PHOENIX, AZ – In front of 15,103 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday night, the Cleveland Gladiators fell to the Arizona Rattlers, 82-41, in the National Conference Championship, ending their 2016 season with an 8-10 overall record. Wide receiver Quentin Sims was a bright spot in the loss, racking up 14 receptions for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Arvell Nelson passed for 248 yards and three touchdowns in the defeat. For the Rattlers, quarterback Nick Davila passed for seven touchdowns, with wide receivers Rod Windsor, Maurice Purify, and Anthony Amos each catching three touchdowns. Arizona advances to ArenaBowl XXIX where they will take on the winner of the American Conference Championship game between the Jacksonville Sharks and Philadelphia Soul.
The Rattlers got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter after a one-yard touchdown run by fullback Mykel Benson as well as a five-yard scoring strike from Davila to Amos. The Cleveland offense would respond on their next possession when Nelson found Sims for the first of his three touchdowns, a 12-yarder to close the gap to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
To open the second quarter, Davila found Windsor for his first touchdown of the night, a 13-yarder to give Arizona a 21-7 lead. On the next drive, defensive back Jeremy Kellem intercepted a Nelson pass and returned it 25 yards for the score, increasing the Rattler lead to 28-7 with 11:19 remaining in the first half. The Gladiators offense would find the end zone on the next series when Nelson connected with Sims once again for a 29-yard throw-and-catch touchdown to trim the Rattlers lead to 28-14.
After two more Rattlers drives resulted in touchdowns to extend the Arizona lead to 42-14, defensive back Joe Powell fielded an onside kick attempt from the Rattlers and waltzed into the end zone for an eight-yard score, once again closing the gap to 42-20. The Rattlers would, however, find the end zone once again when Benson plunged into the end zone from one-yard out, giving Arizona a 48-20 lead heading into the break.
The Gladiators opened the second half with an eight-play, 34-yard drive, capped off with a three-yard touchdown reception by Sims. Kicker Adrian Trevino’s extra point made the score 48-27. Arizona answered quickly on the next drive, with Davila hitting Purify for a 24-yard touchdown, giving the Rattlers a 54-27 lead with 8:08 left in the third quarter. Then, as a result of turnovers on each of the next two Cleveland drives, Davila hit Purify and Windsor for two more touchdowns, further extending their lead to 68-27 early in the fourth quarter.
The Gladiators never backed down, however, as wide receiver Larry Beavers returned the kickoff 58 yards for a quick Cleveland score. The Gladiators tacked on another score in the form of a 17-yard rushing touchdown from fullback Phillipkeith Manley with 8:15 left in the game, pulling Cleveland to a 68-41 score.
The Rattlers capped off the night’s scoring with back-up quarterback Shane Boyd hitting Amos on scoring strikes of 40 and 21 yards, to give Arizona the 82-41 win.