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Gladiators Still in Search of First Win

Apr 08, 2013 -- 9:49am


By: Matt Fontana


The Cleveland Gladiators entered Saturday's game against the Jacksonville Sharks with a lot on their plate. Not only were they facing the top defense in the league but Cleveland was still winless, two games into the 2013 season. Unfortunately for the Glads, their first win of the season would have to wait. Cleveland fell to the Sharks, 66-49.

Jacksonville (3-0) showed why they are considered one of the best teams in the AFL. The Sharks are lead by quarterback Bernard Morris, who through three games has yet to throw an interception and an AFL leading defense that allows just 46 points per game. Cleveland (0-3) unfortunately had no answer for Morris or the Sharks defense.

Jacksonville would jump out to a quick 7-0 lead. After Cleveland tied it at seven a piece mid way through the first quarter, Jacksonville would not look back, leading the rest of the way.

For the Gladiators, quarterback Brian Zbydniewski had a rough night all around. "BZ" finished 19/40 for 244 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed three times for 13 yards and a touchdown. Zbydniewski was pestered all night though by the Sharks defense. Cleveland gave up a season high four sacks including three to Rashaad Duncan alone.

The Sharks had no issues moving the ball through the air. Morris tied a season high with seven touchdown passes and no interceptions. Morris has yet to throw a pick in 103 attempts.

Defensively, Cleveland continued to struggle getting off the field. Jacksonville scored on ten of their eleven offensive drives. So far in 2013, Cleveland has stopped their opponent from scoring just four times. Teams have scored points on 31 out of 35 offensive drives (not including drives ended by halftime or final).

While the results may look bleak, the Gladiators have shown steady improvement three games into the season. "I think from week two to week three we saw a lot of improvement. I think we are getting better but we are still in the winning business, you need to win games" said Head Coach Steve Thonn. Following a blowout loss in the season opener to Spokane, Cleveland hung tough with both Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, this loss will sit for a while. They team heads into a bye week before facing Philadelphia on April 20th. Hopefully for the Glads, the time off came at a good time.


- Zbydniewski's five touchdown passes were a season high. 

-The Gladiators have tied the 2010 team for the worst start in franchise history (0-3).

-Cleveland has never beat Jacksonville. They are now 0-5, dating back to 2010. 

Gladiators Fall in Season Opener

Mar 24, 2013 -- 4:28pm

By: Matt Fontana

The Cleveland Gladiators looked to start their 2013 season off on the right foot. With a host of new players and a bad 2012 season to put behind them, the Glads were anxious to get the new season underway. Unfortunately for Cleveland, their 2013 season would not start out as they planned. The Gladiators fell to the Spokane Shock, 67-41 on Sunday.

The Glads fell in an early hole and never recovered. Spokane would lead wire to wire, jumping out a 13-0 lead to start the game and never looking back. The closest Cleveland would get: 19-13 early in the second quarter.

For Cleveland, newcomer Brian Zbydniewski would get the start under center. Zbydniewski finished 25/38 for 297 yards and four touchdowns. He was also sacked four times. Zbydniewski got the starting nod after beating out Chris Dieker in camp.

Zbydniewski’s favorite target of the afternoon was Dominick Goodman. Goodie hauled in nine passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. Thyron Lewis had two catches, both for touchdowns.

Offensively, the Shock could not be stopped, literally. Spokane went a perfect ten for ten with touchdown drives. Quarterback Erik Meyer had a career day going 32/42 for 284 yards and eight touchdowns. His top targets were Adron Tennell and Kamar Jorden. Tennell had seven receptions for 60 yards and four touchdowns, while Jorden had nine grabs for 60 yards and two scores.

Defensively the Gladiators were outmatched all afternoon. “It’s an offensive game, they are going to score but it was disappointing to give up the easy scores.”, said head coach Steve Thonn. He also pointed to not stopping the Shock as the biggest key to the game.

Lance Caldwell lead Cleveland with six and half tackles on defense. In his first professional football game in almost three years, defensive end Pierre Woods showed no rust. Woods finished with four tackles.

Unlike last year, Cleveland’s defense was no factor in this game. The Gladiators were top in the AFL last year in points allowed (54) and only gave 67 or more points, four times in 2012. Since then, Cleveland has lost six starters on D and put up a bad performance vs. Spokane in their first game in 2013. Fortunately for Cleveland’s defense, they have 17 games left to turn it around.

