06/30/2012 12:00 PM
The Milwaukee Mustangs were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Cleveland Gladiators snapped their five-game losing streak in convincing fashion on Friday night by crushing Milwaukee, 69-32 on the NFL Network.
It marked the second time these two teams played on NFL Network this season and the second win for the Gladiators over the East Division foe. The Gladiators (7-8) completed the season sweep over Milwaukee this season and the Mustangs (5-10) fell two games behind the second-place Gladiators in the East Division.
In an offensive driven league, defense and special teams was the name of the game. Cleveland saw one of the finer performances of the season forcing five turnovers - three interceptions and two fumbles - adding four total touchdowns that the offense did not have to be responsible for.
On Milwaukee’s opening drive, Maurice Williams intercepted Gino Guidugli and returned the pass 50 yards for the first score of the game. The Mustangs blocked the point after, returning it for two points. Cleveland led 6-2.
On the ensuing kickoff, newly acquired Brian Brikowski picked up the fumbled return and scored from five-yards out. Cleveland led 13-2 early on. A Mustangs field goal closed the gap to 13-5.
Cleveland’s offense did not run their first play of the game until 3:35 remaining in the first quarter.
Cleveland’s first drive ended in a Jermaine Richardson two-yard run as time expired in the first quarter. The rushing touchdown helped the Gladiators push their lead to 20-5.
In the second quarter, the defense seemed to be the difference-maker. Starting defensive back Joe Phinisee, who finished the game with six total tackles, three break-ups, one interception and one fumble return for a touchdown, picked up a fumble and returned it 22-yards for the score, giving the Gladiators a 34-5 lead with 7:00 remaining in the half.
The Gladiators offense also did their part in the first half, scoring on three of the four possessions. John Dutton came away with two touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Milwaukee answered right back, as Guidugli connected with wide out Taurian Washington for 43 yards, cutting the lead to 41-12 with 5:32 left in the half.
The Gladiators did not score on their final drive of the half after scoring on three straight possessions, however, they did take a 41-12 lead into the locker room.
The fans did get their fair share of offense as Cleveland jumped out the gate in the second half with back-to-back touchdown passes from Dutton to wide out Carlese Franklin. The two catches gave the Gladiators a 55-12 lead and a 43-point advantage.
Offensively, Dutton finished the game 14-of-20 passing for 158 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Dominick Goodman proved again to be Dutton’s favorite target, hauling in nine catches for 96 yards and two scores and Franklin caught five passes for 62 yards and two touchdowns.
It seemed as if the Gladiators defense was competing with each other to see who could make the play of the game. Dominic Jones joined the party with an interception at the beginning of the fourth quarter, only to avoid a few tackles and lateralled the ball to Levy Brown before hitting the turf. Brown broke a few tackles and returned it 22 yards for another score.
Milwaukee and Cleveland exchanged touchdowns late in the game.
With the win the Gladiators moved to 7-8 and remained in the playoff hunt. With Tampa Bay losing to the Philadelphia Soul, 83-79, the Gladiators can move into the fourth seed with a Georgia Force loss to the Orlando Predators on Sunday.
Cleveland travels to Orlando next Friday, July 6 at 7:30 p.m.