Aaron Pettrey’s 20-yard field goal in overtime secured a 50-47 win for the Cleveland Gladiators (15-1) over the San Antonio Talons (1-15) Saturday night at the Alamodome, and with the victory, the Gladiators clinched the East Division Championship and the American Conference’s top seed in the upcoming Arena Football League playoffs. The Gladiators first round playoff game will be at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday August 2, with the time of the game and opponent still to be determined. Before the game-winning field goal in overtime, the Gladiators forced extra time by scoring a touchdown as time expired and picking up a two-point conversion to erase an eight-point deficit. Shane Austin completed 23 of 34 passes for the Gladiators for 272 yards and six touchdowns. Dominick Goodman caught 12 passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while Collin Taylor registered seven catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
Taylor’s first touchdown gave the Gladiators a 6-0 lead with 6:39 left in the opening frame. The Gladiators defense forced San Antonio to turn the ball over on downs at the Cleveland 11-yard line, and the ensuing drive was capped off by Taylor’s 16-yard touchdown catch. San Antonio scored two straight touchdowns to take a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter, but Goodman’s first touchdown of the game pulled the Gladiators to within a point with 5:58 left in the second. Goodman’s grab came from 19-yards out, and marked the final Cleveland scoring play of the first half. At halftime, San Antonio led 17-13.
On the first drive of the second half, Taylor reeled in a touchdown catch from 38 yards with 13:33 left in the third quarter. The play was the longest scoring play in the game, and began a string of alternating touchdowns between the two teams that carried into the fourth quarter. After a Thyron Lewis touchdown catch from two yards late in the third quarter, San Antonio scored back-to-back touchdowns to take a 38-26 lead with 8:22 left in regulation. P.J. Barry’s 22-yard touchdown grab from Matt Bassuener propelled the Talons to their first of two 12-point leads in the fourth quarter, but once again, the Gladiators owned the late stages of the football game.
With six minutes remaining, Leroy Vann returned a kickoff 46 yards for a San Antonio touchdown, which gave the Talons a 44-32 lead. In an effort to try to extend the lead to 14 points, San Antonio attempted a two-point conversion, but failed. As a result, the Gladiators comeback took flight. Taylor hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Austin with 3:51 left in regulation to pull to within five points, but again San Antonio had an answer: Garrett Lindholm’s 26-yard field goal with 38 seconds left gave the Talons a 47-39 lead.
The final drive of regulation time required five plays and 36 yards complete, and also needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion to keep the Gladiators hopes of wrapping up the division with a win alive. On fourth down and goal from the five yard line, Austin connected with a diving Goodman just over the goal line on a pass to the right as time expired to pull to within two points. On the two point conversion, Austin found a leaping Lewis on the right side of the end zone to force overtime.
In overtime, Joe Phinisee intercepted a Bassuener pass and returned the ball inside the five yard line, ultimately setting up Pettrey’s game-winning 20-yard field goal.
The Gladiators are home next Saturday, July 19, against the Jacksonville Sharks. The game starts at 7:00 PM.
NOTES: Austin is 11-1 as the Gladiators starting quarterback… The Gladiators have won six straight games, and in the six-game winning streak, Austin has a 43-4 touchdown-interception ratio… On the season, Austin’s touchdown-interception ratio is 88-14… Goodman has 140 catches on the season to lead the Gladiators, and he is second on the team with 31 touchdown grabs… Lewis leads the Gladiators with 34 touchdown catches after one on Saturday… The Gladiators are 7-1 on the road this season, and have scored 873 points overall through 15 games.