The Cleveland Gladiators (1-3) overcame a 14-point deficit and spoiled the home opener for the Philadelphia Soul (2-2) to claim their first win of the season with a 64-57 overtime victory at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night. QB Brian Zbydniewski had his best game so far as a Gladiator, passing for 316 yards and accounting for nine touchdowns; eight through the air and one rushing.
WR Thyron Lewis led the way for the Gladiators in the receiving department with 122 yards on six receptions to go along with four touchdowns. WR Jamar Howard had nine catches for 95 yards and two touchdown receptions, while WR Jonathan Wilson also caught two passes in the end zone and finished with seven catches for 87 yards in the win.
In the first quarter, Cleveland's offense struck first as Wilson caught three passes for 32 yards on the opening drive, including a six-yard touchdown reception that gave the Gladiators an early 7-0 lead. The Soul, however, countered, and tied the game on a two-yard run from running back Derrick Ross.
The Gladiators had two turnovers in the first half that resulted in 14 points for the Soul. Cleveland's WR Maurice Williams returned a kickoff for 12 yards before Philadelphia's LaRico Stevenson forced Williams to fumble. Stevenson recovered the loose ball and ran it in the end zone for a 14-7 Soul lead with 2:45 left in the first quarter. Zbydniewski threw his first interception in two games on the second play of a drive that set Philadelphia up for another score and a 28-14 lead. Lewis caught two touchdowns passes in the second quarter, but the Gladiators trailed 35-21 at halftime.
Cleveland made up for their first half turnovers in the third quarter, beginning with Williams intercepting Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh in the opening drive of the period. Zbydniewski connected with Howard for an 11-yard touchdown, cutting Philadelphia's lead to only seven with 8:33 to go in the quarter. On Philadelphia's very next drive, Raudabaugh threw another interception, this time to Gladiators DB Brandon Anderson. Cleveland would capitalize again on the Soul's miscue with another touchdown pass to Howard to even the score at 35-35 after three quarters.
The Soul took the lead early in the fourth quarter but Zbydniewski responded with a one-yard touchdown run. However, K Ross Gornall missed the extra point attempt as Cleveland trailed 42-41 with 9:05 left in the game. Fortunately for the Gladiators, Philadelphia's Alvance Robinson fumbled on the kickoff, giving the ball back to Cleveland. That led to a 30-yard touchdown reception for Wilson and a 47-42 advantage for the Gladiators. After a failed two-point conversion, the Gladiators and Soul went back-and-forth with the lead.
With just six seconds remaining in regulation and Cleveland trailing 57-54, Gornall nailed a 45-yard field goal as time expired, sending the game into overtime. In the extra frame, Philadelphia deferred the ball to Cleveland first. The Gladiators drove down the field in five plays as Zbydniewski found Lewis for his fourth touchdown of the day.
Cleveland's defense forced Raudabaugh to throw four straight incomplete passes on Philadelphia's final possession in overtime to win the game.
DB Lenny Wicks recorded nine tackles to lead the Gladiators. Williams picked up 121 yards on eight kick returns, with a long return of 26.
The Gladiators will return home for their next game on Saturday, April 27th, when the team hosts the Utah Blaze at Quicken Loans Arena.
NOTES: Cleveland's defense had zero interceptions this season prior to tonight's two picks… Neither team recorded a sack… The Gladiators are 1-1 on the road…Last year, Cleveland was also 0-3 when they defeated Philadelphia… The two teams split last season's two-game series, each coming home with a win at the opposing arena… Zbydniewski was not picked off last week and now has four interceptions this season… In his Gladiators debut, DB Ronald "Rock" Dillon had six total tackles… After catching four touchdowns, Lewis now has seven touchdown receptions on the year…FB Derik Steiner failed to score a rushing touchdown for the first time this season.