SAN DIEGO – In round one of the 2016 AFL Postseason, the Cleveland Gladiators defeated the LA KISS on Sunday in front of 4,269 fans at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, CA by a final score of 56-52. With the win, the Gladiators advanced to the 2016 National Conference Championship Game vs. the Arizona Rattlers with the opening kickoff set for 9:30 pm EST on Saturday, August 13th at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, AZ with a trip to ArenaBowl XXIX on the line.
The Gladiators took a 6-0 lead early in the first quarter when Cleveland QB Arvell Nelson connected with FB P.K. Manley for a 21-yard score before LA tied the game on a two-yard Rory Nixon rush less than one minute later. Just 43 seconds after that, Cleveland’s Larry Beavers returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards for a touchdown and on the very next KISS drive, LA QB Nathan Stanley was intercepted by Glads DB Joe Powell in the end zone before Powell scampered 50 yards for his fourth pick-six of the season to make it 20-6 Cleveland.
Stanley connected with LA WR Donovan Morgan on a 44-yard pitch-and-catch to start the second quarter to make it 20-12 Gladiators before a long scoring drought ended with a four-yard Stanley-to-D.J. Stephens pass that drew the KISS within a point at 20-19 with four minutes remaining in the half. Manley responded with a four-yard rushing score on Cleveland’s next possession to make it 27-19 before LA capped the second quarter with a seven-yard Stanley-to-Morgan passing TD made it a one-point game at the half.
In the third quarter, a nine-yard Nixon rushing score for LA led to a 27-yard connection between Stanley and Morgan that made it 39-27 KISS with 3:52 remaining in the frame. The Gladiators got back into the game moments later when Nelson found Cleveland WR Collin Taylor in the end zone from 16 yards out to make it 39-34 KISS and extend Taylor’s franchise-record streak to 33 consecutive games with at least one touchdown reception.
In the fourth quarter, LA started fast with a two-yard Nixon rushing touchdown that pushed the KISS lead to 46-34 before the Gladiators rattled off three straight scores, starting with a 27-yard Nelson TD strike to Devin Wilson that came on 4th and 15 with less than seven minutes remaining in the game. Cleveland parlayed that momentum into a defensive stop that led to a lengthy drive culminating in a one-yard Nelson rushing touchdown with a successful two-point conversion. Beavers added a second special teams score with just 30 seconds remaining in the game when he recovered a Gladiators kickoff off the KISS net and ran it in for a critically-important score. Leading 56-46 in the final minute, Cleveland allowed an inconsequential eight-yard Stanley-to-Fred Williams TD pass, but held on for the victory.
Next up for the Gladiators, it’s the National Conference Championship Game vs. the Arizona Rattlers with full coverage, live from Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, AZ, set for 9:30 pm EST on Saturday, August 13th on 92.3 The Fan and on television on CBS Sports Network.