03/20/2011 6:11 PM
- The Cleveland Gladiators took control from the start of their season-opening game and held on to spoil the Spokane Shock’s championship celebration, 61-55, in front of 10,140 in Washington on Saturday night.
Arena Football League Commissioner Jerry B. Kurz was on hand as the Shock raised their championship banner and received their trophy from last season’s ArenaBowl XXIII Championship.
The Gladiators stayed in the locker room for some last minute preparations instead of watching the festivities take place. The tactic worked as they scored three touchdowns in their first eight offensive plays from scrimmage and rarely looked back.
“It was a huge win,” Head Coach Steve Thonn said. “Any time you get a win on the road in this league is great, especially doing it against the defending champs in this building. It’s one of the hardest to play in, and to start off the season like this is great.”
After an interception by defensive back Levy Brown on the third play of the game, the Gladiators began their offensive assault three plays later. Cleveland trailed the Shock for only two minutes and two seconds of the contest.
Quarterback John Dutton threw for 257 yards on 20-for-30 passing and six touchdowns, adding a rushing score. He went to the air often to recent addition Troy Bergeron, who was activated last week after spending much of 2010 with the Dallas Cowboys. Troy had eight receptions for 134 yards and four touchdowns.
Wide receiver Robert Redd, a pivotal member of Cleveland’s 2008 playoff squad and a teammate of Dutton’s previously with the Colorado Crush, picked up right where he left off in the AFL in 2008. Redd finished with seven catches for 72 yards and two scores.
“We have got a good chemistry,” said Redd. “Everybody came together and it was a great team win.”
After losing first-team All-Arena receiver Ben Nelson and 1,000-yard target Brent Holmes, it was questioned whether the receiving corps would be able to match last season’s production. Tonight’s effort from the group put those fears to ease.
“Troy started just where he left off three years ago,” Thonn said. “He’s always such a threat to score. Robert Redd was just really good, making some big catches when we needed them.”
Victor Williams, a member of the 2010 team, added six grabs for 63 yards and a score.
Spokane kept pace with the Gladiators through much of the first half, but the Cleveland offense would take half the amount of time to score again and retake the lead. The Shock had the ball over eight minutes more than the Gladiators. throughout the game
The difference was the start of the third quarter. The Gladiators scored touchdowns on their first four possessions, coupling them with a few stops on defense to build a lead that the Shock couldn’t overcome despite a late surge.
The offense clicked from kickoff to the final whistle, making it apparent that their talented receivers and massive size on the offensive line will lead way for the Gladiators in 2011.
Despite having a bye their first week and only two weeks of training camp, the chemistry and production with the ball could be a sign of things to come this season in Cleveland. Bergeron hadn’t played in a meaningful game of football since with the Georgia Force in 2008, having been on various practice squads of NFL teams in the past few years.
The Gladiators will face the defending American Conference Champion Tampa Bay Storm in their second game on Sunday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm at the St. Pete Times Forum.