The Gladiators travel to Tampa Bay to play the Storm on Saturday for game two of the season.


·         The Gladiators are now 2-3 in their season openers since coming to Cleveland.

·         Meyer had just six touchdown passes all of last season.

·         Former Cleveland Browns draft pick, Beau Bell is the starting middle linebacker for Spokane. He had five tackles and a sack in the win. 


Matt Fontana covers the Cleveland Gladiators for ESPN Cleveland. Catch Matt on Munch in the Morning from 4:30-6 on ESPN 850 WKNR. Follow him on Twitter @MattFontana83


New Look Gladiators Move Forward in 2013

Mar 21, 2013 -- 8:23am

By Matt Fontana


A new year always provides a chance for a fresh start. For the Cleveland Gladiators, a fresh start is exactly what they need in 2013. The Glads look to erase memories of 2012 that included the first forfeit in AFL history and a 2-7 stretch that cost them a playoff spot. With the 2013 Arena League season kicking off this weekend, Cleveland will get its first chance to move on from 2012.

Fortunately, the majority of the Gladiators’ roster was not here for last year’s struggles. Just six players return to the 23-man active roster. A new roster brings new energy, but also a group of players who did not learn last year’s tough lessons. It will fall on head coach Steve Thonn to teach that history, so the Gladiators don’t repeat it.

Offensively, Cleveland returns its biggest playmaker in wide receiver Dominick Goodman. “Goodie” was a 2012 Second-team All-Arena selection after 170 receptions for 1,782 yards and 34 touchdowns. Rejoining Goodman in the receiving corps is Thyron Lewis. “T-Lew” finished fourth on the team in 2012 with 54 receptions for 645 yards and 12 touchdowns. Lewis will have to step up to fill the shoes of Robert Redd, who was the second-leading receiver for Cleveland last year. Redd is not playing in the AFL this year.

Outside of Goodman and Lewis, the passing attack will look drastically different. Both quarterbacks from 2012, John Dutton and Matt Bassuener, are no longer on the roster. This year’s job will go to one of two newcomers- Brian Zbydniewski or Chris Deiker. Zbydniewski comes to the team as five-year AFL veteran with mostly backup roles for three different teams. Deiker enters his second AFL season with Cleveland after playing in New Orleans last year. The starting quarterback for this year has not been announced yet.

Defensively, the Gladiators will have many more holes to fill. Their top four defenders from a year ago- linebacker Tim Cheatwood and defensive backs Joe Phinisee, Dominic Jones and Levy Brown are all gone. To help bridge the gap, Cleveland hit the free-agent market, landing defensive end Pierre Woods. Woods comes to the Gladiators following a five-year NFL career, including a Super Bowl appearance with New England. He joins returning defensive end Brian Brikowski, who had 3.5 sacks in just five games last year.

Cleveland will boast a relatively unknown and young roster this year. While this combination is usually a negative, the Glads will look to turn some heads in 2013. They get their first chance on Sunday when they kick off vs. Spokane.


·      Cleveland is just 1-2 in its last three season openers. That lone win came against Spokane in 2011.

·      This will be the only Sunday game for the Gladiators in 2013. They have just one Friday game (June 7 vs. Iowa) and the rest will be Saturday matchups.




Gladiators End Season in Spectacular Fashion

Jul 21, 2012 -- 11:33pm

 By: Matt Fontana

The Cleveland Gladiators entered their week 20 matchup with the Chicago Rush knowing the Arena Football League playoffs were out of reach. After a rough 1-7 stretch late in the season, the Glads fell out of the playoff hunt and looked to end their 2012 season on a positive note. Cleveland took on the (10-7) Rush in front of their home crowd on fan appreciation night at the Q on Saturday night. Thanks to an improbable last second “Hail Mary”, the Gladiators sent their fans home happy. Cleveland defeated the Rush, 60-54.

For the first three quarters of football, Cleveland and Chicago went punch for punch. Heading to the fourth quarter, Chicago held a slim 34-27 lead. The deciding plays of the game all came in the final stanza of play, including a tri-fecta of outstanding plays for Cleveland which propelled them to the win.  

The first of the “big three” came mid-way through the fourth quarter. With Chicago up 40-33, they kicked off to Cleveland and return man Robert Redd. Using some fancy footwork and a crushing block up front, Redd took the kickoff back 55 yards for the touchdown.

