TAMPA, FL – Despite eight total touchdowns from QB Arvell Nelson in his first start under center this season, the Cleveland Gladiators were defeated by the Tampa Bay Storm on Saturday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL, by a final score of 62-61. With the loss, the Gladiators fell to 0-3 this season and currently remain alone in fifth place in the AFL standings.
Cleveland WR Quentin Sims started the scoring with a two-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, but a 40 yard touchdown pass from Tampa Bay QB Randy Hippeard to WR LaMark Brown tied the game at seven with 9:21 remaining in the first. Later in the frame, Nelson found WR Michael Preston in the end zone for a four-yard TD toss to push the Gladiators’ edge to 13-7 through 15 minutes of play.
Quentin Sims leads Cleveland receivers with 205 rec. yards, five touchdowns in defeat.
In the second, Nelson connected with Sims for a nine-yard scoring strike to make it 20-7 Cleveland before another Sims touchdown catch, provided by Nelson from 27 yards out, left the Gladiators in front by a score of 27-7 with 9:24 to go in the opening half. Later in the second quarter, the Storm attempted a comeback thanks to a Hippeard-to-Kendrick Ings connection to pull within two scores at 27-14, but Nelson scampered into the end zone from three yards out with just under four minutes left in the second quarter to push the Cleveland lead to 19 points at 33-14.
From there, the Storm rattled off four unanswered touchdowns spanning the end of the first half and the third quarter, all on Hippeard throws, one to Brown and three to WR Joe Hills respectively, to claim their first lead at 42-33 early in the final stanza. Cleveland’s offense sprang to life in the fourth however, as Nelson and Sims hooked up through the air from 11 yards out with just over ten minutes to play to draw within three points of Tampa Bay at 42-39, but the Storm re-extended their advantage to double digits with a seven-yard Hippeard touchdown run that made it 49-39.
The Gladiators strung together a 16-yard strike from Nelson to Sims with a successful two-point conversion reception by WR Collin Taylor to draw within two at 49-47, but the Storm responded with a 19-yard Hippeard-to-Hills pitch and catch with 2:08 to go that nudged the Tampa Bay lead to 56-47. Cleveland’s Nelson supplied back-to-back touchdown throws from there, from one-yard out to Preston and 37-yard bomb to Sims that, combined with one successful two-point conversion, again provided by Taylor, left Cleveland back in front at 61-56 with just 28 seconds to play. An artful final drive was orchestrated by Hippeard and the Storm however, and the Tampa Bay signal-caller capped the scoring with a one-yard touchdown run with three seconds left that, after an unsuccessful two –point conversion attempt, established the home team’s final margin of victory at 62-61.
Next up for the Gladiators, it’s a Week 4 home clash vs. the Washington Valor with the opening kickoff set for 7:00 pm on Friday, April 28th, live from The Q, with radio and television broadcast details to be announced in the near future.
NOTES: With Friday’s loss, the Gladiators fell to 11-11 all-time vs. the Storm…In his first start under center this season, Nelson threw for a single-game season high 358 yards and seven touchdowns on 26/35 passing, adding 16 rushing yards on four attempts and a touchdown on the ground…Sims led all Cleveland receivers with 14 receptions for 205 yards and five scores while Preston finished the game second on the team in all three receiving categories with six catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns…On the defensive side of the ball, Kelvin Rodgers led all Gladiators with 12 solo tackles in his 2017 debut, adding 52 return yards on five kick return attempts…Friday marked the first game for the Gladiators this season in which neither team threw an interception.