Chris Leflore and the Pittsburgh Power defense battle for a stop against the Cleveland Gladiators. Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Power.

Pittsburgh Power end home slide against the Cleveland Gladiators

The Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry has been storied in football and another chapter was solidified when the Power met the Gladiators at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night. This round went to Pittsburgh, who went on a 27-0 run in the fourth quarter to come away with a 55-44 victory.

“It was a great team win,” wide receiver Julian Talley said. “We put a lot of extra time in to make sure we were prepared this week.”

The first quarter was a defensive struggle as both teams would face fourth-down opportunities. Instead of going for it deep in their own territory, Cleveland attempted a 62-yard field goal to create a longer field for the Power. In their first possession, the Power would do the same from 52 yards out.

The Gladiators faced three fourth downs in the first quarter, converting one of them.

Late in the first quarter, the Power struck first as Steven Sheffield found Mike Washington for a 16-yard completion on the first play of that drive, giving them a 7-0 lead. That lead would not last long as Cleveland tied the game at the end of the quarter with a 19-yard pass from Brian Zbydniewski to Thyron Lewis.

Early in the second quarter, the Power continued to pace the game and Sheffield  found new wide receiver Kenny Stafford for a deep 32-yard pass. Stafford was tightly guarded and held on to make the catch. The Gladiators would respond on their next drive as Terrill Byrd ran the ball in from three yards out.

The Power’s next drive was keyed by another new wideout Julian Talley, who caught a 28-yard pass. This led to a 6-yard run from Sheffield. Again, Cleveland responded as Jamar Howard caught a 12-yard pass from Zbydniewski.

Looking for a spark, the Power found it in Stafford who hauled in his second touchdown of the game, with 14 seconds remaining in the half. Still Cleveland drove down the field in the limited time they had, resulting in an Aaron Pettrey 36-yard field goal.

The Power got the ball in the third quarter and kicker Julian Rauch had a chance to stretch the lead back to seven points for the fourth time in the game however the kick barely missed right. Shortly after, the momentum went right to the Gladiators.

Cleveland would take a three point lead when Carlese Franklin, normally a wide receiver, ran the ball in from three yards out. After coming up empty on their drive, the Power had to defer to the Gladiators offense again. There Zbydniewski threw a pass that Dominick Goodman was unable to bring in, however the Power defender in trying to intercept the ball deflected it right back to the Cleveland receiver resulting in a score and a 10-point lead. After a Sheffield deep pass was intercepted by Marrio Norman, the Gladiators kept their 31-21 lead through three quarters.

The Power continued this slide into the fourth quarter. Sheffield marched the Power down the field only to be intercepted by Joe Phinisee. Phinisee was a member of the Chicago Rush earlier this season, meaning this was his second time seeing the Power this season and perhaps had a bit of intel on Sheffield.

Earlier this season, that may have been the end of the game, however Head Coach Derek Stingley knew better this time.

“As long as there’s time on the clock, there’s an opportunity,” Stingley said. “There’s no heads held down, we’re not giving up.”

Quickly Pittsburgh responded with their first points of the second half as Chris Leflore returned a kickoff 56 yards for a touchdown. The Power attempted to go for two to bring the deficit to eight points but failed to convert.

The Power defense would respond to the score and fans by forcing Cleveland to turn the ball over on downs. The Power then would score as Washington took the ball in from 10 yards, cutting the Gladiators lead to 44-41.

The Power had great kick coverage, forcing Cleveland to the 1-yard line where they were stopped again for three downs. The Gladiators again opted to kick forcing a longer field for the Power.

Still, the Power were undeterred and drove down the field, culminating in Sheffield finding a wide open Washington for 17 yards and the first Power lead since their first possession of the third quarter.

Two minutes still remained in regulation, but the Power were not worried. Zbydniewski dropped back to pass and found a player. Unfortunately for him, that player was Pittsburgh’s Brandon Freeman. On the very next play Talley and Sheffield connected on a 34-yard pass to put the game out of reach.

“This was a much needed win here at home,” Stingley said. “The leaders stepped up on that football field. The fans have been waiting for something to cheer about.”

At the conclusion of the game, Talley went around the field to high five all of the fans that have waited for a home win since the comeback win last April against the Orlando Predators.

“I’m all about excitement and entertainment,” Talley said. “To get these fans a home win is great for them, they deserve it and it means a lot to them. I’m just happy for them, it feels great to win.”

With the win the Power currently hold the American Conference playoff spot. They will visit the Jacksonville Sharks June 1 with the kickoff scheduled for 7 pm.

Of note: Power offensive coordinator Mike Tomczak has been relieved of his duties. He was not at the game and earlier in the season was relieved of his on-field play-calling duties in favor of assistant coach Jon Lyles. The story was first broke pregame by a league source and later confirmed by Stingley. Stingley said the move was his decision and that Tomczak was ‘very’ surpised. When asked to elaborate Stingley chose not to do so.

They said it: Stingley on new receiver Talley and Stafford: “Talley came in off waivers a couple of weeks ago and he impressed right out of the gate. Stafford worked out last week. We liked that he was a big physical threat that can run. For a guy just starting the indoor game, he picked it up quickly.”

Power vs Gladiators scoring

First quarter:
Power: Washington 16 yard pass from Sheffield [Julian Rauch kick good] 3:57 7-0
Gladiators: Lewis 19 yard pass from Zbydniewski [Aaron Pettrey kick good] 0:00 7-7

Second quarter:
Power: Stafford 32 yard pass from Sheffield [Rauch kick good] 12:12 14-7
Gladiators: Byrd 3 yard run [Pettrey kick good] 7:23 14-14
Power: Sheffield 6 yard run [Rauch kick good] 3:52 21-14
Gladiators: Howard 12 yard pass from Zbydniewski [Pettrey kick good] 1:00 21-21
Power: Stafford 17 yard pass from Sheffield [Rauch kick good] 0:14 28-21
Gladiators: Pettrey 36 yard kick 0:00 28-24

Third Quarter:
Gladiators: Franklin 3 yard rush [Pettrey kick good] 9:52 31-28
Gladiators: Goodman 6 yard pass from Zbydniewski [Pettrey kick good] 3:33 38-28

Fourth Quarter:
Gladiators: Phinisee 49 yard interception return [Pettrey kick no good] 13:36 44-28
Power: Leflore 56 yard kickoff return [two point conversion no good] 13:18 44-34
Power: Washington 10 yard pass from Sheffield [Rauch kick good] 8:21 44-41
Power: Washington 17 yard pass from Sheffield [Rauch kick good] 2:03 48-44
Power: Talley 34 yard pass from Sheffield [Rauch kick good] 1:00 55-44

Tags: Arena Football League Pittsburgh Power

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