockey here with the (old) Scorpions in Tingley,” Sanchez said of last week’s brawl. “But it was the football that brought us back. We were entertained.”
Added Willey: “It gives us something to do on Saturday night, because we don’t go to bars.” She said that while sipping a beer in her front-row seat behind the visitors’ bench.
DIFFERENT TEAM: Last season, the Bandits were champ of the Lone Star Football League, beating the New Mexico Stars for the title. But much has changed since: The LSFL merged with the Champions Professional Indoor Football League, the Stars ceased operations and the Gladiators were born. The Bandits, have a new coach and only three players from last year’s team, including kicker Arteaga.