Introducing the Gladiators 50-Yard Countdown to Kickoff
All scores are not created equal. Some require terrific feats of strength and athleticism. Others require superior strategy and pinpoint accuracy. When arena football was developed, the goal was to dazzle fans with more points than they had ever seen in a football game. 29 years later, that dream is real — 100-plus throws each game, 15-plus touchdowns a game with a game changing in an instant.
In seven years as an AFL franchise, the Cleveland Gladiators have scored their share of touchdowns. Some have been flashy runs or near impossible catches. Others have been a result of flawless execution at a time when the team needed it the most, both for the game and for the season. Gladiators.com has compiled a list of the memorable Gladiator scores for every yard on the field, starting at the 50 and working our way down to the goal line. When all is said and done, we should have you ready for the Gladiators season to kick off the 2016 season against the Philadelphia Soul on Friday, April 1st.
As we start from our own end zone and move the ball down the field, we hope to capture the moments you remember and some you don't — about the players who crossed the goal line, and what it meant to the Gladiators at that moment in history.
To start, we will list the honorable scores from beyond 50 yards. Here are the top touchdowns that started in the Gladiators end zone:
DISTANCE: 58 yards
PLAYER: Troy Bergeron
DATE: May 6, 2011 vs. Milwaukee Mustangs
FINAL SCORE: Gladiators 50, Mustangs 41
A bolt of lightning who could strike from anywhere on the field, Troy Bergeron played only four seasons in the AFL but totaled 406 receptions for 5,488 yards and 126 touchdowns and never had a season with less than 1,000 yards. In his only season with the Gladiators in 2011, Bergeron would score every three touches, including this gem from the middle of the season.
With 2:31 left in the first quarter, the visiting Milwaukee Mustangs cut the Gladiators lead in half 14-7 when quarterback R.J. Archer found Damian Harrell from 25 yards out. On the ensuing kickoff, Gladiators wide receiver Troy Bergeron set the franchise record for longest touchdown when he returned the kick 58 yards to put the Gladiators up 20-7. Bergeron would go onto catch two more touchdowns and earned Offensive, Iron Man and Player of the game honors as Cleveland moved to 5-2 on the season with the 50-41 win.
DISTANCE: 56 yards
PLAYER: Brent Holmes
DATE: May 1, 2010 vs. Spokane Shock
FINAL SCORE: Gladiators 72, Shock 68
In his six-year AFL career, Brent Holmes played for eight teams, primarily as a return specialist. However, in 2010, he proved he could be an all-around contributor for first year coach Steve Thonn. Holmes set career-highs with 110 receptions for 1,299 yards and 22 touchdowns. But this special teams touchdown on this night set the course for the future of the franchise.
After an 0-3 start to the season, Coach Thonn's Gladiators showed resilience on this night in Spokane. They pushed the Shock to a shootout into the final minute. But after a Kyle Rowley-to-Raul Vijil four-yard touchdown pass gave Spokane a 68-65 lead, there were only two seconds left — enough for one final kickoff.
The kick was high off the left net. Holmes turned immediately after he caught it and had a fraction of a second to determine his route. He coasted to the left, looked for a crease, and after one cut, accelerated through an alley that increased in size with each step. 56 yards, untouched, with no time left. A win on the record and an era at its beginning.
DISTANCE: 55 yards
PLAYER: Robert Redd
DATE: July 21, 2012 vs. Chicago Rush
FINAL SCORE: Gladiators 60, Rush 54
After three years in the NFL and NFL Europe, Robert Redd spent six years in the AFL, three of them in Cleveland. Fortunately, his best statistical arena years were during his time playing at The Q. As a Gladiator, Redd caught 342 passes for 4,125 yards and 71 touchdowns. He was also the primary kick returner for two seasons, and his only special teams touchdown with the Gladiators came in the 2012 season finale.
The game was a dogfight and was tied four times. Neither team could pull ahead. The Cleveland home-crowd loved it, and the players gave them a show in the fourth quarter.
The Rush had just extended their lead to 40-33 when Luke Drone found a wide open Marquis Hamilton on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 8:53 left in the game. But Redd was about to dazzle the Gladiator fans in the span of 11 seconds. Redd caught the ball on the right side of his own end zone and created as much space as he could by stretching the play to the numbers on the left side of the field. A quick juke to the right and, suddenly, he had three lead blockers creating a barricade as he reversed his field against a crew of black jerseys. A great pancake block by Jeramie Richardson allowed Redd to reach the opposite wall, but two Rush defenders had him cornered at the 20-yard line. However, Glads defensive back Levy Brown seemingly came out of nowhere to block the trailer, allowing enough space for Redd to split the gap on his final cut-back, crossing the goal line to tie up the game. Fast-forward the video above to 2:07 in the video above to see the play.
Brown would get his own moment of glory in the final minute, intercepting a Drone pass and returning it 52 yards that would push the Rush to overtime, where the Gladiators would triumph on a play you will see later in the countdown.
