Starting the Indoor Football League season with three straight losses isn’t exactly a winning recipe when it comes to clinching a playoff berth.
But with the Duke City Gladiators 7-8 regular season finale scheduled for Saturday against Northern Arizona (12-3) at the Rio Rancho Event Center, the team clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the league. Western Conference.
“You want to talk about a kick in the stomach, okay, 0-3. You really had to reevaluate your processes; how you go about it,” said catcher Jared Elmore, who led the team with 19 touchdowns, third in the league.”You want to be responsible but you don’t want to point fingers.”
The team managed to pull themselves together after a number of long talks, long days on the practice field and letting their talent take over, offensive lineman Jordan Mosley said.
“It’s been a constant grind towards the ultimate positive goal of winning a championship,” he said. “Because we already have playoff-level credibility on our own. We already have a playoff-level mystique about ourselves. We understand what it takes to be in the tournament.
Despite that mystique and credibility, it wasn’t until rookie quarterback Ramone Atkins solidified the quarterback position, however, that the Gladiators really began to take off as a team, Elmore said.
“Once we knew he was the guy, once we knew he was very capable,” the team said, Elmore said. “Because he had shown us flashes during his short stints after Nate Davis’ injury, but he never had full time just to get his feet wet and get comfortable. When it’s arrived, things kicked in. We knew what we had and were excited about it and things started to roll a lot better.
Atkins of New Mexico Highlands University leads the league with 2,160 passing yards despite playing just 13 games. He threw for a league-best 50 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions and he also rushed for 311 yards and 15 scores.
“He gets my vote for rookie of the year, no doubt,” Elmore said. “The growth of this young man from a quiet, shy man to a leader, now vocal, is kind of the reason you play the game. As an old man who sees a young man from his first start on the opposite end of that spectrum, it’s one of the most impressive things to see. I feel like a proud dad.
Even with a playoff berth in hand, that doesn’t mean Saturday’s 505 celebration game against the Wranglers loses its significance as it sets the tone for the playoffs. There, Duke City travels to face the Arizona Rattlers 13-3, who eliminated the Gladiators from the playoffs last season.
“I’ve been a champion professional footballer in my career. And at this time of year you want to do what they call firing on all cylinders,” Mosley said.
“So offensively, defensively, special teams wise and coaches, we’re all in one accord and we’re all trying to make sure whoever touches the pitch creates and generates a great, positive, good result. And a consistently positive, consistently great result in the future because that’s what creates a championship pedigree on yourself.