An explosive offensive performance coming off a bye week helped the Vegas Knight Hawks get back to .500 on the year in the midst of a season-long homestand. As a result, the team put an end to a two-game losing streak in the process.
Vegas beat Duke City, 50-26, Friday, April 21 from The Dollar Loan Center in the second game of a three-game homestand. Last season, the Gladiators beat the Knight Hawks by 26 points in the same building.
“Last season is last season,” head coach Mike Davis said. “We don’t worry about that, they’re not the same team with the all-star quarterback that just got traded. For us, we kind of caught a wounded dog so to speak and I hate to say it like that.”
The VKH homestand will conclude Friday, April 28 from The DLC as the defending champion Northern Arizona Wranglers come to town. In Week 3, the Wranglers got the best of the Knight Hawks, 48-42, while in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Kickoff for the rematch is at 7 p.m.
“We probably should be 3-1,” Davis said. “But 2-2 is right in the middle of the pack of everybody in the [Western Conference]. We get some good games tomorrow [...] Then we’re going to have a tough Northern Arizona team coming here next Friday.”
Davis returned to the Vegas’ sidelines this week after missing the team’s last contest as his wife gave birth.
“It started on Monday,” he said. “Obviously, the bye week did us good after dropping a game we probably shouldn’t have dropped two weeks ago. It kind of fueled a little fire and we had a new initiative at practice, let’s call it that.”
While Davis returned to action, starting quarterback Daquan Neal missed his second straight game as he still recovers from a foot injury. This week, Neal was activated in case of an emergency.
No emergency situation necessary as quarterback Joe Mancuso filled in and shined in his second career start. Macuso struck early as he found wide receiver Quentin Randolph down the sideline for a 39-yard touchdown on the game’s opening play.
“It was flying around two weeks ago,” Mancuso said about his first start. “The first half, I couldn’t see anybody really, everything was crossing. In the second half, I started getting into a flow of things and then in this game, I knew I’d come out and capitalize on last [game].”
Randolph led the team with six receptions and 77 yards to go along with his touchdown grab.
That touchdown pass marked one of two opening quarter scores for Mancuso with the other going to wide receiver Caleb Holley, who also made a high-pointed catch in the middle of the field for 19 yards.
Holley would later catch a second touchdown pass in the second half. He finished the night with 49 yards on five catches and two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Jordan McCray made his season debut after missing the first three games with a lower body injury and tied Holley for the team-high in receiving touchdowns with two. McCray came down with a one-hand snag in the back of the end zone in the second quarter.
Late in the third quarter, Mancuso barely missed an open McCray floating down the same sideline he hit Randolph for the game’s first score. The duo made up for it in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 24 points.
“We’ve got a stacked receiver room,” Mancuso said. “Every receiver across the board is stacked. Whoever we got, we can put in and they’re going to do the job. Jordan is a tall, lanky guy so it’s awesome to have him in the red zone and in the big field he can make plays.”
Mancuso accounted for seven total touchdowns, five through the air, while completing 19 of his 27 pass attempts for 222 yards. He scored on quarterback keepers in the second and third quarters.
The only hiccup for the offense came in the form of two interceptions by Mancuso including one on the team’s final drive.
Two weeks after losing a contest on a missed extra point, the Knight Hawks were perfect on kick attempts until the fourth quarter when it missed two point-after tries. Kicker Stevie Artigue went 5-for-7 on extra points while nailing his lone field goal attempt.
While Vegas cleaned up its special team efforts, Duke City struggled from the early going, missing on a chance to tie the game at seven just over five minutes into the game. The home team’s offense responded with Holley’s first touchdown to take a 14-6 lead.
With another chance to tie the game, albeit now through a two-point conversion, the Gladiators fell short of the end zone. It appeared all things were corrected when Duke City broke a kick return for a touchdown that would’ve cut into the nine-point deficit, however it was wiped away after the returner was pushed out of bounds at the 21-yard line.
Things began to stall in the middle of the second quarter as the visitors went on a drive that elapsed more than 25 real-time minutes as penalty after penalty was called including two challenges by the Duke City sideline. That long drive ended with a missed field goal as the score stayed at 21-12.
A couple of local UNLV products plugged big holes in the middle for the defense including defensive lineman Jalen Graves and linebacker Gabe McCoy.
The Knight Hawk defense was stout in the second half, limiting their opponent to just six points in the second half. Those six points came with just over a minute left in regulation.
Team’s leading tackler Jaquez Jackson ended a Duke City third quarter drive with his first interception of the season. He tallied five tackles on the night which tied listed-receiver Malik Honeycutt for team-high.