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The Wichita Force have been a second half team all season, but the tables were turned on them Friday night, as the Duke City Gladiators blew open a close contest, outscoring the Force by 33 in the final half on their way to a 64-22 victory. Gladiators quarterbacks threw for 6 touchdowns while the defense intercepted three passes and allowed Wichita just 87 yards of total offense.
Things started out poorly for the Wichita Force, as quarterback Joe Hubener was sacked and fumbled on the second play from scrimmage, giving Duke City the ball at the Force 19. Four plays later, Donavan Porteri connected with Dello Davis for a 5 yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
The Wichita Force would get on the scoreboard on their next possession. Hubener found Jack Tomlinson on the first play of the drive for a 13 yard completion. That moved the ball into Duke City territory but the Force would be unable to move the ball any closer, opting for the 38 yard field goal attempt from Jordan Drake. He nailed it to make it 7-3.
The Gladiators would score on their next two possessions, both coming on Porteri touchdown tosses. The first came on a nine yard strike to Darryl Stonum completing a seven play drive that took 4:17 off the clock. Next, it was Porteri to Sedrick Johnson on a quick one yard pass to the corner to make it 21-3. That gave the Gladiators scores on each of their first three possessions.
Hubener had been hurt on the second drive and sat out the next possession. Emmanuel Yeager did not have much success on his first drive, but got the Force moving on their fourth possession of the game. He began the possession by scrambling away from the pressure, then turning up field for a 10 yard gain. He would then gain eight yards on the next possession, but was hurt on the play. Hubener returned and looked sharp, connecting with Gary Joliver, Jr. for a 10 yard completion on his first attempt. Two plays later, Hubener fired a perfect strike to Jack Tomlinson coming across the end zone for an eight yard touchdown to make it 21-10.
It looked like Duke City would get right back on the scoreboard when Davis returned the kickoff 37 yards to the Wichita 12. However, the defense would play tough, forcing a fourth and five at their own seven. The Gladiators opted to go for it, but Kionce Roberts’ coverage of Johnson was perfect, as the pass fell incomplete.
Back the other way Hubener drove the Force. Twice the team earned a fresh set of downs by converting on third down. That included a 7 yard pass to Tomlinson and a 4 yard run by Mikhail Lindsay. Faced with second and goal at the Duke City, Hubener looked to bull rush his way through the line and into the end zone. His initial push was stopped, but Lindsay gave his quarterback a little assist, forcing him into the end zone to cut the deficit to five.
The Gladiators added to their lead when Romello Brown scored from 1 yard out to make it 28-16 with 14 seconds left in the half, however, Wichita was not done. Drake nailed a 33 yard field goal as time expired to cut the deficit to nine heading into the locker room.
Wichita had to feel pretty good about themselves, trailing the defending champions by single digits coming out of the half. Duke City looked to re-establish themselves right off when Porteri found a streaking Davis for a 20 yard strike, making it 35-19.
Wichita added three points on their next possession, as Drake connected on his third field goal of the contest, a 20 yard attempt to make it 35-22. It looked like the Force were going to make a real surge to get back into this contest when Kelichi Chukwak sacked Porteri on the fourth play of the drive, forcing a fumble. Marcus Carter picked up the loose ball, returning it 23 yards to the Duke City seven before he was tackled.
Just a handful of yards from the end zone, the Wichita offense could do nothing. Two carries went for no gain and both of Hubener’s passes fell in complete, giving the Gladiators back the ball. That is when things went terribly wrong.
The Gladiators would find the end zone on their next possession when Brown scored from 3 yards out to make it 42-22, and they would add an additional point when Jolivet was knocked out of bounds in the end zone on the ensuing kickoff for a safety. That extended the lead to 21.
On the next possession for Wichita, Hubener’s pass was intercepted by Ibrahim Maiga. Eight plays later Jestin Kelley scored from 2 yards out to give the Gladiators a 28 point lead. Hubener would be intercepted on the next possession for the Force, this time by Dontrell Johnson. Javin Kilgo took over as quarterback, finding Davis for a 24 yard touchdown to make it 57-22.
Brandon Steed took over for the Force on their next possession, but he would fare no better. Steed’s first pass was intercepted by Fred Griggs. Kilgo then tossed a 16 yard strike to Stonum to make it 64-22. That would be the final.
Porteri proved why he was the MVP last season, completing 23 of 34 passes for 226 yards and 4 touchdowns. Kilgo was fantastic in relief, completing three of his four pass attempts for 24 yards and two more touchdowns. Davis made 10 catches for 121 yards and 3 TDs.
It was a tough day on offense for Wichita, as Hubener was six of 15 passing for 51 yards and a score. Sean Kelley led the defense with 8 tackles, while Zach Miller was second with 7. Michael Bell recorded 1.5 sacks on the day.The Wichita Force (2-6) will be at home next Saturday night, May 18, when they take on the Omaha Beef (4-1) at 7:05. You can purchase your tickets by visiting https://www.wichitaforce.com/schedule.html.
By Robert Pannier
Minor League Sports Report