After a Chicago touchdown, Cleveland quarterback Matt Basssuener found Dominick Goodman to bring Cleveland within one point, 47-46 with just 40 seconds to play. Unfortunately, Cleveland replacement kicker Carlos Ojeda missed the extra point. Chicago took over after a failed onside kick.

Cleveland needed a miracle to stay in the game. Fortunately for the Glads, that’s just what they got. On fourth down and goal, Chicago quarterback Luke Drone was intercepted by Levy Brown. Brown took his team leading ninth interception 52 yards back for a touchdown. Cleveland successfully converted a two-point conversion to lead, 54-47.

The drama would not end there. On the ensuing Chicago possession, Drone launched a 38 yard touchdown pass to Reggie Gray thanks to a lapse in Cleveland coverage. Tied at 54, Cleveland’s offense took the field. After a short pass, the Gladiators had just .8 seconds on the clock.

Tied at 54, Cleveland got their biggest play of the year from their biggest playmaker of the year. Bassuener hurled the ball off the back net and Goodman made a one handed catch while on his back to secure the Gladiators victory as time expired.

It is extremely fitting that the final play and touchdown of the season went to Goodman. “Goodie” has been the biggest playmaker for Cleveland in 2012. He entered Saturday’s game leading the AFL in catches per game (10.19) and leading Cleveland in receiving yards (1713) and receiving touchdowns (32).

Following the game, Head Coach Steve Thonn said Goodman wasn’t even the target- “We tried to get (Robert) Redd down their first. Hopefully he can cause disruption and get the other guys down there.” Thonn said Cleveland doesn’t practice “50 Net” (the play call) that often in practice but Bassuener did a great job with the pass. Goodman said as the ball was in the air, he went back to his days as a basketball player, “I was just thinking about basketball, to get position with it in the air. I just had to make a play.”

For Cleveland, John Dutton got the start at quarterback but was replaced at halftime by Bassuener. Dutton finished 9/20 for 137 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Bassuener went 15/23 for 169 yards and three touchdowns in the second half of play. Carlese Franklin had nine catches for 146 yards and two scores to lead Cleveland. Robert Redd had eight grabs for 91 yards and a score of his own. Goodman finished with seven catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Jeramie Richardson also added two rushing touchdowns.

The Gladiators defense continued to show their dominance in 2012. Entering the game, Cleveland ranked first in the AFL giving up just 48 points per game. Lenny Wicks had an interception to go along with Brown’s highlight pick. Brian Brikowski also added a sack while leading the team with eleven total tackles.

2012 will go down as a disappointing season for the Gladiators. After starting 6-3, they dropped seven of their last nine games including the first ever forfeit in AFL history. The lone bright spot in that stretch was their final game, which proved to be one of their best yet. Unfortunately the best game of the season won’t erase their prior mistakes for the Glads.

The Cleveland Gladiators end their 2012 season at 8-10.


·         In the week leading up to the game, Dominick Goodman was named the eighth best player in the AFL by AFL Field Pass members, the official fan club of the AFL.

·         Brikowski now has 5.5 sacks in just five games. That is good for second on the team.

·         Brown’s third interception return for a touchdown ties him for the AFL lead in 2012

·         Cleveland wore their "Away" white jerseys at home for the first time this season.

·         Former Gladiator’s fullback, Russell Monk is a member of the Chicago Rush. Monk played in Cleveland from 2009-11. He had a rushing touchdown in the second quarter, his first of the season. 


Matt Fontana covers the Cleveland Gladiators for ESPN Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter @MattFontana83



Gladiators Playoff Hopes go up in Flames

Jul 13, 2012 -- 11:46pm

By: Matt Fontana

       The Cleveland Gladiators entered their week 19 matchup with the Utah Blaze still having a glimmer of playoff hope. Cleveland needed to win their final two games and get a lot of help from other teams to make it back to the AFL playoffs. Unfortunately the Gladiators hopes went up in flames thanks to the Utah Blaze. Utah torched the Glads, 83-63 on Friday night in Salt Lake.  

       The Gladiators entered the game as a huge underdog. Utah (11-5) came in with the third best scoring offense in the AFL (63.2 ppg). They also boast one of the best quarterbacks in the AFL-Tommy Grady (picutured). Grady entered the game leading the AFL in passing yards per game (330.5) and touchdown passes (125).

