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Gladiators advance to conference finals

Bryant Kizer | 8/7/2014, 9:11 a.m.
The Gladiators are unbeaten at home.

Aaron Pettrey’s 36-yard field goal with no time left, gave the Cleveland Gladiators a dramatic 39-37 victory over the Philadelphia Soul to advance to the American Conference finals.

The Gladiators kept their home unbeaten streak alive at 10-0 and are 18-1 this season.

The Gladiators take on Orlando, this Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Quicken Loans Arena.

“This is by far my biggest kick of my career,” said the former Ohio State Buckeye who kicked in front of 100,000 fans and for two national championship teams.

“I was ready to kick this one and I wanted the pressure on me,” said Pettrey.

The Gladiators for the third straight time beat the Soul in the last seconds.

It was a scoring affair in the first two games, but it was all about defense in this one.

Gladiators quarterback Shane Austin had an off night in the air, but there was nothing wrong with his legs.

He threw five interceptions, four of them to Soul’s all-time interception leader and former Walsh University Rayshaun Kizer. However, Austin scored three times on the ground.

It was a scoring affair in the first two games, but it was all about defense in this one. At the half, the Gladiators led 15-12.

“That is playoff style football,” said head coach Steve Thonn.

Thonn tried to steal a possession in the third quarter, but that did not work. He tried to catch the Soul off guard with an on-side kick, however the Soul was not fooled. The Soul had the ball at the Gladiators’ 12-yard line, but they could not score in four plays. The defense stepped up.

“That was big for us,” said defensive back Dominic Jones, who had several drive killing batted balls.

There was not much scoring in the third quarter, both teams put seven points on the board and the Gladiators lead 22-19 after three.

In the fourth, it was just the case of who had the ball last. Jon Striefsky’s 19-yard field goal tied the game at 22 with 8:58 remaining.

Austin, who had thrown for 99 touchdowns in the 18-game regular season, was picked off in the end zone by Kizer. The Soul (9-10) marched down and full-back Derrick Ross caught a 13-yard swing pass for a touchdown. Striefsky’s extra-point gave the Soul a 29-22 lead.

The Gladiators responded on a three-play 43-yard touchdown drive. The drive was capped off by Austin’s 16-yard touchdown run. As every Soul defender was locked on the Gladiators’ receivers, the middle of the field was wide open. The game is tied at 29 with 2:30 left.

The Soul went four and out, they do not punt in this league. The Gladiators set up shop at the Soul’s six-yard line. Two plays later, Austin called his own number for a one-yard touchdown plunge. Gladiators lead 36-29 with 42 seconds left. However, this is Arena League and 42 seconds is like 3 minutes.

The Soul took the lead in a 47-yard catch and run by Emery Sammons, with 25 ticks left. But Soul’s head coach Clint Dolezel elected to go for two and the lead. A screen pass to Sammons, gave the Soul a 37-36 lead.

From the 10-yard line, the Gladiators got a 13-yard pass to Thyron Lewis on a fourth and six. The ball was placed on the 23-yard line with five seconds remaining. A quick pass to Dominick Goodman for three-yards put the ball at the 20-yard line with one second left.

“Offensively, we did not move the ball, but our defense stepped up big time,” said Thonn.