ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Caleb Holbrook completed 15 of 25 passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns as the Duke City Gladiators defeated the Sioux City Bandits 31-27 in the Champions Bowl IV at Tingley Coliseum here Saturday.
Duke City, who sported the top passing offense and the best rushing defense in the CIF, held the Bandits to 65 yards rushing on the evening. Sioux City, tops in the league in rushing offense and passing defense, ends its season at 11-4.
“I think this game definitely featured the two right teams in the league,” said Bandits coach Erv Strohbeen. “The two best teams in the league were matched up against each other. What a great football game for the fans of indoor football, whether you were watching in person or watching on the computer at home. What more can you ask for with it going down to the wire and we had a shot? Unfortunately we didn’t pull it off.”
Duke City (13-2) led 31-27 and was driving to take a two-score lead, but Bandits’ linebacker Zac Schleuger stripped Duke City’s Clifton Rhodes at the 1-yard line and Anttonio Brown recovered for the Bandits with 8:11 left in the game.
“Our defense did what they needed to do there and got us the ball,” said Strohbeen. “Hats off to Duke City, they played great football. That’s a tough defense. It was definitely a defensive battle. That’s a credit to both sides. You have to take advantage when things go down like that. We unfortunately didn’t.”
Sioux City picked up a quick first down, but the drive stalled and Greg Conry missed a 42-yard field goal with 5:42 left in the game.
“In these defensive battles yards are at a premium,” said Strohbeen. “You have to take care of the football and we did that. We didn’t turn it over. We just didn’t punch it in as many times as them.”
The Bandits never got the ball back. Duke City picked up three first downs, including one by penalty, and ran the clock out.
Sioux City running back Darrian Miller, named the league MVP and co-offensive player of the year on Friday, ran for 58 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries for the Bandits against the stingy Duke City defense.
“What more can you say about that guy,” asked Strohbeen. “He’s the league MVP. I think he proved it tonight, how important he was to us. He carried the load down at the goal line and kept us in the ball game.”
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The Bandits took a 17-14 lead into halftime after Miller scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with seven seconds left in the half. Duke City threw a pass to the end zone on the final play of the half that fell incomplete. Unfortunately Bandits’ defensive back Solomon St. Pierre, named the CIF co-defensive player of the year and the rookie of the year, suffered an injury and did not return in the second half.
“He tried to tape it up and get in there and just run around a bit in the second half just to see,” said Strohbeen. “He couldn’t make a go of it.”
Duke City outscored the Bandits 17-3 in the third quarter. The Gladiators took the lead for good on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Holbrook to Sedrick Johnson, giving Duke City a 24-20 lead with 6:58 left in the third quarter.
After Duke City extended its lead to 31-20 with 1:02 left in the third quarter on a Clifton Rhodes touchdown run, the Bandits responded with a touchdown drive of their own. After an unsportmanlike conduct penalty gave the Bandits a third and 21 situation from their own 8, Liam Nadler completed a screen pass to Miller that went for 39 yards and gave Sioux City first and goal from the Duke City three.
“That was a great call by (offensive coordinator) Jarrod DeGeorgia,” said Strohbeen. “We put that play in about two weeks ago. It was a great play call at that point. He gave us an opportunity. That’s what you want out of those playmakers like that. I’m super proud of him for his season. It just sucks we didn’t finish for him.”
Miller scored on a 3-yard run on the next play to trim the Duke City lead to 31-27 with 12:42 left in the game.
Nadler completed 10 of 22 passes for 119 yards against the stout Duke City defense. Frederick Bruno caught six passes for 57 yards and added 15 yards rushing.
Duke City’s Dello Davis, the league leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, had just three catches for 22 yards against the Sioux City defense. Jared Elmore caught six passes for 66 yards and a score.
Duke City finished with 252 yards of total offense on 49 plays (5.1 yards per play) and held the Bandits to just 184 yards of offense on 45 plays (4.1 yards per play).
The Bandits have won three league championships in franchise history with their last coming in 2015, the first season of the CIF.