By Spencer Lee
CLEVELAND — Fans who left Saturday night’s game between the undefeated Philadelphia Soul (9-0) and the Cleveland Gladiators (3-7) missed an entertaining second half.
After the Gladiators spotted the rival Soul a 42-14 halftime lead, featuring two turnovers and a turnover on downs from the offense and five touchdowns in five drives from Philly quarterback Dan Raudabaugh, Cleveland’s defense rose up in the third quarter to shut out the Soul offense.
How? Fresh off re-signing with the team two weeks ago, defensive back Kenny Veal followed up his Week 11 Defensive Player of the Week accolades with two third-quarter interceptions, including one that he returned 13 yards for a touchdown to trim the Soul lead to 42-28. Suddenly, it was a game.
“I tip my hat to the defense,” said Gladiators head coach Ron Selesky, “and then I have to apologize to them for what we put out on the field offensively in the second half.”
After scoring on their second drive of the second half with a six-yard touchdown pass from Arvell Nelson to Michael Preston, the Gladiators failed to produce another point despite the defense taking the ball away from Philadelphia four times with Veal’s two picks, a missed field goal and a fumble recovery by Frederick Obi.
“The players have to take it personally,” Selesky added. “We, as coaches, need to really look at what we can and can’t do, especially against a team like Philly. If you want to win in this league, you have to beat them.”
One person who did take personally was Veal, who led Cleveland with 4.5 tackles and the two interceptions.
“We had to play physical,” Veal said. “We had to put our heels to the ground and demand respect. That’s what we did in the second half, and we went out there and took it.”
Could this be a sign of things to come for the defense with the playoffs looming?
Veal responded, “You can count on it. It’s going to happen. I’m going to make sure of that.”
Gladiators quarterback Arvell Nelson struggled in key moments, completing only 18-of-36 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns to four interceptions and allowed the team to go two-for-five on fourth down conversions. Preston led Cleveland with seven receptions for 68 yards and both scores.
For the Soul, Raudabaugh completed 18-of-33 passes for 256 yards and six touchdowns to two interceptions. Shaun Kauleinamoku exploded for 143 yards on six catches and three touchdowns to earn Player of the Game honors. James Romain, Dwayne Hollis, Joe Goosby and Kent Richardson all recorded interceptions with Romain leading the team with six total tackles. Mac linebacker Bell recorded four tackles for loss.
The Gladiators have next week off before hosting the Tampa Bay Storm, the second best team in the AFL, at Quicken Loans Arena on July 8th.