05/12/2010 1:57 PM
By Gene Natale
The Gladiators, after closing out their recent road trip on a two-game win streak, return home on Saturday, May 15 to face the Tulsa Talons at The Q.
Tulsa enters the contest at 3-2, although the two losses have been by a combined three points to Arizona and Jacksonville. The Talons are a well-established team, holding the distinction of the winningest franchise in the history of arenafootball2, from the league’s inception in 2000 to its final season in 2009.
“They are a good team that could easily be 5-0 right now,” Gladiators head coach Steve Thonn said, referring to the Talons, “We expect them to come in here and play hard and give us a fight. It will be a good test for us.”
The Gladiators have passed their most recent tests with flying colors in road wins against Spokane and Iowa. A new focus on avoiding turnovers has played a big role in the team’s success, in addition to recent improvements on the defensive side of the ball. In the past two games, Cleveland has had a turnover differential of +1, and has forced six turnovers on defense.
Cleveland’s success on offense starts with quarterback John Dutton, who had his best game of the season last week against the Barnstormers. Overall Dutton was 31-of-39 passing for 355 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
“That was the performance we expect from John,” Coach Thonn said, “This was the game he needed to get right on track.”
Dutton has racked up the yards this year, and he ranks third in the AFL in passing yards with 1,614, averaging 323 per game. Overall the veteran is 147-of-211 passing, with 31 touchdowns and ten interceptions. Dutton also has the second-best completion percentage of any AFL starter at .697. He trails only Orlando’s Nick Hill (.712) in that category.
The Gladiators receiving corps continues to impress this season, making things easy on Dutton. Ben Nelson and Chris Johnson have combined for 108 receptions this season, the most of any receiving duo in the league. Nelson’s 18 touchdowns and 667 yards have him ranked third in the league in each category, and Johnson is second in the league in receptions with 56.
Cleveland has made recent additions on the defensive side of the ball that have contributed greatly to the team’s newfound success this season. Defensive back Joe Phinisee was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 3, and in only three games has racked up 27 total tackles, ranking him second overall on the team.
The Gladiators defense will need to be at its best against Tulsa quarterback Justin Allgood and the Talons offense. The veteran signal-caller has 37 touchdowns against only three interceptions this season, completing 111-of-166 passes for 1,303 yards. His top target Donovan Morgan ranks second in the AFL in touchdowns (19) and has 38 receptions for 567 yards, averaging 14.9 yards per reception.