ORLANDO - Thyron Lewis reeled in a Chris Dieker 14-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter to help pull the Cleveland Gladiators into a 55-55 tie, but the Orlando Predators scored last on Prechae Rodriguez's four-yard touchdown catch with three seconds remaining, as Orlando (4-8) topped the Gladiators (2-10) 62-55 in an American Conference match-up at Amway Center in Orlando Saturday night. Dieker threw for six touchdowns and ran for another in the Cleveland loss. Lewis caught three touchdown passes, while Dominick Goodman had two. The Gladiators have now dropped five straight games, while Orlando has won two in a row. The two teams are competing with each other for a potential American Conference playoff spot.
Battling back and forth throughout the first half, Orlando managed to hold a 34-28 lead after two quarters. The Gladiators fell behind 19-7 in the first quarter, but a pair of big plays by Carlese Franklin helped the Gladiators shrink the deficit before halftime. Franklin's first half highlights included a kickoff return out of his own end zone for a touchdown, and a 47-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Early in the second half, luck was not on the Gladiators side. After coming up empty on the first drive of the half, the Gladiators saw Orlando quickly widen their lead to 41-28. Attempting to answer, the Gladiators moved the ball to the Orlando one yard line where, on first down and one, a fumble on the snap resulted in Orlando taking away possession with 5:45 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing Orlando possession, one play was all they needed to extend their lead to 20 points. Aaron Garcia connected with an open Rodriguez on a 48-yard touchdown pass, leading to a 48-28 Orlando lead.
With 11:56 left in the fourth quarter, Goodman hauled in his second touchdown catch of the game, pulling the Gladiators to within 14 points; the Gladiators trailed 55-41. On the ensuing kickoff, the Gladiators caught Orlando off-guard, and recovered an onside kick.
The recovered onside kick led to Lewis' second touchdown catch of the game, leaving the score at 55-48 with 8:38 remaining.
With 2:36 remaining in the fourth quarter, Orlando's turnover on downs set the table for a game-tying Gladiators drive that was capped off by the 14-yard touchdown strike from Dieker to Lewis, leaving the game in a 55-55 tie with just 43 seconds left.
Rodriguez, however, scored on the final offensive play of the game; a four-yard touchdown catch with three seconds left, to put Orlando on top for good, 62-55, following the extra point. The Gladiators had time for a final kick return, but Franklin's run was halted inside the Gladiators 10 yard line.
The Gladiators visit Jacksonville next Saturday for a 7:00 PM kickoff.
NOTES: Lewis' three touchdown catches give him a team-leading 17 on the season... Goodman's two touchdown catches give him 15 on the season; a total that's good for second-best on the Gladiators... With six touchdown passes and no interceptions thrown, Dieker now has 17 touchdown passes to just five interceptions on the season... Franklin's receiving touchdown was his second of the season, and his kickoff return touchdown was his first such touchdown of the season... The Gladiators topped the 50-point plateau for the third time this season in the loss, and are now 2-1 when breaking the 50-point mark... The Gladiators and Orlando meet in the Gladiators final home game of the season on July 20 at Quicken Loans Arena.