DISTANCE: 54 yards
PLAYER: Marrio Norman
DATE: July 6, 2013 vs. Pittsburgh Power
FINAL SCORE: Gladiators 71, Power 58
After a solid showing in his rookie AFL season in 2012 with the Georgia Force, the Gladiators brought Marrio Norman to Northeast Ohio in Week 8 of the 2013 season. Norman recorded an interception in his first game as a Gladiator and would settle in for the rest of the year. With each game, his physicality and nose for the football led the team in breakups and interceptions. And on this night, this natural athlete made 54 yards look rather pedestrian.
After surrendering 14 quick points to the Power in three-and-a-half minutes to fall behind 37-35, the Gladiators bounced back with 21 unanswered points and never looked back. The last score seemed almost too easy. The pass from Steven Sheffield seemed to come right to Norman, four yards deep in the end zone. Norman took six steps to get out of the end zone and nobody was there to stop him from going the final 50. One lineman took a good angle, but three Gladiators stood in the way. Norman hustled all the way, untouched, to carry the Gladiators to a 57-37 lead. Fast-forward the video above to the 2:54 mark in the video above to see the play.
DISTANCE: 53 yards
PLAYER: Maurice Williams
DATE: June 23, 2012 vs. Jacksonville Sharks
FINAL SCORE: Sharks 56, Gladiators 42
Maurice Williams appeared in only eight games with the Gladiators in 2012, serving as a defensive back, wide receiver and kick returner. He only touched the ball 10 times that season, but Williams would help the Gladiators end the first quarter with momentum on their side against the eventual Southern Division champions, the Jacksonville Sharks.
The kick was short of the net and went right to the chest of Williams. He took his first steps toward the middle of the field, but once he crossed the 1-yard line, his short but barely visible steps hit the gas past one tackle. Before anyone in the stands could blink, Williams was around the kicker and holding the ball up in celebration, rounding the back wall of the end zone as the Gladiators took a 21-14 lead into the second quarter. Fast-forward the video above to the 0:53 mark in the video below to see the play.
DISTANCE: 52 yards
PLAYER: Dominic Jones
DATE: May 20, 2014 vs. LA KISS
FINAL SCORE: Gladiators 45, KISS 42
The Columbus native from Otterbein College burst onto the scene for the Gladiators in 2012, and after spending three seasons of his 4-year career in Cleveland, he became a fan favorite as a 5-foot-9 electric spark plug who could run like a scat back and hit like a linebacker. In 2014, Jones matched a career high with 77 tackles and set personal bests of four interceptions, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He also added 1,272 yards and three touchdowns on special teams, including this memorable score in a game where the Gladiators needed all the points they could get.
6-0 Cleveland was coming off their first blowout victory of the season against Pittsburgh. The momentum from the week before carried into the first quarter against Los Angeles, where the Gladiators defense stopped the KISS at the 8-yard line with a 7-0 lead. Kicker Kenny Spencer lined up to put LA on the board, but the ball drifted slightly left, clanking off the iron goal post and rolling around in the end zone before Jones could pick it up. As soon as the ball was in his hands, Jones ducked away from one KISS defender and ran around a block near the right wall. One defender lunged at Jones' feet and another dove for his legs. Instinct told Jones the only way out was up. His left foot propelled him vertically, with his right leg bending to elude the defender.
As soon as Jones landed back on his left foot, there were 30 yards of green in front of him. He sprinted the final 30 and beat quarterback J.J. Raterink to the goal line sending The Q in a frenzy as the Gladiators went up 13-10.
The KISS would battle back over the next three quarters and tie the game with just over eight minutes to go. The Gladiators would march all the way down to LA's 1-yard line before Aaron Pettrey would kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.
DISTANCE: 51 yards
PLAYER: Levy Brown
DATE: June 25, 2011 vs. San Jose SaberCats
FINAL SCORE: Gladiators 82, SaberCats 21
This was his year. Levy Brown's 2011 season ranks atop the greatest defensive seasons in Gladiators history. Brown collected 135.5 tackles, including 119 solo, with 14 pass deflections and five interceptions. He would lead the team in tackles again in 2012 but he showcased his stardom against the pass in 2011, setting career-highs with 15 pass deflections and nine interceptions with three touchdowns. His tackling frenzy in 2011 would only feature one touchdown that would put this game against San Jose way out of reach.
San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb was starting the comeback, already throwing a touchdown pass to Marco Thomas to make the score 20-7 with under a minute remaining in the first half. After getting the ball back, the SaberCats were at the Glads 12-yard line, looking to score again with just over 30 seconds left before halftime.
Grieb threw for the end zone as soon as he planted his foot, but Brown undercut the pass and snagged the interception right in front of his facemask. With two lead blockers and enough speed to pass a lineman with a tackling angle, Brown zipped end zone to end zone to increase Cleveland's lead to 28-7. The Gladiators were in defensive lockdown and the scoring barrage was on. Fast-forward the video above to 0:29 to see the play.