ST. PETERSBURG — With about a half minute to go in the game, and his team trailing by six, Deonnte Brooks walked slowly from the Northeast sideline to his position behind the Gibbs offense. He had just run for 9 yards to the Vikings' 18-yard line, but that was just a fraction of what he meant to Gibbs throughout the game.
When he took the ball from center on the fourth-down play, Brooks' energy appeared to return. But he had nowhere to go with it as Luke Compton rushed up the middle for the sack that would secure Northeast's first win of the season.
Northeast took a 14-point lead with two quick scores in the fourth quarter. The first of those came on Tyler Vanburger's 5-yard run with 9:39 left in the game. About a minute later, after Northeast recovered an onside kick, Vanburger scored from 30 yards out.
Gibbs answered with Brooks' 23-yard TD run and his two-point rushing conversion to close the gap to 26-20 with just over seven minutes remaining. Brooks was the most valuable player for Gibbs on this night, as he accounted for 232 yards of the team's 238 yards of offense. He rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and completed 8 of 14 passes for 86.
His counterpart, Craig Richardson Jr., completed 4 of 5 passes for 76 yards, including a 50-yard TD pass to Xavier McDonald that put the Vikings ahead at halftime. He also had the team's first points of the game, a 2-yard TD run on a drive that started at the Gladiators 25 after a blocked punt by Northeast.
Vikings coach Jeremy Frioud noted that his team has only had two full practices since the season started, but said he wasn't worried about their conditioning even as they ran the ball again and again, and succeeded on one of two onside kick attempts in the fourth quarter to keep the ball with his offense.
"These kids I wouldn't trade for the world," Frioud said.
Frioud also emphasized his admiration for the Gladiators and their refusal to give up.
"My respect goes out to the Gibbs coaching staff," he said.
For Vanburger, who rushed for 103 yards and two TDs on 19 carries, the team's potent offensive performance had been waiting to happen.
"Once we got our engine rolling, we were good," said Vanburger. "It just takes wear and tear out of the other team."
The game also saw Northeast honor freshman Ruben Marcano, who played one game for the Vikings and recently passed away. At halftime, the press box announced Marcano as "a big boy, with an even bigger heart" as the team's coaches met Ruben's mother at midfield to present her with her son's game-worn jersey, which they had signed.
Most of the Northeast coaches, and many of those in attendance, wore commemorative shirts honoring Ruben. Those shirts were sold during the game, and it was announced that all of the proceeds from their sale would go to the Marcano family.