Cleveland (92.3 the Fan) – Things have started tough for the Cleveland Gladiators in 2017, but of their four losses in five games, this one may have been the toughest.
The Gladiators fell to 1-4 on Saturday on a 69-67 loss to the undefeated Philadelphia Soul (4-0), despite a comeback effort falling just short. Cleveland had a chance, but that chance ended on a call that had Coach Ron Selesky hot following the game.
After a failed 2-point conversion and an onside kick recovered by Philly, the Gladiators held the Soul, forcing an incomplete pass on 4th down, leaving 2.0 on the game clock, and one last shot for Cleveland native Arvell Nelson to toss a game winner.
Once the clock was reset, the referees addressed the crowd, calling an illegal blitz on Selesky’s men, gifting the ball back to the Soul, who drained the final ticks off of the clock.
“I can tell you guys, I’ve been in this league 20 years,” Selesky told reporters post-game, adding there was no explanation given to him on the call. “If the receivers stay in to block, the DBs covering them are allowed to legally blitz.
“I’ll just leave it at that.”
The comeback effort started down 69-54, when receiver Brandon Thompkins returned a kickoff 53 yards for a score, to make it 69-61.
Cleveland recovered an onside kick, and marched downfield before Nelson found one of his lineman, Aslam Sterling, for a 4-yard touchdown to bring their team within two.
On the ensuing 2-point conversion, Nelson threw incomplete looking for his receiver over the middle, but that receiver broke the opposite way.
“They actually had a cover in the middle, which meant to get to the back of the endzone,” Nelson said. “Whichever way he feels they go, go the opposite way. I felt like (the receiver) had him beat to the inside, he thought he had his back.
“Just miscommunication. We’ll clean it up.”
Nelson earned the offensive player of the game award in the loss, completing 16-of-27 passes for 223 and 5 touchdowns.
It was what the former Glenville Tarblooder did on the ground that was his gamebreaker. Nelson rushed seven times for 60 yards with two scores, including an 18 yard scamper.
“We said they were flying their Jack (linebacker) a lot, leaving lanes. So, when things broke down or I felt there was a lane, I just took it.”
The Gladiators will have another attempt to knock off the Soul. Three more, to be exact, as they will travel to the City of Brotherly Love on May 20th, following their bye week. The two sides also square off in Week 10 and 12.
Between now and the rematch, Selesky says the team must keep their edge, but work on fixing mistakes that keep the game close.
“Competitiveness, effort…off the charts,” the coach said. “We still need to execute better. We’re still doing enough stuff to ourselves to put us in a position where it’s coming to the last play of the game, and it shouldn’t be like that.”