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Gladiators can't overcome early deficit in season opener

Sunday March 24, 2013

Falling behind 13-0 in the first quarter, the Cleveland Gladiators (0-1) were unable to catch up to the Spokane Shock (1-0) on Sunday, as the Gladiators fell by a 67-41 score. More than 8,500 fans were on hand for the season opener for both teams at Quicken Loans Arena. Brian Zbydniewski threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for another score, in his debut as the Gladiators starting quarterback.

Thyron Lewis had two receiving touchdowns, while Dominick Goodman- coming off an All-AFL second-team season- also hauled in a touchdown through the air for the Gladiators, as did Maurice Williams. Derik Steiner also scored a rushing touchdown for Cleveland.

With Spokane in front 7-0 after their first drive of the game, Zbydniewski was hit in the backfield and fumbled, with the ball picked up by Spokane defensive lineman Jonathan Williams with 7:01 remaining in the opening quarter. The turnover gave the Shock possession of the ball at the Gladiators one yard line, and Adron Tennell dashed into the end zone on the first play of the drive on a hand-off to give the Shock a 13-0 lead.

The Gladiators pulled to within a touchdown, making the score 13-6 when Zbydniewski called his own number and plunged into the end zone from a yard out with 35 seconds remaining in the first.

In the second quarter, the Gladiators twice pulled to within six points, but following a Gladiators turnover on downs with 32 seconds remaining in the first half, Tennell received a three-yard touchdown pass from Shock quarterback Erik Meyer to give the Shock a 40-20 lead. Spokane mustered 27 points in the second quarter to take control of the scoreboard, compared to only 14 for Cleveland.

In the second half, the spread was never fewer than 19 points, although the Gladiators outscored Spokane 14-13 in the third stanza. Lewis scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 24-yard pass from Zbydniewski with 1:07 remaining in the quarter; a play that left Spokane on top 53-34 after three quarters.

Spokane added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to secure the win, with Lewis scoring for the Gladiators on a 19-yard catch that accounted for the final Gladiators score of the game.

Williams led the way for the Gladiators in the receiving yards department with 83 on six catches; he also had a touchdown and 89 kick return yards on five attempts. Defensively, Lance Caldwell picked up 6.5 tackles to pace the Gladiators.

The Gladiators are on the road Saturday night in Tampa to visit the Tampa Bay Storm, and will return home on April 6th to host Jacksonville.

NOTES: Thyron Lewis’ two touchdowns were one short of the three scores he had in last season’s opener… Five different Gladiators caught passes in the loss… Derik Steiner carried the ball four times for 11 yards and a touchdown; the sixth career rushing touchdown for the second-year Gladiators fullback… Zbydinewski was sacked four times for a combined total of 19 yards… The Gladiators and Shock don’t meet again this season, and did not meet at all last season.