Soul Conquer The Land, Take Down The Glads
CLEVELAND - Other than old Kurt Warner Iowa Barnstormers highlights and Ted Leonsis, AFL fans love high scoring games more than almost anything. There’s nothing like seeing teams combine for over 100 points, Quarterbacks throw for video game like statistics, and defensive coordinators cringe on the sideline every time they look at the jumbotron and see that their defense has allowed 60 or more points.
The first of three Philadelphia Soul Vs. Cleveland Gladiators matchup filled that love of points, with the Soul stealing one from the Gladiators at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland with a score of 69-67. The Gladiators falls for the third time at home in this early season, failing to “Defend The Land,” Like Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have done so well this NBA postseason.
The ground game usually isn’t a deciding factor in the AFL, but Soul fullback Mykel Benson and Gladiators Quarterback Arvell Nelson both had big rushing stats. Arvell Nelson, who was a surprising cut in the first waves of cut in Cleveland, continued to prove that he still has a lot of talent at the quarterback position.
After being cut, Nelson continued his job as a personal trainer at an Ohio gym, but with the versatility to also play jack linebacker, Nelson returned to the Gladiators after a week one loss to the Tampa Bay Storm. Despite being brought back to play jack, Nelson found his way back onto the field at quarterback.
This week against the Soul, he was downed in the passing game by Soul Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh, but excelled in the rushing game with seven rushes, 60 yards and three touchdowns. Nelson added on 16 completions on 27 attempts, 223 yards and six touchdowns.
This was Nelson second consecutive week with 60 yards on the ground, making this the first time any AFL player has rushed for 60 yards in back to back weeks since Derrick Ross did with the Soul in 2012. (Great stat found by Adam Markowitz AKA AFL Guru.)
For the Soul, fullback Mykel Benson seems to be continuing the trend of fullbacks excelling in Clint Dolezels quick hitting offense, rushing for 20 yards on 10 carries. Benson also ran in for two touchdowns, and caught a 30 yard touchdown pass.
Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh continued to prove why he is the best quarterback in the AFL, posting an eight touchdown game, with 245 yards. Raudabaugh completed 14 of his 27 pass attempts.
The Soul offense has a continuity with each other like no other group does in the league. Dan Raudabaugh has the same wide receiver group as last year, with Darius Reynolds, Ryan McDaniel, Shaun Kauleinamoku, and Chris Duvalt all returning to the reigning champs. The timing and general understanding of the offense is a big reason the Soul were able to start the game with six of their first twelve offensive plays going for touchdowns.
It’s difficult for AFL teams to get the continuity the Soul have because often times receiver or quarterbacks don’t spend more than a year on one team, creating a constant carousel of faces in the offensive huddle each year.
But the Soul’s personnel staff did a fantastic job bringing back virtually the same offense as last year's Arenabowl offense. Mykel Benson is the only new face in the starting eight, with Adam Smith, Wayne Tribue, and Keith Newell all returning to keep Dan Raudabaugh safe for another season.
Cleaning up the protection for Raudabaugh has never been an issue for the Soul and I don’t expect it to be a long term issue moving forward. But this season Raudabaugh has had to move around the pocket a littler more than usual, avoiding pressure from the Gladiators front four tonight.
I’m a big Keith Newell fan, and I’ve enjoyed watching him get his first full opportunity to be the starting offensive guard this season, replacing Neal Tivis who retired after playing in the CAFL this past fall. Newell, standing at 6’6 and 310 pounds has been a member of the Soul since 2015, but only has started three games with the organization prior to this year. Newell did however start 10 games with the Pittsburgh Power in 2014.
Newell essentially took two redshirt seasons with the Soul, but has looked pretty solid anchoring the blindside of Raudabaugh this year. With the exception of a few plays where he allowed some pressure, Newell looks like he’s ready for a breakout season up front.
Despite Newell’s success, the Soul line could look very different next week. The Soul picked up future Hall Of Fame center Brennan Carvalho. Carvalho last played in the AFL in 2015 with the Arizona Rattlers, but spent 2012-2014 with the Soul. Carvalho played in the CAFL this fall, and decided to return to Philly earlier this week.
Carvalho’s return makes it seem likely that Wayne Tribue will bump back outside to a guard or tight end spot. The Soul coaching staff will have a difficult decision to make for next week's game up front, as to who will be the odd man out up front.