Aaron Pettrey's game-winning 19-yard field goal as time expired secured a 53-50 victory for the Cleveland Gladiators (2-5) over the Chicago Rush (4-4) at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night. The Gladiators, who trailed for most of the first half, were rallied by backup quarterback Chris Dieker, who passed for 206 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for 47 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Dominick Goodman caught two touchdowns, while Jamar Howard, Thyron Lewis, and Jonathon Wilson each hauled in touchdown catches as well for Cleveland. The win was the first at home for the Gladiators so far this season and their second overall.
The Gladiators caught a pivotal break early, recovering the opening kickoff off a deflection from the left goal post. With just nine yards separating the Gladiators from the end zone, Brian Zbydniewski, who started the game under center for Cleveland, completed a nine-yard pass to Wilson to help the Gladiators take a quick 7-0 lead. Chicago countered though with back-to-back scores, to end the first quarter with a 14-7 lead.
The Gladiators continued to match Chicago score-for-score, as Lewis and Goodman each reeled in touchdown catches in the second quarter. Dieker replaced Zbydniewski at quarterback midway through the second. But Rodney Wright returned a kickoff 54 yards for a Chicago touchdown with three seconds remaining in the first half to give the Rush a 27-20 lead at the break.
Brian Brikowski's pressure on Chicago quarterback Danny Southwick led to a safety early in the second half; two points that pulled the Gladiators to within five, 27-22, and proved to be influential throughout the rest of the game. Dieker's two-yard touchdown run with 7:32 left in the third quarter was the only touchdown of the third frame, and it gave the Gladiators a 29-27 lead entering a high-scoring fourth quarter in which 47 total points were scored.
Just five seconds into the final quarter, Goodman caught an 11-yard touchdown from Dieker to give the Gladiators a 36-27 lead; their largest of the game to that point. Reggie Gray scored the first of his two touchdowns to answer for Chicago with 9:40 left in the fourth, leaving the score at 36-34, in the Gladiators favor.
With 3:33 left in the game, Dieker broke away out of the pocket for a 33-yard touchdown scamper to help the Gladiators to a 50-42 lead, but Chicago countered with a Jared Jenkins 15-yard touchdown catch and a converted two-point conversion with 1:15 left in the game to tie it up at 50.
On the Gladiators final drive, they chewed the clock up to the point of just 3.9 seconds remaining, leaving the game on the leg of Pettrey, who drilled the 19-yard attempt to lock up the victory for Cleveland.
The Gladiators are back on the field at The Q next Saturday the 18th against San Antonio at 7:00 PM.
NOTES: Gladiators starting quarterback Brian Zbydniewski was 10-16 passing for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while being sacked 3 times, before giving way to backup Chris Dieker… Derik Steiner, who entered the game averaging 6.1 yards per carry for Cleveland, ran the ball twice for 16 yards… Goodman led the Gladiators in catches with 12 for 89 yards, while Jamar Howard led the team in receiving yards with 114 on nine grabs… LaRoche Jackson led the Gladiators with 6.5 total tackles… Marrio Norman had an interception in his first game at defensive back for Cleveland… The Gladiators and Rush ended last season's meeting at The Q on the game's final play as well, with Cleveland winning last year's lone matchup 60-54.