Week 1 win proves 2015 about stacking, not defying odds for Gladiators
Lightning doesn’t strike twice.
Last season was magical. Everything meshed. The Gladiators won games they had no business winning. Game-winning catches bounced off nets into lucky Cleveland hands. Buzzer-beating kicks sailed through uprights. Large, late deficits turned into absurd victories.
2014 defied odds. 2015 is about stacking them.
2015 is about becoming a consistent winner. 17-1 may not happen again, but 12-6 would go a long way toward creating a reputation as a franchise that flat out wins.
In that sense, Friday night’s 60-44 opening night victory over the Tampa Bay Storm goes a long way.
Because 1-0 goes a long way toward establishing that 2014 wasn’t a mirage.
My heart remains with my hometown New York Mets. So it’s no surprise that in the back of my mind sit the Miracle Mets.
You see, miracles frequently don’t last – their 1969 World Series was followed up by three straight seasons of 83 wins.
Solid play does last, and that’s what Friday night was about.
Last year’s magic wasn’t readily apparent. The No-Fly Zone, so critical to last year’s success, took its time showing up in Tampa Bay.
Fortunately for the defending American Conference champion Cleveland Gladiators, their defensive line and quarterback wasted no time providing a blueprint for victory in most Arena Football League games.
Let’s start with the quarterback. Shane Austin quickly went from being a backup to one of the best quarterbacks in the AFL. Would Cinderella’s carriage turn back into a pumpkin?
On Friday, his shine remained, as he went 19-of-31 for 221 yards and seven touchdowns. Other than one badly underthrown ball and a shaky first drive, he looked sharp. A laser to Collin Taylor and a lob to Andrae Thurman reflected a quarterback in surprisingly good form for a season opener. Touchdown passes to four different wide receivers reflected a quarterback over the loss of deep threat Thyron Lewis.
Meanwhile, the line, with Marrio Norman no longer available to snag interception after interception in the back, made those big defensive plays that spurred the Gladiators to 17-1 last year.
In this game, it was Kendrick Ings taking a pitch, only to run into the Gladiators line and fumble. It was Storm quarterback Jason Boltus fumbling under duress, and Cleveland snatching it in the end zone for a 25-7 advantage.
It was four different players recording sacks, including Gladiators newcomers Tim Cheatwood and Jeramie Richardson. Cleveland forced five fumbles, three of which were recovered.
And while Boltus completed nearly all of his early passes, the pressure began to unnerve him as his completion percentage dipped further and further, eventually nearing 50 percent.
That’s a pretty good remedy for a secondary that has work to do before it faces the Rattlers’ talented receiving crew in Week 3.
Jarvis Williams’ opening touchdown to tie the score at seven was embarrassing, as Boltus found Williams wide open along the left sideline and he sprinted into the end zone virtually untouched.
Stats don't lie – even as they occasionally mislead. Williams eluded Cleveland all night for 11 receptions and 121 yards. T.T. Toliver tortured Cleveland as well for 12 catches, 161 yards and three scores.
The final verdict on whether Cleveland will be able to replace LaRoche Jackson and Marrio Norman in the defensive backfield? Well, let’s say the jury is still out.
Inexperience showed for both Trevor Coston, playing in his first career game, as well as Brandon Stephens, who played in just two games last season for the Glads.
Stephens had his flaws, picking up a couple pass interference penalties.
Coston got burned badly in his debut as well. It started early, as he was beaten right off the bat on Toliver’s first score. The rookie was caught sitting at least two steps behind the future Hall of Famer. In another crucial moment, with Cleveland leading 25-14 near halftime, Coston again lost his man, the speedy Ings, down the right sideline for the touchdown that put Tampa Bay back within four points.
Most teams have problems, however, in Week 1.
There’s no shame in 1-0.