By Spencer Lee
BALTIMORE, Md. — After a poor performance against the undefeated Philadelphia Soul last week, the Cleveland Gladiators (1-6) needed to bounce back to salvage their season in Week 8. Their offense found a rhythm early and often, but in the end, they still came up short, 63-60 in a thriller against the Baltimore Brigade (2-4).
In his second year with the team, Gladiators wide receiver Quentin Sims has made his mark as the go-to guy for Cleveland, as he caught 12 passes for 188 yards and five scores in the loss, matching his season high for receiving touchdowns in a game. Quarterback Arvell Nelson threw for 310 yards and scored eight total touchdowns (one rushing) with one interception. Collin Taylor caught Nelson’s other two scoring strikes.
Cleveland took the lead 60-56 with 47 seconds left when fullback Jeramie Richardson plunged into the end zone from a yard out. But Baltimore’s Kendal Thompkins forced the sixth lead change of the fourth quarter by taking the ensuing kickoff 54 yards for a touchdown to reclaim a 63-60 lead with 39 seconds left.
Gladiators quarterback Nelson completed three passes on the final drive to put the ball at the four-yard line. But on second-and-goal with two seconds left, Brigade defensive lineman Khreem Smith flushed Nelson from the pocket and Nelson’s attempt to get the ball to Sims for the game-winning touchdown fell incomplete.
The turning point in the game came in the fourth quarter when Cleveland held a 39-34 lead and salvaged a lost fumble by forcing a fumble of their own on the same play and recovering in their end zone for a touchback. However, with a chance to go up two scores in the final stanza, AFL veteran Josh Victorian forced Nelson’s interception of the game. Brigade quarterback Shane Carden hit Julian Talley for a go-ahead touchdown on the next play to begin the fourth-quarter seesaw.
Carden put together another strong performance against the Gladiators, throwing for 272 yards and seven total touchdowns (one rushing) and two interceptions. Receiver Milton Williams led Baltimore with six catches for 90 yards and three scores while Talley helped out with five receptions for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
The Gladiators move on to Week 9 with a trip to Washington, D.C., to face the Valor. Cleveland’s only victory of the season came against Washington when they won 48-34 at Quicken Loans Arena on April 28th. Kickoff is at 7pm next Saturday, June 3rd, at the Verizon Center.