By Spencer Lee
WASHINGTON, D.C. (92.3 the Fan) – Saturday night, the Cleveland Gladiators (5-9) met their preseason expectations on the field: an offense with firepower and a playmaking defense. The result? A 62-28 shellacking in their regular season finale to eliminate the Washington Valor (2-11) from playoff contention.
The Glads had already clinched a spot in the AFL playoffs, but they did not show signs of being ready for the postseason when the second-place Tampa Bay Storm took them down last week by 30 points. That was not the case this week.
After only accounting for two total touchdowns in Week 16, “The Cleveland Cannon” Arvell Nelson emerged, earning game MVP honors with a 16-of-26 effort for 207 passing yards and six touchdowns and only one interception through the air.
But if the award could be given to multiple players, it would go to the Gladiator defense. Five sacks, including one for a safety by Mac linebacker Derrick Summers, three fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown by defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop, and two interceptions from Brandon Stephens and Marrio Norman. Summers led the team with an astounding 3.5 sacks on the night.
With a defensive effort like that, Cleveland’s offense may have just needed to manage the game, but they decided to let out some anger of their own after a poor performance last week in Tampa. Nelson spread the ball all over the arena and padded the stats for his receivers. Collin Taylor finished with five catches for 66 yards and three scores, Michael Preston had five receptions of his own for 65 yards and two touchdowns, and Nelson recaptured the old “Bomb Squad” days with a 34-yard scoring strike to Lonnie Outlaw. Fullback Jeramie Richardson took nine carries for 16 yards and added two more touchdowns.
Valor quarterback Sean Brackett finished 22-of-33 for 222 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. T.T. Toliver led the team with 72 yards on five catches with a score, and both Roger Jackson and Justin Wilson also caught touchdowns.
The Gladiators have a bye in Week 18 before the first round of the playoffs. The Valor wrap up their season with one more stop in Baltimore.