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There was no doubt entering the 2019 Champions Indoor Football League that the defending champion Duke City Gladiators had a really good defense. They were ranked first heading into the season, and that was clearly on display on Saturday as the Gladiators squad held the Wichita Force to just three points through the first three quarters on their way to a 76-24 victory. Force quarterback Joe Hubener struggled early on, but finished with 191 yards passing and 2 touchdowns.
Early miscues would doom the Wichita Force. After nearly fumbling away the opening kickoff, the Force would cough the ball up on their first play from scrimmage. A bad snap led to a fumble that was recovered by the Gladiators. One play later, reining league MVP Donovan Porteri found receiver Dello Davis for a 10 yard touchdown pass to put Duke City up by seven.
Bad snaps would lead to Wichita going three and out on their next possession as well. The field goal attempt of 55 yards by Jordan Drake was no good, giving Fred Griggs the opportunity to make the return and he did, returning the ball 34 yards to the Wichita 16. On the next play, Porteri found Davis once again for the touchdown, extending the lead to 14.
On the Force’s third possession they would finally get on the scoreboard. Gary Jolevet returned the kickoff 27 yards to the Duke City 22. Wichita would move the ball to the 10 where they were faced with a first and goal, but three plays later they were still two yards away from the end zone. The coaching staff opted for the field goal, which Drake nailed to make it 14-3.
From there, the contest was all Duke City. The Gladiators would put up 35 unanswered points, leading 49-3 at the end of the third quarter. It was a stifling defense that gave Force quarterback Joe Hubener no time to throw. Hubener would finish the first half just 6 of 11 for 38 yards as the Force gained a total of 32 yards before the break.
Meanwhile, Porteri seemed unstoppable. He finished the first half with three touchdown passes and another on the ground to put his team on top 28-3 at the break.
Things did not get much better for Wichita to start the second half, when Davis took the kickoff and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown, his third of the day. He would add another receiving TD later in the contest.
For three quarters, Wichita had no answers for the Gladiators pressure, but they would finally give their quarterback some time, and that led to three fourth quarter scores. The first came with 13:32 left in the contest. On third and 10 at his own 21, the offensive line gave Hubener some time and he delivered a great ball to Jolevet who had a couple of steps on two defenders. The pass was a little behind Jolevet, who made a nice move to twist his body around before reeling in the pass for the touchdown.
After the Gladiators scored on their next possession, Hubener found a steaking Jack Tomlinson on the first play from scrimmage, hitting him in stride for a 45 yard touchdown pass. Wichita would add one more score late when Donteye Rivera bull rushed his way into the end zone from five yards out for his first rushing touchdown of the season. That capped off a 10 play drive that took 6:21 off the clock.
The loss was a disappointing beginning for the team’s new head coaches, Rick Lee and Jerry Taylor. The two took over earlier this month when Morris Lolar joined Montreal in the Canadian Football League.
Joe Hubener struggled early, but rebounded behind an impressive fourth quarter. Hubener finished 21 of 33 for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jack Tomlinson made 10 catches for 99 yards and Gary Jovelet had 5 receptions for 61 yards. Both receivers had a touchdown reception.
The Wichita Force (0-1) head home for their home opener next Saturday night, March 30, where they will take on the 2017 CIF champion Texas Revolution. Kansas City Chiefs stars Chris Jones and Dustin Colquitt will be on hand to sign autographs and pose for photos. Kickoff is at 7:05 while the gates open at 6:00.
By Robert Pannier
Minor League Sports Report
Read feature by Rob on co-Head Coaches Rick Lee and Jerry Taylor