From 2003 to 2006, the Thomas & Mack Center was the home of the Gladiators. After spending the 2007 season at the Orleans arena, the AFL franchise packed up and moved from Las Vegas to Cleveland. On Sunday afternoon the Gladiators made their first trip back to their former home to face the leagues newest team, the Las Vegas Outlaws. Both teams were on losing streaks coming in and in desperate need of a win.
For the third week in a row, it looked like the Outlaws were going to be in a position to need an onside kick to have a chance at victory. But with less than 30 seconds left in the game, and the Outlaws down 12, Cleveland DB Joe Phinisee stepped in front of a Sean Brackett (18-34, 256 yds, 5 TD’s, 2 int) pass at the 3 yard line and took it the distance for his second touchdown return on the day thus ending any hope of a Las Vegas comeback.
Cleveland came out in complete control, holding the ball for 11 of the 1st quarters 15 minutes. QB Shane Austin (23-40, 182 yds, 5 TD’s) threw 2 of his 5 touchdowns and gave the Gladiators a 14-0 lead heading into the 2nd. The Outlaws could only muster 23 yards of offense in their brief time on the field and looked out of sync in doing so.
Brackett got things rolling for the Vegas offense in the 2nd with a 34 yard TD to WR Jomo Wilson (4 rec, 76 yds, 1 TD). Cleveland stretched their lead back to 14 with another Austin TD pass, but return specialist Gerald Young reminded everyone why he is one of the most dangerous men on the field with the ball in his hands taking the Cleveland kick 56 yards for the Vegas touchdown.
Young talked about his impact and what he brings to the team.
“Coming in here, a lot of my teammates didn’t really know me. My first time on the field was with Arizona (had 2 TD returns off of missed FG’s), and they saw what I can bring to the table.”
Young is also hoping to be the deep threat this offense seems to be lacking at times.
“We have plenty of awesome receivers, but a lot of them are possession. We need that player to be a speed (guy) to take the top off, and I think I can do that.”
The Outlaws defense got their first stop of the game late in the 2nd. Brackett then found a wide open Tysson Poots (6 rec, 90 yds, 2 TD’s) for the 26 yard TD tying the game at 21. Cleveland drove down inside the 5, but on 4th & goal DB Ray Little stepped up and made a touchdown saving hit at the 1 yard line. The outlaws quickly found themselves in a 4th down hole of their own, and Brackett was sacked in the endzone for a Cleveland safety. The safety came with only :50 remaining.
The Gladiators couldn’t hold the momentum they had gained from the safety as they fumbled the snap giving the Outlaws the ball at their 11 yard line. Brackett found OL/TE Terrance Campbell on the slip screen for the TD with :24 to play.
Campbell now has 7 receptions on the season, 4 of which have gone for touchdowns. He’s becoming the “Chris Carter” of the Outlaws.
“Coach calls them up man I’m just blessed to be able to catch them and run with it.”
He and fellow OL Will Wright have really embraced the fans at the T&M as well. If you’ve ever attended an Outlaws game, you have seen them going over to the front row giving high fives and waving their arms in the air from the huddle to pump up the crowd.
“Will’s a young guy with a lot of energy, a lot of emotion. A lot of times I feed off him, a lot of times he feeds off me and we just try to dish the energy out throughout the whole team.”
Campbells’ TD celebration was short-lived, however, as Cleveland WR Amarri Jackson returned the kick 56 yards for the Gladiators TD. A failed 2 point conversion left Cleveland with a 29-28 lead and only :14 left to play in the half. Brackett was able to get the ball down to the 15, and Outlaws kicker Ernesto Lacayo drilled a 30 yard FG to give the Vegas a 31-29 halftime lead. It was a wild final minute that saw a safety, a fumble, two TD’s, and a FG! Welcome to the AFL.
For the last month, the 3rd quarter has been an absolute nightmare for the Outlaws. In the last three games, Las Vegas has been outscored 42-14 in the 3rd. The trend continued on Sunday. After a quick 4 & out by the offense, Austin again found Jackson for the TD. Brackett tried to answer, but Phinisee picked him off for his 1st of two TD returns. It seemed to be getting worse when a Clint Solomon (7 rec, 84 yds, 1 TD) touchdown was called back on a LV penalty, but Solomon found himself wide open down the sideline on the very next play and walked in for the TD. But again Vegas found themselves tailing as they went to the 4th.
Austin hit Collin Taylor (8 rc, 48 yds, 1 TD) for the 6 yard TD to open things up in the 4th. The score came after a missed FG attempt by the Outlaws set the Gladiators up in great field position. Tysson Poots got free again for Vegas and closed the gap, but a failed 2 point try left the Outlaws trailing by 5 with less than 6 minutes to play. The Vegas defense couldn’t stop Cleveland as they ate clock before an Austin 1 yard TD run put the Gladiators up 56-44. Phinisees’ 47 yard pick 6 sealed it, and Las Vegas dropped their 5th game in a row while Cleveland moves back above .500 at 6-5.
Spokane and Portland both lost this week as well. They, along with Las Vegas, all sit at 3-7 and are in line for the final 2 playoff spots with San Jose (11-0) and Arizona (8-2) all but in. Vegas has a quick turn around this week as they head to Spokane Friday night to play the Shock. Even at 3-7, it’s a big game for both teams.