Defense does win in the AFL

CLEVELAND – Isn’t arena football all about quarterbacks finding a quick slanting receiver or a receiver streaking down the sidelines on the enclosed 50-yard turf surface?

Quick scores and plenty of them are the staple of the AFL.

Defense? Isn’t that reserved for high school, college and the professional ranks on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays?

Defense wins championships and the Cleveland Gladiators might have established themselves as the team to beat for the upcoming playoffs starting on Aug. 2. The Gladiators will host a first-round game that Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

If they win in their final regular-season game this Saturday at Tampa Bay, Cleveland clinches home-field advantage throughout the postseason – even if it makes to ArenaBowl XXVII on Saturday, Aug. 23. The Gladiators also get the home-field edge if Arizona loses to Portland this coming weekend.

Cleveland was up 35-20 at halftime, scoring a last-second touchdown during last Saturday’s home game against Jacksonville. The Gladiators then scored 27 unanswered points to win 62-20 to improve to 16-1.

“Defense played absolutely great the second half,” Gladiators coach Steve Thonn said. “They acted like we were even or down going into the second half. I think the biggest thing is we kept the pressure on them the whole second half.

“When we had the opportunity to make plays, we made plays.”

Warren G. Harding graduate Joe Phinisee was one of many Cleveland players contributing to the defensive push. He had an interception and a fumble recovery in Saturday’s win over Jacksonville.

What’s more amazing than the defensive push is how the Gladiators were able to pull off the second-half shutout. There were more than 10 inactive players heading into Saturday’s game.

“Our defense has been playing great all year,” Thonn said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries. I don’t think people realize we’ve had five defensive linemen/linebackers are out that started the year. We’ve had four or five guys that have had to fill in.

“Getting some guys healthy and getting some guys back down the stretch is going to help us too.”

Getting some more healthy bodies back for the next couple of weeks, if the Gladiators make it that far, will be important for their potential title run.

But don’t think the Gladiators will abandon their motto it’s had all year, going 1-0 each game.

“These guys do such a great job of focusing on the next game,” Thonn said.

LOCAL FLAVOR: Phinisee isn’t the only Trumbull County presence on the Gladiators.

Mike Ostrowski, from Cortland, is the Vice President of the Cavaliers minor league operations and Chief Operating Officer of the Lake Erie Monsters hockey team and the Gladiators.

Also, Southington Chalker graduate Bruce Burge works with corporate sales development with the Gladiators.

FAMILY FUN: The Gladiators aren’t about quick strike offenses or vicious hits along the pads surrounding the 50-yard turf field.

Phinisee, who like his teammates, are ambassadors for the AFL. They are quick to tell you that it’s more than football game. It’s a family experience.

You can even ask him and the rest of the Gladiators while they’re signing autographs on the field following the game.

“It’s family-oriented game,” Phinisee said. “What other game can you sit on the sideline and touch a player while they’re playing? This is a game that keeps everybody involved. The atmosphere being indoors keeps everything so close. You have to bring out your kids and enjoy yourself.”

TUNE IN: All of the Gladiators games are on 1440-AM WHKZ.