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Gladiators Victorious in Opener

Saturday March 15, 2014

PITTSBURGH - The Cleveland Gladiators (1-0) opened the 2014 season with a late rally that helped them overcome a 17-point deficit to defeat the Pittsburgh Power (0-1), 63-53, on Saturday evening at Consol Energy Center. QB Chris Dieker threw for 251 yards and accounted for a career-high nine touchdowns; five through the air and four rushing. WR Thyron Lewis had two receiving touchdowns, while WR Collin Taylor, OL Kitt O’Brien and WR Tyrone Collins also hauled in a touchdown through the air for the Gladiators.

In the first quarter, Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback and 2012 Arena Football League MVP, Tommy Grady, who was hampered by an injury during the 2013 season, was hit in the backfield on the Power’s first offensive play of the game. However, he only sat out one play and returned to complete a 45-yard touchdown pass to WR Prechae Rodriguez for the first points on the board.

The Gladiators responded fast as Dieker completed three passes for 31 yards on the first possession. He called his own number and plunged into the end zone from a yard out for Cleveland’s first touchdown of 2014. After a failed extra point attempt, the Power scored again to go up 14-6. The Gladiators pulled closer on Dieker’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Lewis at the 5:14 mark but trailed 21-13 at the end of the first quarter.

After the Gladiators turned the ball over on downs, Pittsburgh opened up a 28-13 lead on Grady’s fourth touchdown pass of the game and third connection to Rodriguez. Cleveland got back within one score on Taylor’s 26-yard touchdown reception. The Gladiator’s defense stepped up on the Power’s next possession as DL Brian Brikowski and former Pittsburgh DL Willie McGinnis combined for the sack on Grady for the first time, holding the Power to a field goal.

With 2:08 left in the second quarter, Dieker found O’Brien for the 7-yard touchdown. After successfully completing the two-point conversion, Cleveland’s defense got to Grady again by forcing an interception. The Gladiators were unable to capitalize on the turnover after Dieker was picked off in the end zone as Cleveland trailed 31-28 going into halftime.

Early in the third quarter, Pittsburgh’s defense got the better of Cleveland by forcing a four-and-out to start the period and answering with a quick touchdown pass. On the kickoff, DB Dominic Jones bobbled the ball in the end zone that was recovered by the Power for another strike as Pittsburgh suddenly found themselves ahead 45-28. However, the momentum quickly shifted in Cleveland’s favor after Dieker’s fourth touchdown pass of the night, a 13-yard reception by Collins.

After a defensive stop, Cleveland got within a field goal on another rushing touchdown by Dieker early in the fourth quarter. Once again, Cleveland’s defense held up and forced the Power to fumble the ball, giving Cleveland good field position. Dieker would take advantage of the opportunity, carrying the ball four yards into the end zone for the Gladiators first lead of the night at 49-45 with 13:02 remaining. Lewis scored for the Gladiators on a 34-yard catch to increase the lead before Grady was picked off for the second time in the evening.

The Gladiators scored 28 unanswered points until the Power’s final touchdown run. Cleveland allowed only eight points in the final 26:16. Dieker had three rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Lewis led the way for the Gladiators in the receiving yards department with 118 on seven catches. Collins caught eight passes for 65 yards. Jones had 81 kick return yards on five attempts and paced the Gladiators on defense with eight tackles (six solo). DB Marrio Norman, who led Cleveland with seven interceptions in 2013, had an interception in the second quarter and DB LaRoche Jackson recorded his interception in the fourth.

The Gladiators are on a bye week but will get back to work on March 29 when they visit the New Orleans VooDoo. Cleveland’s home opener is on April 4th against the Iowa Barnstormers.

NOTES: The Gladiators picked up their first win in a season opener since a 61-55 victory over Spokane on March 19, 2011… In two games against Pittsburgh in 2013, Thyron Lewis had 11 catches, 183 yards and 3 touchdowns… Five different Gladiators caught passes in the win… QB Chris Dieker carried the ball eight times for 29 yards and four touchdowns; the second-year Gladiator has 21 rushing touchdowns with Cleveland… Dieker was sacked two times for a combined total of eight yards… Cleveland had eight penalties for 62 yards, while Pittsburgh also had eight for 48 yards… The Gladiators and Power will play against each other two more times this season, as the next matchup is scheduled for April 26 at Quicken Loans Arena… The East Division foes split the two meetings last season, with each team winning at home.