The Los Angeles KISS, who play their home games at the Honda Center in Anaheim, hosted their first home playoff game in franchise history today….in San Diego. The Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL, was being used for a circus this weekend, so the KISS were forced south for their opening round playoff game against the Cleveland Gladiators.
While we all know that the goal posts in the AFL are significantly more narrow than those in the outdoor game, missing a PAT can still be frustrating for the home fans to watch. And for the faithful KISS fans that made the trip from LA, that’s exactly what they were forced to sit and endure. LA Kicker, Garre Lindholm missed four extra point attempts in what would end up being a 4 point loss for the KISS. Despite those misses, it was Cleveland’s ability to hit on big, sometimes unbelievable plays, that ultimately led them to the victory.
The Gladiators got started right away when Arvell Nelson hit Phillip Manley for the 21 yard score. The KISS would respond with a 2 yard run by FB, Rory Nixon. Both teams failed to convert their extra point attempts, and the game was tied early at 6.
Cleveland didn’t waste time responding as Larry Beavers took the LA kick off of the net and returned it 58 yards for the Gladiators TD. LA’s next possession looked like it would be a promising one until rookie DB, Joe Powell stepped in front of a Nathan Stanley pass and returned the interception 50 yards for another big play by the Gladiators.
LA scored on a quick 44 yard strike to WR, Donovan Morgan, then again after an interception set them up inside the Cleveland 15. The PAT was good for the first time in the game, and the KISS were within 1, 20-19. After another Cleveland TD, Donovan Morgan (9 rec, 132 yds, 3 TD’s) reached up with his left hand and snatched a Stanley pass out of the air to give the LA a late 1st half TD. Once again, however, the extra point was missed and the KISS went to half trailing by 2.
LA would take their first lead of the game early in the 3rd when Rory Nixon took a handoff 10 yards for his 2nd of 3 rushing TD’s on the day. Cleveland found themselves down by 12 following another Stanley to Morgan TD, this time a 27 yard floater over Morgan’s shoulder. Trailing by 12 early in the 3rd, Avrell Wilson fired an absolute bullet to Devin Wilson in the back of the end zone to pull the Gladiators to within 5. The TD grab came shortly after a huge 4th down play for Cleveland that kept not only the drive, but their playoff hopes alive.
Facing a 4th & 3 from the Cleveland 5 and leading by 5 with only 3:55 to play, LA looked to put the game away by once again putting the ball in the hands of Nixon. Cleveland was ready this time though, and stopped Nixon at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
An Illegal defense call against the KISS on a 3rd & goal gave the Gladiators a 1st & goal inside the 2 yard line with only :46 to play. On the 2nd QB sneak, Arvell Nelson was able to punch it in to give Cleveland their first lead (49-46) since early in the 3rd quarter. With :39 still left on the clock (an eternity in the AFL), the KISS were in position to run down the clock while setting up the go ahead TD or game tying FG. All they had to do was field the kickoff cleanly. Easier said than done…
The Cleveland kickoff hit the left upright and took a hard bounce straight backwards, and right into the waiting arms of a streaking Larry Beavers. Before anyone on the field even knew what had happened, Beavers was walking into the end zone to all but end any hopes of a comeback for the KISS.
LA made one last push when the Cleveland kick was returned to the 10. A quick LA quick score, another missed PAT, and the inability to recover the ensuing onside attempt sealed the win for the Cleveland Gladiators.
Cleveland will head to Arizona next week to face the Rattlers for the right to play in Arena Bowl XXIX. The Rattlers earned the top seed in the league this season with a 13-3 record, and will no doubt be looking to get past the conference final where last season they lost a chance at the championship game to eventual champions, San Jose.