       The key series of the game came mid-way through the second quarter. With the score tied at 14, Utah went on a 21-0 scoring streak. After a Blaze touchdown, Utah recovered two straight kickoff’s after they bounced off Cleveland’s back netting. Both instances were followed by touchdowns on the next play.                                                                                           

       Cleveland was able to recover and only trailed by six points heading into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately that was as close as they would get. Utah went a 21-0 scoring run to put the game out of reach.  

       The story on offense for the Gladiators was at quarterback. Backup Matt Bassuener got his first start of 2012. 12-year veteran, John Dutton was benched by Coach Steve Thonn. Dutton had started all 16 games prior to Utah game. Thonn said he was looking for a “spark” for the Glads offense. Bassuener finished 25/39 for 294 yards, four touchdowns, one interception through the air. He also had 7 rushes for 46 yards and two scores.  

        Carlese Franklin topped the receiving corps for Cleveland. He had seven catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Dominick Goodman chipped in 118 yards and a touchdown of his own. Jeramie Richardson added his 12th rushing touchdown of the season.

       Defensively the Gladiators were outmatched all evening by Grady. Grady finished with twelve touchdown passes, tying the AFL record for most in a single game. The Glads gave up a franchise high 83 points in the loss. Cleveland did get an interception return for a touchdown from Mo Williams. Tim Cheatwood added a sack, bringing his season total to a team leading 5.5.

      Cleveland had their 2012 playoff hopes dashed with the loss. At 7-10, Cleveland is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. They will host their final game of 2012 on Saturday July 21st vs. the Chicago Rush.


·         Grady also set an AFL record for completions in a season. He completed his 465th pass of the season mid way through the 2nd quarter to give him the record.

·         Cleveland had three turnovers on kickoffs. All three kicks bounced off the back net and were recovered by Utah.

·         The previous franchise record for points allowed was 82 vs. Milwaukee in 2010.

Matt Fontana covers the Cleveland Gladiators for ESPN Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter @MattFontana83



Gladiators Snap Losing Streak

Jun 29, 2012 -- 11:45pm


By: Matt Fontana          

           Facing must-win football, the Cleveland Gladiators made a statement as they begin the final stretch of play in 2012. With just four games to play, Cleveland needs wins to cement their playoff standings in the American Conference. The Gladiators started their final stretch of play with a big statement. Behind a strong defensive effort, Cleveland defeated the Milwaukee Mustangs (6-9), 69-32. The Gladiators snapped a five game losing streak.

           Before stepping on the field, Cleveland’s offense had a lead. Thanks to an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble return for a touchdown, the Gladiators offense had a 13-0 cushion. From there, the offense picked right up where the defense and special teams left off. Cleveland scored touchdowns on three straight offensive drives to start the game.

            Quarterback John Dutton and wide receiver Dominick Goodman once again were the focal points. Dutton finished 14/20 for 158 yards and four touchdowns. Goodman hauled in nine catches for 96 yards and two scores. Carlese Franklin had his best game as a Gladiator. He had 5 grabs for 62 yards and two scores. Robert Redd did not register a catch in the game. His streak of 16 straight games with a touchdown reception came to an end.

            The story of the night was the Gladiators defense. Cleveland boasted one of its best defensive games of the season. Joe Phinisee had an interception and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in addition to three pass break ups. Not to be out done, Maurice Williams had a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown. It marks the third straight game with a touchdown for “Mo”. Dominic Jones added an interception which he lateralled to fellow defensive back Levy Brown who took it 22 yards for another score. To cap it off, defensive lineman Brian Brikowski had a fumble return for a touchdown on a Milwaukee fumbled kickoff return.

            Following the game, Head Coach Steve Thonn said his team understands their situation “This was a playoff game for us, we gotta win. If we just play well, we know we can win all three games.” Coach also said the team seems to have gotten “it” all out of the system and are ready to move forward.

            Following their win on Friday, Cleveland (7-8) trails Jacksonville (7-7) and New Orleans (7-7) for the final two wildcard playoff spots in the American Conference. Next up for the Glads, they travel to Orlando to face the Predators (2-12) on Friday July 6th.  



·         The win marks coach Thonn’s 50th as an AFL head coach. He is 50-75 in his 8th year.

·         32 points allowed is the second best for Cleveland in 2012. They allowed just 24 vs. Orlando in week five.

·         The Gladiators three interception ties a season high

·         Cleveland sweeps the Mustangs in the 2012 series. The Glads took game one, 69-48 in week 10. They are 4-2 overall against Milwaukee.

Matt Fontana covers the Cleveland Gladiators for ESPN Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter @MattFontana83



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