Gladiators face Arizona for championship

Bryant Kizer | 8/13/2014, noon
Austins did not have a good game in the first round against Philadelphia, but he picked up in a big ...
GOING TO THE SHIP...Members of the Cleveland Gladiators celebrate their 56-46 victory over the Orlando Predators. The Gladiators will host the Arena Bowl on August 23 at 8 p.m. vs. Arizona.

Arena Bowl Gladiators face Arizona for championship

The Cleveland Gladiators surfboard just got even bigger on Sunday.

The Gladiators are going to the Arena Bowl XXVII as the defeated Orlando Predators 56-46 in front of nearly 15,000 fans at the Quicken Loans Arena to claim their first ever American Conference Championship.

The Gladiators who remained unbeaten at home will take on the National Conference Champs the Arizona Rattlers on August 23 at 8 p.m. at home. The Gladiators are trying to become the first Cleveland football team in 50 years to claim a championship.

“You can’t imagine a season like this,” said head coach Steve Thonn. “We knew we were going to have a good team this year. But to go 19-1, I could not imagine it.”

The Gladiators are 11-0 at the Quicken Loans Arena and they are favorites to beat the Arizona Rattlers, who started off the season by winning their first 14 games.

Quarterback Shane Austin has come a long way for this moment. He grew up in California and played his college ball at Hawaii. “No one would have thought that we'd be in the position where we are. We are a living testament to the Lord. Lord and Savior do amazing things,” said Austin.

Austins did not have a good game in the first round against Philadelphia, but he picked up in a big way. Austin tossed seven touchdown pass and 207 yards.

Former University of Cincinnati great Dominick Goodman and Thyron Lewis each snagged three touchdowns apiece. Tom Gilson had the other one.

The Gladiators (19-1) and the Predators (12-8) traded touchdowns in the opening quarter. The score was tied at 14.

The Gladiators finally put the pressure on the Predators by scoring two consecutive touchdowns in the second. Defensive back Dominic Jones said that was the key. “We wanted them chasing us. When we got that two touchdown lead, we knew we had this game,” said Jones, who was a little banged up.

The Gladiators, who are unbeaten when leading at the half, led 35-28. The teams put up 63 points in the half, but the third quarter, thanks to some good defense on both sides, only produced seven points.

“We went in the locker room and we adjusted to what they were doing,” said Jones. “We wanted to put more pressure on the wide receivers. We shut down teams in the second-half.”

The Predators, who eliminated the Pittsburgh Power to advance to the ACC, featured their “go-to” receivers Gerald Young and the big 6-foot-6 Greg Carr.

Young grabbed 13 balls for 156 yards and Carr had nine catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns.

“He is a big guy. He is every bit of 6-foot-6,” said 5-foot-9 Jones. “He will probably be the rookie of the year.”

The Predators came in with the number one offense in the 14 team league. However, they could not score near Gladiators’ goal-line in the third.

In the third, the Gladiators got a breathable touchdown by Gibson on a nine-yard touchdown to put them up 42-28. From there, it was a tennis match. However, place-kicker Christian Reed failed on two extra points

“That was the key stopping them in the third quarter, when we messed up on offense,” said Thonn. “We had a fumble by Goodman, but they could not take advantage of it.”

Tickets are on sale at the Quicken Loans Arena for Arena Bowl 27.