Gladiators Set AFL Record with 17th Win, Clinch home-field advantage throughout playoffs with win
Saturday July 26, 2014
CLEVELAND, OH - Never trailing, the Cleveland Gladiators (17-1) topped the Tampa Bay Storm on the road Saturday night by a 56-49 score, earning the best record in the Arena Football League for the 2014 season, clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and setting a new AFL record with 17 victories in the regular season. Shane Austin completed 24 of 33 passes for 273 yards and five touchdowns to propel the Gladiators to their eighth consecutive victory. Thyron Lewis led Gladiators receivers with 10 catches for 119 yards and three touchdowns, while Dominick Goodman had seven catches for 82 yards and added a pair of rushing touchdowns in the win. The Gladiators defense swung momentum in Cleveland’s favor by forcing a turnover on downs late in the third quarter after the two teams had matched each other score-for-score well into the second half.
Saturday August 2 will be the postseason opener for the Gladiators, as they will meet the Philadelphia Soul at 7:00 PM at Quicken Loans Arena. Philadelphia lost to Pittsburgh 64-34 on Saturday, but the Gladiators victory in Tampa eliminated the Storm from contention, paving the way for the 9-9 Soul to enter the playoff picture and take the fourth and final seed in the American Conference. The Gladiators won each of their two meetings against Philadelphia this season, winning each game on the final play of regulation time.
The ground game gave the Gladiators the upper-hand in the first quarter as a one-yard Jason Jones touchdown run capped off a three-play drive to start the game for the Gladiators just 1:47 into the contest. After Tampa answered with a Joe Hills receiving touchdown, Goodman’s first rushing touchdown, from three yards, gave the Gladiators a 14-7 lead that held through the end of the first quarter.
Six total touchdowns were scored in the second quarter; three from each side, and the Gladiators passing game took flight. Lewis found the end zone twice; once on a 17-yard pass to give the Gladiators a 21-14 lead with 11:27 left in the second quarter, and once on a quick shovel pass to the left with seven seconds left in the quarter to give the Gladiators a 35-28 halftime lead. Royce Pollard also found the end zone on a four-yard pass from Austin, his former University of Hawaii teammate, in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay continued to match the attack of the Gladiators into the second half. Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard punched in a touchdown from a yard out with 9:35 left in the third quarter following a bizarre sequence of events to start the half. On a previous play, Hippeard completed a pass to Storm receiver Michael Lindsey who fumbled. Gladiators defensive back LaRoche Jackson recovered the fumble, and then fumbled inside the five-yard line. Tampa Bay recovered, and pieced together the drive that was finished by Hippeard’s first rushing touchdown, which left the game in a 35-35 tie with 9:35 remaining in the third quarter.
On the Tampa Bay possession following Collin Taylor’s eight-yard touchdown catch with 6:03 left in the third quarter, the Gladiators defense forced a turnover on downs; the first time in the game a team took the upper-hand in the possession battle. The turn of events led to the Gladiators capturing the first two-score lead of the game with Goodman’s two-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the third quarter.
Tampa Bay outscored the Gladiators 14-7 in the fourth quarter, but were not able to overcome the deficit. The Gladiators held on, with Lewis adding another touchdown catch that proved to be the difference-maker.
The Gladiators begin the playoffs Saturday at 7:00 PM at Quicken Loans Arena when they host the Philadelphia Soul. Playoff tickets are available by logging onto clevelandgladiators.com/playoffs, calling 216-420-2222 or visiting The Q Box office or any Northern Ohio Discount Drug Mart.
NOTES: Goodman finished the regular season with a team-leading 156 receptions… Lewis finished the regular season with the Gladiators team-lead in touchdown catches with 37… Taylor’s touchdown catch gives him 20 on the season… Austin finished the season with 99 touchdown passes, one behind single-season team-record holder John Dutton, who threw 100 in the 2011 season… The Gladiators swept the season series against Tampa Bay, winning each game by seven points.